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The Saint Mary’s Gaels aren’t resting on their D1A championship laurels, and if this weekend’s tough test is anything to go by, they’re ready to repeat.
Saint Mary’s likes to take some quiet time in the late fall to play some preseason games and get pushed around a little bit — and this fall the Gaels are doing it again. On Saturday, SMC's opposition was Gordon, an Australian men’s club that is currently touring against clubs in California. Gordon put on a mix of A-, B-, and C-side players against Saint Mary's, and all were older and more experienced than the Gaels players.
Saint Mary’s, for its part, is less than a month into its fall slate. All the ingredients were there for a Gordon rollover, except Saint Mary’s won 27-17.
“I loved the fact that we played this game,” Gaels head coach Tim O’Brien said. “I kept saying it on the sideline. I think I was driving [assistant coach] Johnny Everett crazy. We were able to play against a nice group of players, experienced men, and I don’t know how many men’s clubs in the country could have hung with them. Young legs won out the day.”
The Gordon team is on a summer vacation tour and hadn’t played a game in anger since August. But still the tourists were impressed with the fitness and basic skills of the Saint Mary’s players.
Despite having graduated some top players, Saint Mary’s seems to have reloaded just fine. Alec Barton continues to lead the physicality from the back row position, while lock Ronan Murphy was just a terror, blasting through rucks and doing all the dirty work a second row needs to do.
“And he did it all with a huge smile on his face,” O’Brien said.
The Gaels' Liam Cotter — out for two years with various injuries — was a revelation in the backline, especially on defense, and Aaron Matthews dragged himself out of a hospital bed to attend practice on Thursday and suit up on Saturday.
Mike McCarthy, flyhalf, was named player of the game by Gordon.
Saint Mary’s passed up playing sevens in the fall and has hit on a regular seasonal plan in which it starts training in the fall, plays some challenging cramp games before winter break, and then hits the 15s season running.
For a team that sometimes plays a sevens style in 15s, competing in sevens is almost an afterthought. The Gaels shoot for a national sevens title in May but don’t worry about it until then.
“I think what we’re finding is that around this time the guys have an extra bounce in their step,” O’Brien said.
Saint Mary’s will follow Gordon to Southern California and play Santa Monica this Saturday and a Southern California All-Star team on Sunday. While O’Brien warned that these games will be difficult and his team will likely lose, the Gaels showed this past weekend they are able to hang with anyone.