A foggy January evening birthed a crystal-clear objective: beat the rivals, climb the table.
A cross-generation grudge, a strong J5 Mary’s outfit took the hazardous trip across to Dublin 6W in the first of their post-festivities fixtures. And as we all know; the W stands for…bankers.
Ryan Treurnicht-Barnes II took the warm up with particular attention being paid to ruck accuracy, eye-closing & drift defence, as they were guaranteed a fired-up Opposition.
The warm-ups were not without controversy, as the away side were unable to produce a team sheet. It’s been alleged that Girvan Dempsey & Isaac Boss were to tog out but decided against it, as they’re league tied. Rumours were rife of corruption, but they were neither confirmed nor denied.
Mary’s 10 Colin O’Neill kicked off, sending the ball deep in to the home team’s territory. A slow chase gave the Opposition time to gain yards, but hard tackles from the evergreen James Collery & the hairiest man alive Jimmy Casey kept them inside their own 22. Eventually the ball was flippantly snapped back to their out half who cleared their lines.
The good guys secured their line out ball through captain Padraig Fox & made noises about a backs move. Newly promoted Rob Trew at 13 was asked to carry into traffic, and dutifully obliged. The power in the legs of the young centre would prove to be a useful weapon all evening. Eager to contest ruck ball, the Opposition went in too eagerly & were penalised for being off their feet. A young Opposition flanker, who seemed to have an unexplained vendetta towards Mary’s tight head Keith Gavaghan, was not pleased with the decision.
Resident unit & full back Niall Donovan put the ball into the corner for another Mary’s lineout.
General operator Fox called some sort of series of numbers & letters (like forwards do, despite not being able to count past 5) and rose into the skies to take the ball from hooker Stephen Christopher Walkin. A subtle transfer to fellow lock Rory Litton, a drive-in unison, and the Opposition were soon tumbling backwards. Try line passed, Gary Masterson touched down for the first score of the game. Yes, you read that right, Gary Masterson.
Applause from the huge number of away supporters was to be a theme all game, only increased by the sublime conversion from Donovan. 0-7 to the good guys.
The turkey-filled back row gathered the Opposition restart. Ill-discipline & further penalties continued to give them field position, with the left peg of O’Neill proving fruitful towards the right touchline. Countless battles ensued, with Mary’s being found light at ruck time & the Opposition being continuously bold around the breakdown.
This culminated into the aforementioned flanker verbally reprimanding and physically removing the match referee from a gap on the fringes. Many argued he was lucky to remain on the pitch, none more so than the travelling supporters. Carries by Keith, Walkin & Roche continued to give the good guys territory, but the aforementioned post-festive break lethargic legs betrayed them as they were slow to secure ruck ball on several occasions. It has to be stated the heavy limbs of Mary’s were the only thing allowing the Opposition into the game.
Countless scrums in the Opposition half followed, with number 8 Masterson masterfully picking the ball from the base & wandering into his final destination of the centre of the pitch. A genius at work, he knew this lateral jaunt would cause confusion amongst the Opposition. A pointless penalty was conceded and this was carelessly stroked through the posts by fullback Donovan. 0-10 to the Star.
With the first half drawing to a one-sided close, the Opposition knew they needed an answer before the break. Their predetermined tactic of using the forwards to carry most of the ball was not proving beneficial, so they instead looked to their burly out half to direct the play. And direct he did. Gently disguised passes bamboozled the plucky O’Neill & first centre Mark Gamble, allowing the home side at least 5 metres with each carry. This gameplan was shut down on numerous occasions by the omnipresent Trew, but the home side secured their own ball & just went again.
Having worked the play all the way into the good guys’ 22, a scrum resulted in the right corner. Aware the scrum could not be contested, Mary’s prepared themselves for a backs’ move. The ball left the Opposition scrum half and a screen pass was thrown to the first centre. He quickly found his full back but this was telegraphed by Donovan who rushed up to put pressure on the pass. The Opposition 15 managed to get the ball away to his wing, who made short work of winger Carlo Maldini, before popping back inside for a soft score in the corner. Fox was sure to note there could be no room for complacency, meanwhile the Opposition kicker unashamedly waved the ball between the posts for a sumptuous touchline conversion. 7-10
More phase play ensued from the restart with big carries from the likes of Masterson & Trew putting the Opposition under pressure. Another penalty was given away in the corner by the Opposition 10, creating moans from Cleary et al. on the touchline. Educated musings of ‘How f*cking many is that?’ and ‘Let the boys play!!’ were heard.
Donovan elected to go for the points, but the effort proved just too far out as his slap fell short. The Opposition attempted to run it from their own in-goal area, but left-wing Eric Dunne was having none of it & bundled them into touch. Half time, 10-7.
Mid-game lessons from Treurnicht included topics like fringe defence, simple forward carries, ruck intensity & use of territory. Perhaps the most important intervention came from Colm Kavanagh, who took this opportunity to remove several heavy-legged players & introduce Dave McGill, Chris Kane, Callan Carey and Richard Pyne, amongst others. Fresh legs, which was not a weapon the Opposition had to wield, as they were still light on numbers.
The home side kicked off and were instantly met with a revitalised Mary’s effort. Huge ventures into enemy territory by McGill, Kane & Casey put them back on their heels from minute one, but the occasional handling error in the backs coughed up possession. Much to the amusement of Richard Fagan on the touchline, who preached rugby to be a game of wrestling, not chess.
A nonchalant breakdown two minutes into the half saw veteran striker Richard Pyne illegally held past the contact zone. He eloquently expressed this crime to the offending player, but unfortunately the gentleman in question couldn’t hear his request, so he instead chose to gently tap him on the shoulders. This was outlandishly seen as physical abuse by the evening’s referee, who showed Mr. Pyne his usual yellow. A short cameo, claims were made about the centre’s jersey not even being dirty yet.
Despite being down to 14, the good guys picked up on Madiba’s half time lessons & cleverly used their forwards at pace to gain yards. Scrum half Andrew Cleveland Fitzpatrick directed traffic excellently in these exchanges, prompting cries from the sidelines that he was the best 9 they’d seen all season. This anonymous writer unbiasedly disagrees but that’s an argument for a later day. Not that Fitzpatrick has that many years left.
Pressure exerted at ruck time, the thuggish Richard Fagan eventually found a soft shoulder to run into & dotted down in the corner. The budding lock has clearly been cured of his white line fever from last year. 7-15 early in the second half.
Dominance was evident.
The introduction of fresh legs in the backs was also proving beneficial as the drift defence was easily shutting down the attempts at creativity from the Opposition, who were very much being found up creek without any form of metaphorical paddle. Fox continued his sterling work in the first half by stealing Opposition line out ball on numerous occasions, the veteran rising high like Diageo stock prices then majestically crushing the hopes of the Oppositon, much like Diageo crushing the hopes of budding craft brewers around the country.
Undoubtedly the moment of the game arrived fifteen minutes into the second half, when newly introduced Chris Kane picked the ball from the scrum just inside the Opposition half, then fended the blindside flanker, boshed over the wing and stepped the full back before going in for a tremendous solo try. Calls for him to be a permanent fixture in the backrow were hushed by the spectating David Balfour, who may have shat himself.
Donovan seamlessly thrusted the ball over the bar for an excellent conversion. 7-22 with 25 to go.
More quick succession carries from the forwards & strong kick return from Carlo & Donovan once again left the Opposition dazed, as field position proved easier & easier to come by. This neutral reporter would estimate that 110% of the game was played inside the Opposition half.
A lengthy clearance by O’Neill gave the home side a lineout on their own 10 metre line. Some numbers & words were called, but these were clearly the wrong numbers & words because the lift completely misfired & the ball scuffled around amongst the packs.
Like a gorilla in heat, James ‘the Beef’ Hynes gathered the ball & took his opportunity. His strong legs carried him deep into Opposition territory, offering several big fends along the way, before his natural basketball-playing physique kicked in & he popped the ball over the top to reintroduced Richard Pyne. Two big tackles came in, but the ball was quickly recycled & Donovan was in in the far corner. Conversion meandered wide, 7-27 to the good guys in blue.
The game was now playing on repeat. The home side would attempt to put in big hits around the ruck, but Fitzpatrick’s distribution & the entire pack’s footwork (led by Carey) kept sending them backwards. Like Steve Irwin finding a stingray nest, Mary’s flippantly wandered into the Opposition half.
Phase after phase & smart carry after smart carry, centre Trew was stopped just short of the line. The barking Fitzpatrick noted an overlap & popped the ball to his captain, who pranced over the line like a terrorist gazelle. Opposition heads finally fell, conversion just wide, 7-32.
A thoroughly deserved try for Fox, who had a tremendous game, unashamedly earning him Man of the Match.
And so, it ended, with the good guys enjoying delicious shower beers and the Opposition drinking Gallahad in a cupboard under the stairs.
Chalk it down lads, a win for determination, execution & general soundness.