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On Saturday our U12s entered two teams in the prestigious 37th Annual Father Gaffney Tournament in Willow Park, this tourney is unique as it is the largest U12 Tournament in Ireland, with 58 teams from Schools and Clubs from all Four Provinces, playing in a Graded streamed competition with 13 Divisions from A1 all the way down to C7.

We entered 2 Teams, our most seasoned and most experienced players taking a run at the A1 Division and our less experienced players in C4.

To put it in context Willow Park have 120 boys to select from for their team, similar with St. Michael’s while we had our resilient 22.    We lost some of our regular players to their Schools but we were undaunted.

The Schools had been training for the past two weeks in 10 a side rugby, while we put our Teams together that morning, but we were not there to make up the numbers!

Lansdowne Yellow team had an overall good tournament in C Division.   We started slowly in our first two games only losing with a last minute try to Willow and then to a good hard running Tullamore team.  The team performed better in our last group match against Shannon with some spirited carrying and tacking from Stefi Saroli and Callum Doyle. A lack of replacements hindered us but the boys held their heads high and played some great rugby.   Many thanks to the injured Sean Tierney who turned up and tried to play but alas was unable to compete.

Lansdowne’s performances were much improved in the afternoon session with good wins against Young Munster and a comprehensive victory against Willow Park with all players to the fore displaying great fighting spirit.

This truly was “test rugby” as our boys tested themselves against the best:  Could we cope?  Could we do our club proud? Other clubs suggested Lansdowne should not be in A1 as we were not good enough.

The majority of spectators were only interested in  Willow & Michael due to the school rivalry, but as Baz reminded all the boys “ We are one of the best clubs in the country, one of the  oldest, regular AIL Champions, we are Lansdowne  and we don’t  back down for anyone”

Our 1st game in A1 was straight in the deep end against the hosts and overall favourites: Willow Park A. This was no holds barred rugby as the intensity was huge, fast paced and hard hitting, Willow A underestimated Lansdowne, thinking we were there to “make up the numbers” however Willow scored early after some stellar defending and capitalised on their 1 nil lead before the half, pulling ahead 2-nil at half time.

Lansdowne huddled at the half and inspirational words from Head Coach Barry “Baz” Fitzgerald motivated the boys to  “take it to Willow and believe in yourselves”, the boys responded with a hard fought try  down the wing, 2-1,  Andrew McGauran  and Setanta Kelly making huge hits stopped  Willow in their tracks, frantic  counter rucking resulted in turnovers for our boys and we quickly counter attacked moving the ball through hands , the quick  ball and darting runs opened Willow up and Lansdowne tied the game in the last minute 2-2. Willow did not know what hit them.

The boys regrouped for their second match against a strong Cork Con side, Lansdowne put themselves on the line, covering tackles, Josh Byrne and Evan Hayes cleaning rucks and Darragh Crilly and Tadgh Noone making sharp breaks and offloads. Once again the game was fought hard back and forth, a late surge / certain try from a Cork Con behemoth close to the corner was stopped dead by a bone shuddering tackle from Fintan Lydon who came off worse from wear but like all the lads soldiered on.

The Cork Con game ended up 1 -1. Defence was iron clad in A1, as the skillset and discipline was evident.    Finally Lansdowne As were able to unleash their speed and found their rhythm against a strong Wexford Warriors A team, we pulled  ahead 3-1 and finished  the pool in a great position for the afternoon Final Rounds where all Teams were regraded based on overall Pool results.

Our strong performance cemented our positon in A1, and we were reward was an even tougher test: we had to face Willow A (again), St. Michael’s A’s and our cross City rivals Coolmine As.

The boys were well rested, fed and watered and ready for the penultimate challenge, it was great to see the growing support from parents, siblings and neutral onlookers.

Our lack of replacements would hinder us in the Final Round as we lost Setanta Kelly and Teddy Corrigan through injury, Lansdowne soldiered on with reduced players (and to be fair the opposition were true good sports   did not take advantage of this!)    We played Willow As again, losing (barely) 2-1, and rose up to take on St. Michael’s College, this game was fast flowing and fierce with excellent delivery from Darragh McDonnell stretched their back line and solid running from Bobby Colbert and strong support kept St. Michael’s at bay, unfortunately our boys went down 2-1 but Michael’s knew they had to fight hard for the win.

For our final game against perennial rivals Coolmine we realised this was for the A1 U12 Club bragging rights, Lansdowne and Coolmine were the only Clubs in the A1 Finals and Coolmine had beaten us twice this year in regular play. Rumours of their questioning our rugby pedigree proved a strong incentive! The boys played as true Lansdowne men, leaving nothing behind and the game ended as a 0-0 draw, with Lansdowne having the better overall tournament in point difference over Coolmine.

It was a great day of rugby and the boys, parents and coaches did themselves and their Club proud!!! Roll on Galway Saturday for a wellearned team bonding tour!

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