J2 Patchy Performance Punished by Greystones
Greystones 45 – 22 Lansdowne
To paraphrase Dickens, “it was the best of games, it was the worst of games” …
Away to Greystones in Dr Hickey Park on Sunday in this Metro League Division 2 fixture, the J2’s demonstrated in their most graphic manner yet, that we can compete and prosper in this league, if only we maintain our focus and composure for all of the 80 plus minutes.
The conditions were ideal for rugby and the game was just in its second minute, when the ref’s arm went out signaling advantage to Greystones on the halfway. With nothing to lose, their canny out half kicked a speculative ball over our backline to a few metres inside our 22. It wasn’t clear from our side of the pitch where the ball was headed, until a roar came from the home supporters as their winger caught it cleanly and sprinted the remaining 20 metres over the line, cutting under the posts to add salt to our wounds. The conversion was a formality, and we were off to the worst of starts at 7 – 0 within three minutes.
Or so we thought.
Straight from the restart – and I mean practically in the first phase – the ball came out to their back line and each ‘Stones man seemed to get over the gainline before being forced to pass, the last pass going to the winger on our side of the pitch, who stepped inside and also travelled effortlessly over the line and under the posts. The score was 14 – 0 and the game wasn’t 8 minutes old yet. It looked like it was going to be a long, long day.
But captain Rob Kelly, and other leaders on the pitch, notably prop Paddy Butler and blind side flanker Alex McEvoy were colorful in their exhortations under the posts and what emerged in the following 20 minutes was possibly the best passage of play this side has played all season, and maybe a few before that too.
First, we established a beachhead in the rucks and mauls, with openside flanker Matt Whelehan and hooker Rory O’Donnell, defying their relatively compact builds and bullying the larger home pack with massive clear outs and turnovers to die for. But if the pack were enjoying a renaissance, the backs were also transformed, as Rob Kelly’s crisp and early passes from the back of the solid scrums and rucks gave his outhalf JJ Walshe enough time to marshal his backs and conjure up in real time the wizardry they had practiced in the warmup. For competitive reasons we can’t reveal the details (and because this correspondent found it all dizzyingly confusing!) the backs twisted and looped their way up the pitch and it was pint-sized but feisty winger Stephen “Stewie” Morris taking a final pass from centre Bill MacNamara that finished our first excellent try on the 20 minute mark. Bill converted from 10 just five metres in from the touchline, adding further to our confidence. 14 – 7.
And that confidence continued to bear fruit, with the forwards harrying and pestering the home side’s possession, and our backs “up in their grills” quickly too, forcing them to hurriedly kick the ball. But our backfield was no safe haven for them as full back Darragh Dennehy controlled that space like a chess grand master. His wingers, Paddy Kyne and “Stewie” Morris fielded the ‘Stones’ frequent mis-kicks and giving it back to Darragh who would relaunch a counterattack. One of those counter attacks brought the forwards to within the hosts’ ten metre line and our hard runners, number 8 Rob Hughes and Alex McEvoy rattled their their defensive walls over and over again. But it was the other Rob Kelly that did what sharp eyed scrum halves do best, spotting a breach in their defense and cutting straight through for a our second try. Bill did the honours again and in nearly the same time it had taken us to concede 14 points we won them back again … 14 all, with only 20 minutes gone. And we owned the next ten as well as JJ controlled the pace and direction of the game excellently from 10. Soon we were back in their half, then on their 22, still forcing and testing their pack, resulting in a penalty which Bill kicked over to give us the lead on the half hour mark 14 – 17.
With that our purple patch came to a shuddering end. A yellow card reduced our numbers and also our momentum and for the last ten minutes of the half we were on the back foot with Greystones deploying their heavy and yet dexterous backline as they pounded our diminished defences. Inevitably, our resistance faltered and the try came 19 – 17 as we limped into half time.
The second half started well as we returned to our full complement of players. Rory O’Donnell was like a terrier burrowing down a tunnel after a fox and won a turnover early in Round 2. But rather than rebuild our attacking platform, we lost the touch that followed, and they cleared the ball to our half, winning back the ball from the following ruck. As the ball came out their line, we were penalized for a deliberate knock on, with the added and harsh fine of another yellow card. Whatever chance we had of rebuilding momentum seemed to evaporate in that moment as our confidence and energy escaped from the remaining 14 like air from a punctured tyre.
As with the first yellow card period, Greystones took full advantage of their edge and ran us from side to side of the pitch stretching our defences up to and ultimately beyond their limit. Their fist of the three tries that followed in succession came soon after the card, but their second and third were evidence that once we lost momentum it was very hard to rebuild it. In the 20 minutes following the yellow, the score went from 19 – 17 to 38 -17.
But eventually the momentum did return. Back to 15 and recovering slowly from the tirade of tries, we won a lineout on the halfway and second row Aaron Daly made a thundering break down the centre of the pitch, targeting their ten who slowed but couldn’t stop him. He offloaded to an equally inflamed Kevin O’Connor who also broke his tackle and as the ‘Stones defence started to scramble, he off loaded it to Bill MacNamara, and from him to Stephen Morris who passed it adroitly back inside to Darragh Dennehy who had the honour of completing a perfect team try.
The score was 38 – 22 with less than five minutes left and though the match, or even a losing bonus point was out of sight, pride was at stake and the J2’s valiantly threw all they had at the Greystones line. But this game had one more cruel blow to inflict yet; as we launched another attack in their half, stretching our passes to evade their defence, we stretched too far and a Greystones centre saw the gap and went for the intercept. None of us on the sideline saw what happened next as we buried our heads in our hands. Suffice to say the final whistle blew as soon as the conversion went between our posts one more time. Full time 45 – 22
A series of unfortunate events leading to a cruel score line, but as always there were extended moments of sublime play from this group. The challenge now is to extend those periods still further and ride out the rough patches a bit better too!
Match Report – Brian Whelan