A fired-up Clontarf side duly exacted revenge for their only League defeat last season with a narrower victory than once appeared to be on the cards at Castle Avenue last Saturday afternoon.
This was the latest instalment in the longstanding rivalry with our Northside neighbours, Clontarf FC, in Division 1A of the Energia Ireland-sponsored AIL.
Clontarf made their intent clear from the outset – a second row, Cormac Daly, picked on the flank – as the current AIL Champions took on a game but ultimately outgunned Lansdowne side up front and proceeded to try and pummel them into submission.
The result was an interesting, if somewhat unexciting spectacle as ‘Tarf used their massive pack to dominate possession and territory with the ball rarely going past their first centre.
In truth, the home side were without their veteran talisman and captain Matt D’Arcy in midfield, and adopted a “no risk” policy throughout, tucking the ball up their jerseys in a route one assault aimed at beating up the Lansdowne pack.
Lansdowne were also disrupted in their preparations, the eagerly awaited re-appearance of out half Harry Byrne not surviving the warm-up. Fellow Leinster Squad man Charlie Tector came off the bench at out half with Cillian Redmond drafted in to cover the back three.
Given the size and weight disparity up front, it was little surprise that the Lansdowne eight struggled for possession for long periods of the contest. With both their line out and scrum under pressure, possession was at a premium, although the battling visitors’ forwards competed for every ball.
The Lansdowne defence was significantly improved on last week’s performance against Ballynahinch and it took a slow grind for the ‘Tarf forwards to assert their strength.
The first score of the match didn’t arrive until the 22nd minute and, not surprisingly, it resulted from a penalty-line out and several driving mauls from the home forwards.
Lively home hooker and stand-in captain Dylan Donnellan, formerly of the Lansdowne parish, took advantage of the bludgeoning in front of him to surge over under the posts for the opening try goaled by out half Conor Kelly.
Clontarf kept up the pressure, and the Southsiders defence was caught napping for once as veteran No. 8 Tony Ryan broke through on the half-way line. He drew full back Stephen Madigan and set up Lloyd for a well-taken try after 29 minutes. Kelly again did the necessary with the convert.
A burst from hard-working prop Frank Kavanagh saw a brief Lansdowne foray, but a further penalty saw the Northsiders weigh into the Lansdowne ’22 and lay siege to the visitors’ line.
This time it was prop Ben Griffin who took advantage of his pack’s platform to nip over for a pressure try in the 34th minute.
Kelly again goaled and Lansdowne were under serious pressure at 21-0 down.
Rather than capitulate, the Headquarters side dug deep and began to lift their game. On a rare foray into the Clontarf ’22, several attacking phases saw centre Conall Doherty take advantage of some weak home defence to surge over for a try half-way out on the left in first half injury time.
The conversion was neatly added by Tector to put Lansdowne on the board and provide some encouragement for the second half.
Lansdowne opened the second half playing with both determination and purpose. Captain Clive Ross led from the front as always with purpose, and was ably backed by Kavanagh, hooker Luke Thompson and tight head Temi Lasisi, in particular.
Clontarf were reeling early on and began conceding penalties – the second half count was 9 – 6 in the visitors’ favour, with only 3 awarded to them in the opening 40 minutes. Following a series of pick and go’s off a penalty line out, No. 8 Ross drove over for a well-worked try after only five minute’s play. Tector again added the extras and suddenly we had a game on our hands at 21-14 to Clontarf.
Tector received a yellow card for batting down a pass and Clontarf attacked into the Lansdowne ’22. Several line out maul attacks were repulsed before Kelly extended the home side’s lead with a penalty in the 57th minute from almost in front of the posts. 24-14 to Clontarf.
Lansdowne passed up a good chance only a few minutes later; having moved to out half for the missing Tector, Stephen Madigan planted a great penalty deep into the Clontarf ’22. The line out ball, however, went astray and the opportunity was lost.
Lansdowne emptied the bench and their forwards began to exploit the Clontarf pack’s lack of pace around the pitch. The lineouts continued to be a weakness, however, and far too often hard-won territory and possession was not exploited.
In the 77th minute, Lansdowne strike runner Peter Sullivan came into the line moving left and received what I believe was his first pass of the match. This phase marked Lansdowne’s best passage of the play of the game and at last some continuity in possession.
Yet another penalty saw replacement Cillian Redmond make good ground, the ball was swung to left winger Sullivan who duly crossed out wide in the 41st minute for an unconverted try and a 24-19 score line to Clontarf.
Lansdowne were in a losing bonus point position but refused to defend it; from the restart they attempted to run the ball in the hope of a breakthrough from deep.
Instead, they conceded a penalty in front of their posts which Kelly goaled to slam the door in their faces and deny them the bonus point their second half efforts deserved. Significantly, they had held Clontarf try-less since the 34th minute and the overall performance level promised better things in the weeks to come.
Next Saturday the League sees us take on high-flying Trinity in round 3 on the Aviva back pitch. Why not round up a few old pals, book in for the pre-match lunch and enjoy a great day out for what promises to be a special match?
See you there!
Match Report: Michael Daly
Match Details: ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE, Round 2, DIVISION 1A
Lansdowne: Tries: Connall Doherty, Clive Ross, Peter Sullivan; Cons: Charlie Tector 2
CLONTARF: Noah Sheridan; Aitzol Arenzana King, Michael Courtney, Conor Kearns, Seni Reilly Ashiru; Conor Kelly, Angus Lloyd; Ivan Soroka, Dylan Donnellan (capt), Ben Griffin, Fionn Gilbert, Mick Kearney, Cormac Daly, JJ O’Dea, Tony Ryan.
Replacements: Barry Gray, JP Phelan, Ed Kelly, Mark O’Sullivan, Jimmy Hawkshaw, Ed Brennan.
LANSDOWNE: Stephen Madigan; Peter Sullivan, Kyle Dixon, Conall Doherty, Michael Silvester; Charlie Tector, Mike Walsh; Frank Kavanagh, Luke Thompson, Temi Lasisi, Dan Murphy, Ruairi Clarke, Joey Szpara, Clive Ross, Donough Lawlor.
Replacements: Tadhg McElroy, Ben Popplewell, Conor McMenamin, Liam Forster, Jack Connolly, Cillian Redmond.
Referee: Daniel Carson