Kerry Desmond chats to DENIS HURLEY about Bandon RFC’s first-ever Munster Junior Cup win
BACK in February, Bandon lost to Kilfeacle and District in the final of the Munster Junior Clubs Challenge Cup.
The scoreline in Charleville that day was 15-10 in favour of the Clare side, but, while it was disappointing at the time, the hurt and disappointment provided fuel for the club to achieve history by going on to win the Munster Junior Cup for the first time.
Bandon overcame Young Munster 27-14 in the final of the junior cup – open to the second teams of senior clubs, whereas the junior clubs challenge cup is not – in Thomond Park last Sunday week, claiming victory in the competition for the first time. Centre Kerry Desmond believes that the Kilfeacle loss proved to be a blessing in disguise.
‘That was the worst match of the season,’ he says.
‘It was an awful day and we played awful, nothing went right for us. We felt under pressure in that game because we were expected to win.
‘We are a better side, we just didn’t turn up on the day. They played smart rugby with the weather conditions on the day that was there.
‘Straight after the match, the coaches came into the dressing room and said, “We’ve nothing to say,” and walked out of the room.
‘Then, on the Wednesday, when we went back training, we sat down for a good hour, hour and 20 minutes, and had a chat about it, we needed to look at all of the things that went wrong on the day and try to do our best in the junior cup.
‘I think that’s when it really hit us. Losing the challenge cup could have been the best thing that ever happened to the team as it made us realise that we didn’t want to lose another final, because it was the worst feeling ever.’
At the outset of the campaign though, it was league glory which was Bandon’s main aim. Having finished second to Clonmel in the Munster Junior League Division 1 in 2015-16, the hope was that they could push on.
Desmond was a new addition to his hometown team after a spell with Cork Constitution, while the arrival of French coach Régis Sonnes was another boost.
‘At the start of the season, our first goal was to try to win the league, the junior cup was never really mentioned,’ Desmond says.
‘It was when we fell out of contention in the league that we really focused on the cup.
‘Régis has brought a very professional side to things. At the start of the year, when he was talking to us, he said there was no distinction for him between professionals and amateurs or junior and senior players, he treats them all the same.
‘I felt that he really treated us like professionals throughout the year. He was mad for us to turn up to training sessions three quarters of an hour early to work on skills.’
The junior cup campaign began with an impressive win away to UCC at the end of January before Galbally were seen off at home in Old Chapel – Bandon would be unbeaten there all season.
The next outing after the Kilfeacle loss in the junior challenge final was at home to Cashel seconds in the junior cup quarter-finals, a 10-3 victory, setting up a semi-final tie against Clonmel.
With a third MJL Division 1 title looking assured from a long way out, the Tipperary club had their sights set on a double, but those dreams were not allowed to materialise as Bandon put in a brilliant performance to win 21-10.
‘The semi-final against Clonmel, we really turned up that day,’ Desmond says.
‘We had the home advantage, we didn’t lose a game all year there and we felt good at home. We were confident going into the game too and that made an awful difference.’
That day provided something of a fixture-clash in the Desmond household, however. Kerry’s sisters Rachel and Katie were on the Bandon side involved in the Irish Hockey Trophy final against Galway, meaning that parents Peter and Catherine came up with a democratic compromise.
‘My mother went up to Dublin and my dad stayed in Bandon!’ he laughs. ‘Thankfully, both teams won.’
The win over Clonmel meant that Bandon were in the final for the third time, having lost to Cork Con in 1973 and 1992. None of the current side had played in Thomond Park, as far as Desmond is aware, but that was no burden.
‘It wasn’t, really,’ he says.
‘I think a lot of fellas, when they found out the final would be in Thomond, were boosted on another bit.
‘When we arrived in, we were amazed by the size of the stadium around us, it made the pitch seem very small, but I don’t think it put any fellas off at all. We were just so focused on what we were supposed to do during the match that we blanked out everything around us.’
‘We put the heads down and drove on.’
The first 32 minutes were a dream, as Desmond converted tries by Christian Mulcahy and Tom Ferguson as well as adding a penalty as Bandon moved 17-10 in front, but by half-time the lead down to just seven points.
‘We went so flat-out for the first half-hour that we eased off for the last ten and they ran in two soft tries.
‘The first half-hour was hectic. We were just so beat out that the break came at an ideal team, we regrouped again and refocused and we were able to go at it again all guns blazing in the second half.’
‘The way we performed on the day, there was nothing going to stop us getting that cup, we were like possessed men.
‘We were going to do anything to make sure we won.’
Desmond’s penalty early in the second half settled Bandon again and when Gareth Burton added a late insurance try, he was once more on hand to add the extras. Cue massive celebrations.
‘We stopped in Buttevant for a few pints and then when we got back into Bandon there was a bonfire lighting for us at Cahalane’s. At Kelleher’s then, there was a massive crowd, a couple of hundred people, we weren’t expecting it at all.
‘We got off the bus and everyone was roaring and cheering and clapping us. Then a tractor and trailer pulled up alongside us and we went on a tour around the town and then out to the club. They finished up there at around half four or five o’clock! The seconds had a final then on Monday so we were celebrating all that day too.’
For Desmond, it was a sign-off of sorts, as the Darrara Agricultural College student is heading to New Zealand for seven months in June, working on a dairy farm.
He’ll hope to get some rugby in there – perhaps sevens – but this Thursday Bandon will hope to add more silverware when they take on Cobh Pirates in Musgrave Park (7pm).
While he won’t be there in 2017-18, he feels that the cup win will aid Bandon’s league aspirations.
‘They’ll certainly have a bit more confidence and surely there’ll be a bit more doubt in the heads of the likes of Clonmel and Newcastlewest.’