1st XV V Banbridge RFC – AIL by D. O’Brien 16/12/2019
St Mary’s College RFC V Banbridge RFC
Energia AIL Division 1B
Saturday 16th December 2019
Approaching the clubhouse with the steps of history on the right, into the mind seep teams of old and famous faces not forgotten. You see Fangio, Cookie, Lynchie, Denis Snr, Johnny Moloney and Gracer, Deero, Rods, Wardy and Deano, Frank, the Rat and Fange, Jemo and Pottsy, Noel McC and the Hen, Mullers, Vinnie, Denis Jr, Smythy, John McW, Victor and Mal, Jonno and Jack, Logie, the Killers, Hugh, Broph and Nasher, Shiner, all the Sweeneys and Darragh and then the present. That burgeoning team crafted with care by Steve (the Hen), Jamie and Barry comes into your head; that joyous team of Tommer’s men, whom we come to salute and cheer today, that last week:- that team that fought from fear and grief, to greatest cheer and now belief.
It is 5oC outside, you enter the clubhouse, it is 22oC, it is welcoming it is like a cosy arm enfolding your emotions, as you see friendly faces, hear accents of Dublin, accents of Down, all kindly all warm. That is club rugby; that is the history that locks us in a stirring embrace and gives us une raison d’être.
Time hangs, but 14.30 arrives, as do the teams onto the pitch, they leap like frolicking fawns to dissipate the tension. The whistle sounds.
There was much to delight in today, not just the victory, also the timbre of the game, with both sides looking to play with adventure and flourish. The home side also showed a growing degree of patience and control. They did lose a few chances that might have led to scores but all will be happy with the result. The visitors too, will be pleased to gain a last minute losing bonus point penalty. Banbridge have a big pack of mobile forwards, including Ulster contracted former St Marys’, star (to whom we owe much), David (Doc) O’Connor, Number 8 Greg Jones and scrum half Jonathan Stewart.
The St Marys’ defence was defiant and resolute, on occasions it needed to be, as for long periods Ban peppered the home side’s line, but could not breach it. Marys’ backline alignment was improved as was the defensive width. They ran incisive vectors, with Cormac, Mick, Ruairi and Myles in particular probing. Then, both wingers were humming, with Hugo scoring, what was for me, one of the great AIL, tries. Not to note Mark Fogarty’s continued good form at 15 would be wrong. Mark’s appearance belies his strength, his skills and his spatial awareness. He is calm, seldom makes a mistake, usually makes useful ground, and today his deadly tackling ensured two almost certain tries were not scored.
The pack grew in all ways, as it faced a formidable challenge. That challenge they faced with power and courage, coming out just on top. After this, they should fear no pack in 1B. The set scrum was tested and took not a backwards step. The lineout had a tough examination. With the inside knowledge of the St Marys’ lineout, and the presence of Greg Jones, who is a lineout expert, Ban made it difficult on occasions and so, a number of promising positions were lost.
Overall, a most satisfying performance, especially the second half one. An area where we need some more work, is ball retention and total awareness, with composure, in attack. However, it should be acknowledged with gratitude and joy, that the team is rapidly reaching its potential. This does not happen without tireless hard work on behalf of all the squad and the coaching/management group. It genuinely was a joy to see the pack in action today, sacking opponents’ mauls with alacrity, plugging holes in defence, rucking and bringing their own, sometimes irresistible, maul into play. The second row does enormous, but sometimes unnoticed work. Today they worked to drop, in the trenches and in the open. The backrow too toiled extremely hard, and one player, Ronan Watters, was brilliantly effective. His clever fielding and use of kick-off balls were rewarding. His cover and support play were effective and exciting. He contributes excellently as an extra lineout option. He has the instinct of a hunter, his tackles are crushing, and his positional appreciation is impressive. Overall he made a singular contribution and so was awarded the SoftCo MoM.
This game ebbed and flowed throughout, with long periods in control by the home team. It was noted that often just after times when one team were on attack, the other team would hold sway. So ding-dong. The first 25 minutes were played almost exclusively in the Ban half, with considerable pressure on their line, with their then putting pressure on the home team approaching half time. Then the cumulative penalties led to a St Marys’ player receiving a yellow card.
On only just gone three minutes Ruairi converted a good penalty, after hard carries from Richie and David, in particular causing the mistake, and added to it on 12 minutes, 6-0. On 23 minutes Ban broke up field and after a number of well defended phases threw a long looped pass, from under the posts, out wide to hooker Peter Cromie, running hard on to it, and over. So, with the conversion it was 6-7 and that was how it finished at half time.
There was even greater cohesion and resolve in the home side second half, and it looked as though it might work out very well. However Banbridge have a redoubtable side and they gave as they got, leading to a real joust. Ban also got a yellow for a deliberate knock on early in the second half. Then, when Marys were defending hard on the Road end line we managed to get the ball out to Hugo on the right wing. He went outside his man and ran from his own line. When he was near halfway the cover was closing and he had Ruairi and Cormac in support. However, they were covered and so, Hugo slowed perceptibly, threw an outlandish and mystical dummy, (bought on the terrace and by the Ban cover) then he put on the turbo and went streaking for the line, leaving all in his wake. A try to savour for all, most of all Hugo. Brilliant, a fitting game changing moment. Marys seldom looked back and might have crossed again. We did get a penalty, to make it 16-7. A period of heavy Ban bombardment followed, when those replacements coming on for Marys helped keep our line intact, particularly Paudge Dundon, who threw his substantial avoirdupois into heavy hits. However, they got a deserved penalty and losing bonus point. This ended the game, 16-10.
The players will savour the win and relish a weekend off, before facing Naas away, under lights on Friday 29th November. Naas are finding form. They beat Shannon 16-14 and will be formidable opponents, as they aim to turn around our home and away wins of last season. So, we will need all the help we can get, including your attendance. We have passed Banbridge and Malone and stand fifth on the table. Let us help our lads take another step on the way.
Team up with Tommer
Team (Rolling Replacements X12)
15 M Fogarty, 14 H Conway, 13 M Carey, 12 M O’Gara, 11 C Kennedy, 10 R Shields, 9 C Foley, 8 R Watters, 7 C Dempsey, 6 D Aspil, 5 L Corcoran, 4 P Starrett, 3 M McCormack, 2 R Halpin, 1 T O’Reilly (Capt), S Healy, N McCarthy, P Dundon , M Timmons, R O’Loughlin, (A McEvoy, B Wats