THERE have been great days in the long history of Corinthians RFC and some of them will neatly fit alongside Saturday’s win at the Mardyke in Cork city in terms of importance, but none will surpass it.
The three point triumph over the talented students from UCC was enough to secure Corinthians promotion to the second tier of All Ireland League rugby, the highest position they’ve experienced for over 20 years.
Picture the scene: players, replacements, mentors and three bus loads of supporters on the pitch at full time. All in a huddle. First year coach Phil Pretorius and captain Finn Gormley spoke about a bone crunching season, supreme dedication and thanked their followers, it was a special moment.
Corinthians have been progressing for more than one year. Back in 2009 they ended a 13 year spell in the fourth tier by winning the league title before spendingthe next three seasons in the top half of the third tier perfectly poised for this season’s assault on promotion.
The raw materials were in place but the arrival of Phil Pretorius proved key. The highly qualified Springbok has coached at inter-varisity, Currie Cup and Super 14 level over the past two decades and when he applied for the job, the Corinthian committee thought he might have made a mistake, they couldn’t believe their luck.
Pretorius isn’t just head coach of the first team, he’s Director of Rugby at the club and that’s important because he takes his role well beyond the intricate workings of his first 15. This promotion was a collective effort by the whole club.
The raw materials he inherited included a generation of talent that emerged around that first promotion four years ago. Captain Gormley is at the centre of that. James Buckley, Colin Raftery Sean Gerrity and Aaron Coneely are included. James Buckley, Cian Begley and others have been waiting for this chance too.
The Connacht development players have bought into the cause in every possible way and performed brilliantly this season. Irish under 21 full back Dave Panther, Tralee native Ultan Dillane, Ausie Finlay Bealham and Corkonian Kevin O’Byrne caught the bug and haven’t looked back.
Balanced alongside all that is the experience of Tom Tolan, Aurilien Cassanova, Darin Classens and Gary Warde. Stalwarts, grafters and vital components along with the wider squad who have played their parts at different points along the way.
Heading into Saturday’s tussle, the task was clear. They led UCC by six points in the table and were tied with Terenure. Two sides go up automatically so with two games remaining, a win of any kind would propel them to Division 1b.
The start from the Galway visitors was tone setting, spurred on by a huge roar from their support as they took to the field they opened at a high tempo. Mick O’Flynn had the first points on the board by the sixth minute and they spent much of the first quarter attacking the home line.