Published in The Anglo-Celt, 3 May 2007 (no byline, but written by me; this is an edited version). This was the last serious rugby Seán ever played – he was 15 years old, and played at full-back.
The Cavan under-14 and under-16 squads, with their coaches and helpers, travelled to England on Friday, 13 April to represent Ireland in the South Coast Rugby Festival, a massive event involving 4,000 young players.
Cavan were based at the Butlin’s holiday camp in Bognor Regis and played their matches at Portsmouth Rugby Club, where the recent fine weather had made the pitches as hard as concrete.
On Saturday the under-16s played three matches, against Westcombe Park A, Swindon and Portsmouth. Cavan, with a squad of just 17 players, were at a disadvantage from the start. They lost to a second-half try against Westcombe Park, but really got into their stride against Swindon and led 1–0 [scoring was in tries only] at half-time thanks to a great solo try from winger Conor Kelly and an incredible try-saving tackle by hooker Niall Gaffney.
Swindon hit back with two second-half tries before centre Joseph O’Sullivan dived over bravely to score after a determined run. Joseph was injured and was in pain for the rest of the weekend but played on, as did several other players with painful cuts, grazes and blisters. The match finished 2–2. In the final game, Cavan again played very well, and felt that they were very unlucky to lose against the home club, Portsmouth.
On Sunday morning Cavan played Midsomer Norton in the semi-final of the bowl competition and went ahead through another terrific O’Sullivan try, but conceded two tries before half-time and went on to lose 2–1, to their great disappointment. A second match was scheduled, but the coaches felt that the risk of serious injury to the players was too great, and decided to withdraw the team.
The Cavan under-16 squad was: Cormac Cahill, Stirling Carrihill, Niall Gaffney, Robbie Kane, Conor Kelly, Phillip McArdle, Gavin McCarren, Stephen McCullough, Kieran McDonnell, Darren McGrath, Angus Muller, Peter Mulligan, Sean O’Brien, Tomás O’Keeffe, Joseph O’Sullivan, Ken Ryan and Jordan Tamplin (captain). Alastair Good, Fearghal Hand and Oisin McDonnell travelled with injuries and were unable to play, but helped out in other ways.
Gary McConnell arrived too late to play, through no fault of his own. Out-half Darren McGrath was a popular choice as under-16 Cavan Player of the Tournament: Darren tacked ferociously, as always, and coped extremely well with an unfamiliar position.
Every under-14 and under-16 Cavan player should be extremely proud of his performance in this tournament. The two teams overcame the disadvantages of a long journey and small pools of players to represent their club and their country superbly, and competed every inch of the way with clubs whose resources Cavan can’t even dream about – some of the opposing teams were drawn from squads of 60 players or more.
The Cavan players showed exemplary sportsmanship, as did their opponents; all the matches, though intensely tough and physical, were played in the proper spirit.
All in all, it was a memorable weekend and a great ending to the season: well done to all the Cavan boys who took part, and to the coaches and parents who made the journey possible.