RUGBY: Energia All Ireland League Division 2A Round 8
Blackrock College 17
Nenagh Ormond 14
Fresh from their home win over Queens University, which knocked the Belfast outfit off the top of the Division 2A table, Nenagh Ormond had the dubious honor of an away date with new table-toppers Blackrock College last Saturday in Stradbrook in Round 8 of the All-Ireland League.
In their seven games to date, the Dublin outfit had collected six wins and five try points, so the size of the task was clear. That said, the momentum from turning over Queens, combined with the fact that Stradbrook has been a reasonably happy hunting ground for the Ormond men in the past, meant this was far from a shot at nothing for a Nenagh side sitting within striking distance. of the playoff places themselves.
What transpired over the eighty minutes was a rollercoaster ride for the sizeable audience in attendance. When the Blackrocks women’s team hosted UL Bohemians in the AIL women’s semi-final straight after the men’s game, a large home crowd was in attendance.
In the first instance, however, it was the travel allowance that had more to shout about. On four occasions in the first 35 minutes, Nenagh worked their way within five meters of the Blackrocks try line. Far from being intimidated by the reputation of the home side, Nenagh dominated almost every aspect of the game, solid at the set-piece and especially dangerous in the back line.
One of the aforementioned forays into the Blackrock redzone ended frustratingly with a knock-on when a try looked likely. More frustrating, however, was the fact that all three other danger moments were extinguished through penalty concessions from the home team. While Nenagh took a substantial 9-0 lead through the boot of Conor McMahon, who converted all three of those opportunities, the fact that the referee didn’t see fit to send at least one Blackrock player to the bin during this period of Nenagh dominance. was confusing to say the least.
As time wound down in the half, Nenagh created another opportunity. Another penalty from Blackrock was sent this time to the corner, from where the Nenagh maul did his thing and allowed Kevin O’Flaherty to touch down for the game’s first try. The difficult conversion was missed, but at 14-0 to the good Nenagh turned around very confident that they had goals from the league leaders.
There are many clichés in sports, and you can choose them to illustrate what happened next in this one. You have to make your dominance pay off on the scoreboard, trying to win matches. It is a game of two halves. Any or all of these can be used in the other forty minutes.
Blackrock, to their credit, were always going to respond after their lukewarm first half. They started much brighter in the second half, but in the end Nenagh’s defense stood strong in the face of the attack. Time and again, Nenagh held out the Blue Waves, but some clever thinking in the Blackrock attack finally created a gap outside after 55 minutes and a well-worked cross from James Fennelly set up winger Matt Dwan for their first score. The conversion was missed and at 14-5 Nenagh hit the hour mark still in control.
After getting their hands back on the ball again, the visitors showed a lot of attacking intent. Good breaks by Mikey Doran and John Healy both looked promising but were undone by handling errors. Another maul went close to giving Nenagh a second five points, but when the move broke down the umpire deemed Nenagh to be at fault for the collapse and the siege was lifted.
The next phase of the game was perhaps the game’s pivot point. Nenagh won good lineout possession from a Blackrock clearance kick. A neat move sent John Hayes thundering to within meters of the line. A recycle would probably have seen Nenagh through. Instead, the prop was penalized for losing his feet at the ruck. From that penalty, Blackrock gained lineout possession about halfway through. Another Nenagh infringement, this time a high tackle, put the home side in the 22 and from there they worked the phases effectively to score through Matthew Cosgrave, convert by Peter Quirke and make it 14-12.
With less than ten minutes to go the lead was still Nenagh’s but the momentum was everything with Blackrock. Usually the team that creates the most chances scores the most points, but you have to be efficient and if those chances don’t translate on the scoreboard, you risk what happened at Nenagh here.
Nenagh supporters were chewed on their nails until the final minutes. A game that Nenagh should have long since put to bed on the balance of the game was now up and you guessed any scoreline would do it. Nenagh went in search of it first. A large number of phases were assembled, but Blackrock remained disciplined. Nenagh threw a loose pass and the ball was hacked clear into the Nenagh half. The retreating Nenagh cover was isolated and Blackrock were awarded a penalty 40 meters out. The faithful of Nenagh would be forgiven for being afraid to watch at this point. But in a stroke of luck, Peter Quirke’s kick drifted wide, resulting in a clearance from the goal line.
A long clearance and subsequent chase forced Blackrock to seek touch in return, but perhaps through overworking Nenagh they had left the backfield unattended. Blackrock and their support could hardly believe their luck when the attempt missed touch, the ball bounced kindly and full back Brian Colclough took the chance with both hands to grab an unbelievable winning try and a 17-14 lead with maybe a minute to go.
This game of many twists and turns had one last bit of drama left. Nenagh regained their honor from the restart and, as was a theme of the game, got comfortably to the Blackrock five-metre line. A Blackrock error saw Nenagh accept the scrum and supporters on both sides watched and waited with bated breath for the final play. But again after another less welcome theme for Nenagh, they were undone by a handling error with a chance to score. The final whistle went and the lost bonus point felt like a pitiful reward for a dominant performance for Nenagh in almost every facet except the scoreline.
Sports can be cruel, but unfortunately the only place that matters is that same scoreboard. Nenagh will be burning to have seen a significant lead slip for the second time in the last three games, but they must also take heart from the fact that they went to the home of such a dominant force and did most of the dominating themselves. Just like this game, the season will also have several twists and turns.
A home game with Navan next Saturday completes the opening half of this Division 2A campaign, but more importantly provides the opportunity to end the first stanza of the league on a positive note. This team plays some scintillating rugby at times and one feels they are very close to really putting an opposition to the sword on the scoreboard soon. We encourage all supporters to get out to Lisatunny this weekend to cheer these boys on to a strong finish to the 2022 league campaign.
TEAMS – Blackrock College: Brian Colclough; Matt Dwan, James Moriarty, Peter Quirke, Rohan McMahon; James Fennelly, Ross Barron; Paul McSweeney, Liam McMahon, Joe Byrne, Cian Reale, Roy Whelan; Niall Hardiman, Dave Fortune, Mathew Cosgrove.
Reps: Andrew Savage, Jack Mullany, Ciaran Cassidy, James Burke, Chris Rolland.
Nenagh Ormond: Josh Rowland; David Gleeson, Willie Coffey, John Healy, Patrick Scully; Conor McMahon, Nicky Irwin; Mikey Doran, Dylan Murphy, Jack O’Keefe; Jake O’Kelly, Kevin O’Flaherty; Rob Buckley, John O’Flaherty, John Hayes.
Reps: Peter O’Connor, Niall O’Gorman, Evan Murphy, Joe Coffey, Derek Corcoran.
Judge: Christopher Lough