St. Mary’s College RFC
'Reeling in the years'
50 years ago our 1st XV embarked on a TOUR OF CATALONIA
An historical report by Michael Glynn.
The Pyrenean mountain range divides France and Spain from north to south. From East to West , a distance of approx. 520 k , it separates two autonomous communities; in the west, on the Atlantic coast and substantially inland there is The Basque Country; this stretches from Bayonne in France to San Sebastian in Spain; on the East side along the Mediterranean and again substantially inland is Catalonia; Catalonia stretches from Perpignan in France to Barcelona in Spain; both communities speak their own languages along with the language of the Country they reside in.
So why Catalonia? At that time all the formidable clubs in France were situated in the shadow of the Pyrenees. It was undoubtedly the cradle of French rugby. From Montpelier to Biarritz , including Carcassonne, Béziers, Perpignan, Toulouse, F.C.Tarbes, F.C.Lourdes, Pau, Bayonne and Biarritz, these were the powerful clubs in France during this era and from which the majority of the International side was selected. We choose Perpignan because we wanted to come to France, play against one of their better teams and hopefully come away victorious.
J.B.Sweeney was elected captain of the club at the AGM in May, 1971. He asked for a pre-season tour to be organised in order to get his season off to a good start. The committee, after initial difficulties, succeeded in securing a tour to Catalonia; we would play Perpignan, a first division club and Canet-en- Rousillon, who played in the third division.
Our Captain decided we would prepare well for this trip so he asked his father, Jack Sweeney, the renowned UCD athletics coach, to write an eight week preparation program in this regard. This we undertook with enthusiasm and we were certainly very fit when we arrived in France.
We flew from Dublin to Tarbes, an airport adjacent to Lourdes and there was a bus waiting to take us to our hotel which was four hours away.
We arrived in Rivesaltes in the late afternoon and checked into our rooms and were just in time for dinner. This was to be our base-camp during our stay in France.
Dinner was very interesting that first evening; perhaps the chef wanted to introduce us to traditional French cuisine or perhaps he was taking the p##s. We started with snails. I can confidently say that not too many in the group had tasted snails before and not too many tasted them then either.
Bill Meehan, our tour vice-president and father of Fergus, was sitting beside Kevin Corrigan, our flying centre. Bill says to Kevin:-
“I wouldn’t eat those if I were you Kevin” “Why not Mr. Meehan? [There was great respect in those days]. “Ah no” says Bill “ they’d slow you down”
Anyway, when the snails made their way slowly back to the kitchen and a very nice daube appeared for the main course followed by cheese and a desert things began to settle down.
Well nearly! There was a controversy over the wine. The management had placed carafes of red wine all along the table. J.B had decided that we were not drinking wine or any other form of alcohol and had them all removed and replaced with water. Alberto objected strenuously stating that in his house there was always wine with the evening meal. After a long discussion Alberto got his way and the wine returned. The rest of the meal passed off without incident and eventually we all retired to our rooms and badly needed sleep after a long day. Needless to say one or two of us had to check out the town to make sure it was suitable for the younger players.
Saturday was the Captain’s run, so soon after breakfast we got ready and took our bus to Stade Aimé-Giral. We had a very good run out which we needed badly after all the travelling and the forwards finished with scrumaging. That was quite funny; they had an old wooden scrumaging machine; we got down as usual and Johnny got ready to put in the ball. There was a loud roar of ‘Now’ , all pushed together and the machine disintegrated; it mustn’t have been used to any serious work.
After training we drove down the coast on the road towards Spain and stopped at Collioure. At that time Collioure was a beautiful, unspoiled country village on the coast. There was a church out on a promontory and just when we arrived a wedding party emerged from the front door; they were showering the bride and groom with rice and rose petals; it was a beautiful scene; if there were any romantics among us then they were in the right place.
We all went for a swim together and then broke up and had the afternoon to ourselves. Fergus and myself took out a pedallo for an hour and then went for a late lunch in a lovely restaurant on the waterfront. We ordered ‘pizzas au four’ and I’m sure that was the first pizza I had ever eaten; it was lovely. We returned to the bus and arrived back in the hotel for dinner and an early night.
Paddy Bolger, Manager; Bill Meehan, Assistant Manager; J.B.Sweeney, Captain;
C.Sweeney, T.McCormack, K. Corrigan, P. Andreucetti, N.Kenny, F. Meehan, J.Moloney,
A.Byrne, A.Andreucetti, R.Foley, M.Glynn, D.Jennings, C.Ryan, E.Wigglesworth, F.Dowling,
M.Heffernan,N.Woodcock, L.Grissing, T.Hogan.
Below is one of two articles that appeared in the weekend ‘ Indépendant’ (see picture 1 on Facebook)
Photo: The Irish benefiting from their visit to the area by taking a swim Collioure.
Perpignan: Whether it’s on the pitch or in daily life these Irish are difficult to tie down. Yesterday morning they ought to have been training at the Stade Aimé-Giral at 10am. At mid-day there was only the President and other directors plus the Captain, Jean-Michel Esponda waiting. The programme was not being adhered to.
At 5pm the two teams took the field for what was described as a ‘a friendly’, the two captains exchanging presents before the kick-off. These Irish were not going to be described as tourists; they wished to do justice to their reputations. The previous season they had won the Leinster Championship and a number of their players wished to gain from these early matches and be in perfect condition for selection when they returned home. This was particularly the situation in Johnny Moloney’s case whom everyone considered to be the successor to Roger Young who had played against France the previous season.
The Perpignan staff were watching in particular the two Italian brothers, students at St.Mary’s College; the centre Paul Andreucetti and Alberto, a powerful hooker.
For his debut, Navajas, who is replacing Joe Maso, will need to be strong and alert when facing the formidable Corrigan, a fair player but one who knows how to take an opportunity if offered . A very sporting side, these Irish, but they want to win.
The struggle promises to be very interesting and the Catalan back row will not have any time to relax being up against three dynamic players of 19 years each; Eddie Wigglesworth, Derek Jennings and Conor Ryan. One can only regret the absence of Denis Hickie who could not travel because of a bereavement.
As a curtain raiser to this game the Junior teams and the Reserves will play each other which will give them a chance to prove their qualities to the watching selectors.
End of translation
Games with a late start are difficult to cope with as you don’t know how to put in your day. However, in this case, it was just as well because, even at 5pm when we took the field the temperature was over 90*.
Before we left Dublin Denis Hickie, who had played here with Leinster a number of times, warned us to be aware that the French will hit you on the ball, off the ball and invariable from behind. So we were and they did and they suffered the consequences.
When they settled down to play rugby they played very well and it turned out to be a great game. We won.
[the match report and translation follows below] .
Everyone played well but Moloney excelled and proved the expectations the writer above had of him. For the record he was the first Irishman to score a 4 point try as the match was played on August 30th, two days before the season formally began. He was also, later in the season, the first international to score a four pointer when Ireland beat France in Paris.
Johnny flew home after this match for business reasons; he was badly missed in the second game but perhaps it was just as well; it was not his type of rugby and they would definitely have targeted him.
USAP held a reception for us after the game in a local restaurant where they presented us with a cup to recognise our victory .
We returned to Rivesaltes and to a little bar owned by a lovely man named Emile Fonda to have our own private celebration. Alcohol was permitted for the evening.
The match report from the paper follows:-
(see picture 2 on Facebook)
Perpignan: This match was no laughing matter- the first of their season- it was played against the students and ex- students of St. Mary’s College in Dublin; USAP learned this to their cost. The Irish left the ground of Aimé- Giral with an indisputable victory : 24-11 after having led 18-7 at half-time.
At 5.00pm M.Peroneille , the referee from the Lanquedoc region, blew the whistle and proceeded to manage the game perfectly and to whom the visitors showed the required respect; in eight days time it would be Agen, away, for the home side.
The sun had gone down but the heat remained. In front of the sparse crowd of spectators the troops of J.B.Sweeney , albeit missing Internationals Lynch and Hickie and representatives Deering and D.Byrne, opened the contest convincingly when Meehan dropped a goal in the 4th minute.
A penalty converted from 45m by Wigglesworth left the visitors 6-0 after 10 mins.
But Esponda’s boys, who were missing hooker Brunet, flanker Capeille, winger Moly and full-back Porrical, replied after 16mins with an excellent try, created by centre Camps who kicked behind the Irish full-back for the winger, Ibars, to run in and score. Dublin 6 ; USAP 4.
In the 35th min. The excellent scrum-half, Moloney, scored an individual try from a scrum 16m out which was converted by full-back, C.Sweeney.
In the 37th min. centre Andreucetti exploited a mistake by Lopez in the 22m zone and Number 8, Ryan crossed under the posts for a try converted by C.Sweeney.
Perpignan reduced the deficit with a penalty from Lopez just before half-time.
18-7 at the interval reflected the better technique of the Irish forwards and the collective organisation of a team which surprised all by their enthusiasm and punch.
This was to be confirmed in the second half during which Fontana, the USAP right wing replaced Camps.
To their credit the Catalans showed great initiative, especially through flanker Tisseyre and prop Esponda but all turned out to be futile. Only one break by Foussat , the scrum-half, was conclusive when he fed the fast winger Ibars from a scrum on the visitors 10m line and who scored in the corner. Lopez missed the conversation in the 49min. Dublin 18; USAP 11.
It was Moloney who inflicted the coup de grace with a second personal try on the hour. From a scrum 5m from the Catalan line he fooled the defence and went in under the posts which brought the score to 24-11 with C.Sweeney easily converting.
There remained only a break from Tisseyre, a spectacular break from Navajas and a saving tackle on Moloney by Foussat in the 74th min but the score remained the same.
End of translation
Monday was a quiet day in preparation for our second match on Tuesday evening. We were to play Canet, or Canet–en- Rousillon to give it its full name, under lights at 7.00pm. I recently discovered that Canet-en-Roussilon is twinned with Maynooth.
Their management must have watched the Perpignan game and decided they would not beat us playing rugby alone ; they needed some extra help. First of all they invited us all to a ‘ Sardinat’ on Canet Plage beach at 12 noon on Tuesday, the day of the match. The Sardinat consisted of a shallow pit dug in the sand and filled with lighted charcoal. There is a double sided grill which is filled with sardines and laid on the coals; this can be turned at will.
In the meantime tables were laid out with bread, olive oil and the ubiquitous wine. While the cooking proceeded the Mayor of Canet and other dignitaries proceeded to make longwinded speeches while we, like the sardines, roasted in the mid-day sun. Paddy Bolger had to reply on our behalf . Eventually we got to eat and that was wonderful. We also managed to get some water.
When this was all over they decided to bring us on a tour of some vinyards. After the first and when a second was suggested we said no politely and asked to be brought back to the hotel where we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
From early on we realised that this was not going to be a rugby match and we had to adjust accordingly. We were ahead marginally when one of their players, a second row, jumped on J.B. on the ground and landed with two knees on his rib-cage. Jim had to go off and be taken immediately to hospital with broken ribs. The culprit was duly chastised.
When Jim went off there was a certain amount of confusion as to how the team should be reshuffled. For instance Noel Kenny came in from the wing to join me in the second row and did very well.
The game continued on in the same vain and at one stage the crowd decided they wanted to play also. It took the referee quite a while to restore order.
At the end we did win but not by much.
They may not have been great rugby players but they were first class hosts. We could smell the meat roasting towards the end of the game. They had long tables laid out along the sideline with bread and, of course, wine. Two lambs were roasting on spits and when we had showered and dressed all was ready for us. [see photo 3 on Facebook, courtesy of P.Andreucetti]
They also presented us with a cup to recognise our victory.
We eventually returned to Rivesaltes and had a great night, our last, with Emile Fonda.We were joined by René Benesis, the French hooker, who added to the fun. When Emile eventually had to close we retired to the town square and sat at the foot of General Joseph Joffre on his magnificent horse.
Frank Dowling and I tried to mount the horse and join the General but failed miserably.
As we sat there Marty Heffernan passed with his suitcase on his way to Algeria to join the foreign legion. Marty was upset because he didn’t get a game. This was unfortunate because when J.B. went off Marty should have been brought on in some position but in the confusion he was forgotten about.
Anyway Tojo offered to fund his trip to Algeria but Alberto was not happy and took his suitcase so Marty was grounded.
The next morning after some last minute shopping we boarded the bus for the trip back to Tarbes.
It was a wonderful and successful tour, thank you J.B. We came to France to take on one of their better sides and to see how well we would compete and discovered that we could do it very well.
To contact Michael you can reach him at email@example.com