The Senior Rugby Team failed to defend their Leinster Schools League 2A title yesterday, losing an at times frantic final 31-45 against Ardee Community School in Ashbourne. The rugby on show as of an exceptionally high standard, with both teams using their physical runners to great effect but showing a determination in defence. It was Ardee who started the brighter, maintaining possession in St. Columba’s half for the early period. They soon turned the possession into points, converted a simple penalty in front of the posts. Their team was extremely well drilled and blessed with powerful and effective ball carriers, especially at prop, No.8 and in the centre. They continued to pressurise through possession, eventually dotting down for a try under the posts to lead 0-10. St. Columba’s, playing against a powerful wind in the first half, soon found their feet and some excellent ball carrying from Max Hopkins and Kosi Anyim brought them close to the Ardee line. The ball was recycled quickly – by scrum-half Thady McKeever – to centre Hector Wright who powered over. Thady missed the conversion (the wind was a big factor) but SCC were back in it. St. Columba’s continued to play well and maintain possession but couldn’t penetrate the Ardee line. The Louth side soon regained possession, off loose St. Columba’s play, and scored an opportunistic try just before the end of the first half to lead 5-17 at the break. The supporters on the sideline were optimistic that, with the wind on their backs, St. Columba’s could get back into the game.

The reigning champions started the second half brightly and soon crossed the white line again, this time through Kosi Anyim and converted by Thady McKeever. At 17-12, St. Columba’s were right back in this. But then, the sucker punch. Straight from the restart Ardee pounced on unsecured possession and scored under the posts. St. Columba’s heads dropped while Ardee rallied. They scored two more tries within five minutes and the game seemed all but over with twenty five minutes remaining. They now led 38-12 and there seemed little hope remained for the defending champions. However, St. Columba’s fought back, after some harsh words from their captain Sean Cooper under the posts. They scored quickly after the restart, with Hector Wright crossing for this second try, with McKeever converting. Another try soon followed, after some of the substitutes combined to turn defence into attack on the SCC ’22’. The same substitutes, Rowan Sweeney and Joel Taylor, finished off the move with Joel touching down in the corner. The score now stood at 38-24 and there was a glimmer of hope. Ardee were beginning to tire and the St. Columba’s power runners were stepping up again – Hector, Hopkins and Anyim carried hard but a lack of patience inside the Ardee ’22’ meant they couldn’t get closer on the score board. In fact it was Ardee who scored next, their powerful prop forward picking from the base of the ruck, close to the line, and powering over. They converted and the score now stood at 45-24, and the final flicker of hope seemed to extinguish from the travelling supporters in the stand. Again, to the enormous credit of the whole team and their coaches, St. Columba’s refused to give up. They secured possession from the restart and quickly worked their way back into the Ardee ’22’. Eventually, after an extended period of possession, they scored again – this time through Thady McKeever – who converted his own score. And that was how it ended – a final score of 45-31 and, in truth, a deserved win for Ardee.

St. Columba’s can feel an enormous sense of pride for the manner of the defeat though. Ardee were an excellent side, with some truly exceptional athletes, but St. Columba’s gave them an epic contest. But for that period after half time, when those three quick tries were scored, St. Columba’s were in this all day. The large crowd were happy, perhaps not with the result but certainly with the manner of how the game was played. Congratulations to Ardee Community School and hopefully the two sides will meet again in next year’s final.