Middle: Michael Griffen, Liam Melia, Marcus Burke, Jack Grealish, Hugh Keaveney, David Wall, Conor Briscoe (Captain), Eoghan Cullen, Donnacha Dunne, David Burke, Rú Durkin.
Front: Jason Kelly and Tomás Power.
A hard fought 15 - 14 win for NUIG Rugby Academy U18.5s brought a third development league Connacht title to NUIG Rugby in the space of four years last weekend.
Playing in tough conditions in Tuam last Saturday, the Monivea U18.5 squad proved a resilient and brave opposition.
NUIG were 8-0 up at half-time, playing some open and expansive rugby. Flanker Liam Melia and centre pairing Conor Briscoe and Marcus Burke made some great line breaks and yardage in the first 20 minutes. This eventually led to a well worked team try by David Wall in the corner.
However, a hardworking Monivea pack led by Nathan Hansberry fought their way back into the game in the second half.
Instead of kicking for goal, they went down the line and backed themselves to get a try from a lineout maul. Hansberry went over for the score and Niall Sweeney converted. Monivea were back in the game.
Brian McDonnell, the Monivea Captain, led by example and soon his team continued their onslaught on the NUIG line. Hansberry again marshalled his pack and they got over for a second try 20 minutes into the second half. Sweeney again converted a difficult kick, off a slippery surface, putting Monivea 14-8 in the lead heading into the final quarter of the game.
But the NUIG lads just never gave up. Despite losing Hugh Keaveney their talisman number 8 to the sin bin, they kept their heads.
They bossed and harried for possession and eventually gained a scrummage foothold just inside the Monivea half with only seconds remaining.
As the referee called "last play", NUIG scrumhalf Rú Durkin broke free, after some great play by their back row. He carried and pinned Monivea into their own 22. Wing forward Jason Kelly picked from base of the resulting and well controlled ruck, skipped around the Monivea defensive pillar and with a strong hand-off broke into space and sprinted the remaining 20 metres to finish under the posts.
Jack Grealish, NUIG's dependable full back, kept his nerve to convert the deciding two points that left a proud Monivea team heartbroken and NUIG Connacht champions. It was a pulsating end-to-end game and either team would have been a worthy winner.
The NUIG win was all the more special as this group of players were the first underage team (at U13) to start up the newly formed NUIG Rugby Youth Academy back in 2012.
A large number of these players had been playing together since their mini rugby days in Na Bairneachaí – Barna Knocknacara Rugby Club.
Next year, many of this year’s winning squad will go on to play with their U20 NUIG student club mates. The hard ground work being done by Na Barineachaí and NUIG Rugby Youth Academy is beginning to show rewards. Players from U8 to U18.5 are being developed by them, with the first cohort of a winning U18.5s squad ready to add to and benefit the University senior teams next season.