Frost gripped Templeville Road on Saturday the 9th of December, and with it came the steely grit & determination made famous in these parts.
The clash was to be one for the historians, Mary’s J4 v Belvo J3 (or J1, I can never tell.) These two teams have a long-standing grudge, having played each other 4 times last year, two of which were for silverware.
Both sides wore wounds going into the tie; Mary’s were without the talismanic Cal Gray at scrumhalf, the sole helmsman of the mighty ship, and Belvo were without their bicep-laiden open side who has previously moved Gar Lloyd from playing to coaching.
Upon arrival to the ground, the mood was tense, with both teams chomping at the bit to begin their warm ups on a frosty pitch. Richard Pyne took this opportunity to finish a pack of Benson & annihilate a breakfast roll. The whole squad were also buoyed by the arrival of Andrew Fitzpatrick, literally with a bag of cans.
The good guys kicked off, out-half Jimmy Bourke putting the ball deep into Belvedere territory to make them exit, a tactic rigorously practiced during the week. Neither team wanting to make an early mistake, Belvo found their touch. Mick Flats approved.
10 minutes in, a loose ball was gathered in by Belvo, followed by two tame pick & go’s. As expected, the away team weren’t in it for a forwards orientated game, and Flats Jr, combined with the Neolithic Richie Fagan, kept driving them back towards their own line. However, with the players in place, they keenly went to their strengths, whipping the ball through the backs, with clever screen runs sticking down the Mary’s centres. Pace on the wings & good support got them in in the corner, conversion like an arrow, 0-7.
As reminded from the sidelines, it’s only polite to let the away team score first, and Mary’s didn’t take long to respond. Physicality imposed by Flats, the ever-present David Balf, and a rejuvenated Padraig Fox in the second row, galloping like a gazelle in heat, gave the good guys excellent field position following the restart. A crash ball on Bfoot (or Beef as he shall be known for the purposes of this report) led to a ruck in the middle of the pitch, which was strongly cleared out by James Walsh & Richard ‘the silver’ Pyne, the latter of which noted a blatant gap in the fringe defense, picked the ball from his feet & ran. Still with plenty of work to do, both the Belvo 9 & fullback were there to cover. A jink to the left, a snap to the right (off his good, non-replacement hip) sent them spinning & our veteran centre was in under the sticks. Conversion good, 7-7, confirmed after Dillon Zaidel was told how to use a flag.
Water was brought on, as well as two Marlborough Gold for Richie.
Restart deep into the Belvo half once more, and constant pressure applied via the muscular presence of the Mary’s pack. The away side had nowhere to go other than snapping it back to their out-half, who momentarily stuttered, but then put the ball onto a wand of a left foot & sent a delicate cross field dink into the hands of their winger. Feet ablaze, he promptly raced down the whitewash then picked a pass to his fullback. Belvo in again, conversion followed, 7-14.
The eternally vocal Jimmy Walsh gathered the troops under the posts, told them what they were doing wrong, and they went again.
Another deep restart & several phases of play later, a fumble from Belvo resulted in a Mary’s line out on the half way. Through no fault of our own, honestly, the timing malfunctioned & the away side gathered in the ball. In unison, the oval was thrown to the backs as quickly as possible, noting an overlap. More screen passes, more dummy runners & their winger on the left sauntered in for another try. Conversion non-existent, 7-19 with the half winding down.
Adding a metaphorical insult to a literal injury, our enforcer Flats Jr was taken away with an apparent ankle injury. Later doctors confirmed he would have been fine if he weren’t a vegan. At first this seemed a massive loss, with the teenage blindside having already racked up 30 tackles, but his replacement, the evergreen Mark Byrne, was a man possessed & keen to make an impression.
The rest of the half was a sheer case of revenge for a Mary’s side who felt aggrieved to be 12 points down, having dominated territory for such long spells. Another break from a line out however saw the visiting tighthead being held up on the line by the exquisite import, Facundo Miguel Antonio Rodriguez Sales Tequila. Belvo scrum, 5 metres out. The black & white wearing 8 took it upon himself to pick from the base & attack the blindside, but Mr Byrne, eyeing his opportunity, flew into his waist and drove him back an exaggerated 10 metres. Belvo to their credit acknowledged this wasn’t the way to goal, so the ball was flung languishingly back to their out-half, who threw a narrow screen pass behind the approaching 13, to his 12, who then sat down our brave fullback Niall O’Donovan, and put his own wing in in the corner.
Conversion drifts wide, 7-24, half time.
A crucial regathering in a central huddle, with the semi-retired Ryan Barnes reminding the men in blue of their obligation to the Star & their predetermined gameplan of territory & execution of basics. Dave Perkins was quick to point out they should take advantage of Belvedere being down to 14 men for the first moments of the second half, with their winger having attempted to decapitate our furious leader Jim Walsh.
A new sparkle in the eyes of the good guys as they took their place on the green, roared on by literally 8 home fans.
Restart gathered by Richie Fagan (who went off some time around early November & bought a pair of hands with which to catch the ball, Masterson take note), a strong bounding carry by the behemoth Balf, and some clever clear outs by Beef, saw Belvo go in off their feet just inside their own half, too eager to slow home ball. Jimmy B stepped up to slot the penalty from what seemed like 50 metres, 10-24 early on.
Once again, the restart was secured, this time by the galloping Balf, who really was taking it upon himself to put Mary’s on the front foot, and some good exploitation of gaps by the aforementioned Jimmy Bourke, meant Mary’s once again ploughed into the Belvedere half. Some phases later, the resident jackal Beef got in over an unsupported runner & held on like a needy limpet. Roughly 14 Belvo gentlemen tried to remove him, but he simply wasn’t having any of it. The resulting penalty was pushed into the corner by Bourkina Faso, as his African family know him.
A smart call from the pack leader (they all look the same to me, forwards) sent Foxy into the skies to gather the ball & set the maul. A smart transfer, a tight knit set, a drive in unison, and guidance left & right by Cal Gray’s understudy, Dave Daly, saw them gather pace and push the visitors all the way over the try line, with someone (no idea who, again) touching down for the first try of the second half. Conversion limped to the right, but Mary’s were very much on the front foot, 15-24.
A bold but fruitless restart from the Belvo 10, seemingly thinking he was taking a 22, eventually led to a penalty against the travelling opposition for cynical hands in the ruck, Mary’s were now only 6 points down at 18-24, and seemed the only team capable of scoring.
Another massive carry from Balf from the base of scrum, promptly ending the contribution to the game of their blindside, gave Mary’s an excellent platform from which to attack the heart of the visitors. Reserved use of the backs, mainly asking Richard Pyne to carry into tiring centres, and tip-on passes from the likes of Chris Kane at the forward drives, put the home side camped on the Belvedere try line. Newly introduced Dave McGill, like a soaring inner city Cu Chulainn, gripped the ball to his chest, told the visiting pack that he “can’t be stopped, won’t be stopped” and with the help of a teammate latched to his burly back, crashed over just to the right of the posts, the 8 home supporters, Andy Fitz 4 cans deep included, erupted. Conversion effortlessly molested home from Jimmy B, 25-24, the good guys in front. Belvedere began to show the signs of a team in crisis, verbally assaulting each other under the posts, encouraged to do so by master tactician Cal Gray on the sideline, God bless him.
The second half was winding down, and despite being 15 years younger than some of their opposite numbers, Belvedere began to tire. Knowing they had to find their first score of the second half, they began to throw ill-advised passes, forcing the play.
Rumours are rife that first-centre Richard ‘the assassin’ Pyne smiled politely before waltzing out of line & onto a limp chucked pass from the visiting out half, pinning his silver hair back & sprinting into the corner for his second score of the game. When you’ve been playing the game since 1983 you learn to read passes like that. Conversion falls short, but who cares, 30-24 to the good guys.
With only diesel fumes of a game left, Mary’s cleverly gathered the drop off & used their dominant pack to wind down the match clock, newly appointed scrum half Carlo Basso steering the pack left & right. Last play called, the ball found its way off the pitch, and the men in blue erupted. Not has a comeback like this been seen since Liverpool in Istanbul, or Ryan Barnes in October. Chalk this one down boys, grit, determination, appreciation of the basics.
This anonymous reporter’s award for Man of the Match goes to Dave Balfour for imposing such a fiery desire for yards on the visiting team, but a close second has to be Richard ‘the Place Beyond the’ Pyner for leaving Belvedere scramble defense in his handsome wake on two occasions.
The J4s now take a break for Christmas, having earned their mulled wine with a fine win over their cross-N11 rivals.