Ardee Rugby Club head coach Ronan O’Brien Jnr has described last Saturday’s Jenkinson Cup win over Balbriggan as “unbelievable” – and says his team are raring to get back out on the pitch as they bid to complete a famous double with a win in the McGee Cup final this weekend.
North Meath RFC are the team standing in the way of ending a memorable eight days for the club with two pieces of silverware for the Townparks trophy cabinet. The Ardee men travel to Kells on Saturday to attempt to overcome their opponents Kells in their own backyards.
After a disappointing Leinster League campaign ended in relegation – although results elsewhere may still conspire to leave Ardee RFC competing in Division 2B in 2017/18 – the respective Jenkinson and McGee Cup runs have proved a welcome distraction for O’Brien and his team.
“The cup run was a huge relief,” O’Brien told ThisIsArdee.ie this week. “For the lads, it seemed ike a new season after such a bad league campaign. What we tried to do was incorporate into the cup runs was that this was a fresh start. The lads lost the final of the Jenkinson Cup last year and I knew all year, even from the start, they wanted this.
“Last year, we trained poor the week of the Jenkinson Cup final. We were nervous. This year, the lads were cruising. They were enjoying the feeling – as you should do.”
If they enjoyed the preparation, they loved what was to come. A superb performance saw the Townparks team come away from Shamrock Lodge with a 16-15 win over Balbriggan, avenging the 2016 final loss to the same opponents. Shane Lennon’s try was added to by Ben O’Brien’s 11 point kicking haul. The win was one described by the team’s young coach as “unbelievable.”
“I thought the boys showed great character for a young team. I know there’s a couple of old heads there but I heard other lads, older lads, say it was the best team they’d ever seen in Ardee,” O’Brien said. “A good mixture of young and old and the young lads are actually leading the older lads aswell. There’s plenty more to come from them – that’s the worrying thing for other teams.
With an average age of just 23 years, there certainly is room for improvement. “It’s incredible. You can just see them going up and up leagues and hopefully we get a couple of lads back to Ardee next season as well.”
While Ardee’s promotion to Division 2B for 2016 meant they haven’t meant Saturday’s opponents North Meath lately, few teams can be as familiar with eachother as Ardee and Balbriggan. The Jenkinson Cup final in Drogheda was the team’s fifth meeting in league and cup this season. The final win means Ardee end with a 3-2 aggregate win. But with each team being so familiar with eachother, is that a help or a hindrance?
“It was a huge help,” O’Brien confirmed. “We knew about them. They’re a very aggressive team, a very big team. We wouldn’t have the biggest team but we’d be a lot more skilful, out wide definitely. We had a good lot of games this year and we played them in the final last year – it’s a big rivalry.
“We knew we had the edge of them. We just said we need to have that extra bit of switch on. It’s a good rivalry but hopefully now we won’t see them for a while!”
Ahead of this coming Saturday’s clash, the coach – who is assisted by Enda Dunne and Shane O’Brien – believes that the players will go into the final brimming with confidence and full of intent to complete the double. It won’t be easy, North Meath stormed to the top of the Division 3 table in the league campaign, winning 10 of their 12 matches.
“Confidence is high, heads are high. The good thing for me is we said that even if we win the Jenkinson, we’re not just going to cement the team then. We want to give lads a chance in training. I thought that was a good thing.
“North Meath are big ball carriers, on a narrower pitch, we’ll just be looking for a bitt more bulk. But prepatation is perfect, lads are coming into training with a bit more swagger. There’s a good atmosphere but a good tempo. The lads are mad to do the double. Lads are texting me mad to go, looking forward to Saturday. And that’s a good thing.
“Sometimes, lads might switch off after winning one but they enjoyed their night on Saturday night.” They will want to have the same feeling this weekend – and have a Bank Holiday weekend to reflect on what could be another big win and the season as a whole.
O’Brien took charge of the senior team for the first time in 2016/17, combining his playing role with Boyne RFC with coaching back in Ardee. Reflecting on his debut season at the helm, O’Brien is happy with the season – and the foundations laid for the future too.
“It’s been a very successful year. We spent time with the group this year and that group we spent time with are developing into a team,” he says. “I said to the lads halfway through the season we might not win anything this year but in five years time we’ll have this team cemented. It’s been a great year.
“I train with Boyne to a higher level and I told the lads last night, this training is like Boyne training – 25 lads here every week getting the job done, working hard for eachother, does everything physical and then has the craic after. We have good team bonding.”
Saturday will be a busy day for Ronan Jnr – son of club president Ronan Snr. He’ll be at in Drogheda in the afternoon to watch, the first half at least, of Boyne’s playoff with Omagh Academicals. It’s a must win to preserve their place in the AIL for next year. Currently serving a suspension, Ronan will be watching from the sideline before hotfooting it back to Ardee before setting off for Kells. Fingers crossed it’s a good day.