J2 XV v Old Belvedere (A) 24.11.2018

Confidence was high amongst the J2 squad going into the Old Belevedere clash on Saturday in no small part due to having sealed a hard fought victory against Tullamore two weeks prior thanks to the unshakable confidence and reliable boot of Ciaran Deegan in the dying minutes of the closely contested encounter.

This confidence could be seen from the off with our forwards dominating the set piece, marching Old Belvedere back in the scrums and disrupting and winning their lineouts as if our own. A special mention must be made for the front row of Darren Kennedy, Fionnan Magee and Zeeshan Ali who were immense on the day and all of whom played 80 minutes. As any front row will tell you an even more difficult task than getting the J2 squad to pay their subs, but that’s up for debate.

The tone was set early on for this physical encounter with Brian O’Shea choosing to make a tackle with the bridge of his nose (brave but inadvisable). Reformed centre Rob Trew stepped up and filled the gap not for the last time on the day as Brian got patched up before returning to the fray.

Despite early dominance Old Belvedere capitalised on two kickable penalty opportunities and led by 6. James Bourke was provided with an opportunity in front of the posts to pull back 3 points but saw it more fitting to strike the upright, much to the amazement of the overeager touch judge who raised his flag before disbelief washed over him. A testament to the player that James is however, he continued to confidently approached the kicking tee when called upon and played a vital role on the day.

Unfortunately an innocuous clash at a ruck was deemed to have been an act of foul play by the referee and James was told to take a ten minute breather and cool off. Down to 14 men each stood up and was counted and reaped the reward when after multiple phases in our 22 a crunching tackle resulted in a knock on that was quickly gathered by Mike O’Connor. An arcing run followed and with it space opened up. Displaying decision making and confidence with ball in hand far beyond a man who claims to be more comfortable on a GAA pitch Mike sucked in a number of defenders before setting Ciaran Deegan loose. What followed was no less than a 50 metre dash to the line, bamboozling and stepping Old Belvedere players at will along the way, the conversion followed and Mary’s led 7-6.

The re-start dropped short but having heard the wheezy cries of his compatriots numbered 1-8 Robert Beverland dismissed the idea of a scrum and without breaking stride leapt into the sky with the grace and dominance we have come to expect but never fail to appreciate, plucked the ball from the air and galloped 40 metres to place us firmly in the Old Belvedere 22 once again desperate for greater scoreboard dominance. Unfortunately a spilled ball put the attack to an end and shortly after the half with it.

Mary’s dominance continued in the second half with Old Belvedere finding it harder and harder to live with the intensity and cohesion brought on the day. A penalty just inside the Mary’s half however provided Old Belvedere with a lifeline and they regained the lead 9-7. Defiant, Mary’s fought back with it the turn of the forwards to add points to the scoreboard and after multiple phases none other than Robert Beverland crashed over to score a try that any pack would be proud of, the score stood at 12-9 to the good guys.

Emotions began to run high and following ongoing back chat to the referee Mary’s were awarded a penalty and James Bourke stepped up to widen the gap to 6, not out of the woods yet but room to breathe.

Credit to Old Belvedere who fought hard and edged into the Mary’s 22 and capitalised when awarded a penalty. A quick tap put Mary’s under pressure on their line and after a number of phases Old Belvedere crashed over, the score stood at 15-14 and so it remained thanks to significant pressure from Mary’s during the conversion attempt, unwilling to let this hard fought win slip through their fingers.

From the restart the Mary’s defence was relentless, every man regardless of how bruised and exhausted standing up and being counted and it paid dividends with Old Belvedere unable to live with the pressure and knocking the ball on. A scrum followed and the ball was unceremoniously hoofed into touch and the win sealed.

Honorary mentions on the day include Conor Sexton who provided solid and reliable performance at fullback and on more than on occasion collected difficult kicks fired ahead by the opposition. Conn Loane who was his usual snappy self at every scrum and the base of every ruck and finally our backrow of the Johnny Crowley, Killian Doyle and the evergreen Mark Donnellan who were physical and uncompromising throughout the encounter.

The unofficial MOTM must undoubtedly go to Robert Beverland, with the reliability that Robert performs with week in week out there in no longer an air of surprise amongst those involved with this J2 squad be an expectation, it’s simply a matter of keeping your eyes peeled because if you blink, you might miss it.

A hard fought and well deserved win, undoubtedly the most complete and cohesive performance the team has produced this season and a lot to be proud of by all involved.