Metro League Divison 2
Blackrock 5 – 18 Lansdowne Js
Stephen Spielberg couldn’t have written it. A team battered by recent defeats and running out of hope, turns to its talisman from Balinhassig for a miracle. Injured captain, Rob Kelly handed the arm band to Paddy Butler for his last match in the club. Paddy steps up and with all his customary subtle Munster wit, says, “lads, cut out all this fancy running sh** and just tackle your holes off!”
And didn’t they just.
This game will be remembered for many aspects, as you’ll read, but the defining feature in this performance and victory was the frequency, ferocity and impact of the defence. My God, the hits could be heard in Dun Laoghaire!
Though the lower pitch in Stradbrook was in good condition and the new lights gave an almost festive atmosphere, the ground was heavy and the ball slippy, so it was clear that this wasn’t going to be pretty. From the kickoff we were defending. First inside our 22, then on our 5 metre mark, but we never looked panicked and assault after assault was repelled with a new-found composure. No nonsense-Paddy was wielding his spell already. In the first ten minutes we even enjoyed the goodwill of the referee, with the home side conceding five penalties to our one. After one of our rare excursions out of our own half, we got a penalty and wing Max Moore slotted it over to give us a lead of 0 – 3. And thus ended our happy relationship with the ref.
From then on, we seemed to give away penalties like snuff at a wake. Even for a side that isn’t exactly renowned for its discipline, the rate of offences was exceptional. This author isn’t qualified to comment on whether they were all fair (and there’s still that injunction from the Branch in operation!), but it was inevitable that the ref’s patience would wear out eventually. So, the first yellow of the night went to our unfortunate back that was deemed to have neck-rolled in a tackle. If our defence was spirited before the yellow card, it was possessed in the time we were a man down. Blackrock threw everything at us, running short, wide and everything in between. But they were met with relentless and spirit-crushing resistance. Think of the Somme when it came to the hand-to-hand combat in the muddy trenches. Teeth, elbows and the sounds of breath being knocked out of Blackrock lungs by chop tackles below and shoulders to the ribcage above. Not a game for the purest perhaps, but Lord, our boys were immense.
It was as if we relished being a man down, which was just as well as no sooner did our back return to the pitch, his lesson learned no doubt, than a forward did the walk of shame to the touchline for a high tackle. Fifteen men played 14 again but the balance of power was still very much ours, as well as the lead, and we went into the half time break still 0 – 3 ahead.
As we resumed in the second half, still with 14 men but our resolve intact, the home side’s was clearly on the wane as they sensed they had nothing in their armory that could break us down. We continued with the “dope on a rope” tactics made famous by Mohammed Ali against George Forman in Zaire, 1974 (thanks Wikipedia!), sapping up all their energy from doomed attack after attack, while we waited for our moment to pounce. And just as Ali stunned and then felled Foreman in the eighth with that God-like overhand right, we broke out of our half with a blistering attack that went through several phases and all 14 pairs of hands before outhalf Will McEvoy finished under the posts with a try. 0 – 8 and the ‘Rock boys were reeling.
Our joy was short lived, however, as our sin-binned forward had only been back on the pitch five minutes when he was deemed to have been involved in foul play, resulting in a straight red. That will be discussed elsewhere, but we were back to 14 men, but now permanently, with half an hour left to play. If our confidence or energy were fading, it didn’t show. Indeed, we continued our control of the game, even stretching our lead with a penalty from JJ Walsh, Max Moore having gone off injured. 0 – 11.
The next injury was to acting scrum half, Stephen Morris and full back Andy McEvoy moved into his old school slot at 9. Scrum-halves have somehow acquired a name over the years for being a bit “mouthy”. Well, if ever a player returned to his old position and rediscovered his voice, it was Andy. For the last half hour, he barked orders at everyone on the pitch, from front row to back three. And it was brilliant! With our numbers low and about to get lower, it was just the marshaling that was needed.
With just over 10 minutes remaining and the finishing line coming into view, it looked like we might hold out for a heroic and dramatic victory. But the story was far from finished. There was a clash of heads in a tackle and yet another of our forwards went to the bin, effectively finishing his contribution. Now down to 13 and fatigue taking its toll, we were strangely buoyed up when a ‘Rock player called out, “we have them now, they’re down to 13”. One of our older supporters was heard to mutter, “Rubbish! You might have a chance if we were down to ten!”
Our bench was now emptied and are particularly proud to have such flexible and selfless subs to call on. As well as the two Conors, Horan and Clery and Oscar Rogers, two very special Lansdowne men now joined the fray. First, was the inimitable Ludovic (Ludo) Amblard. Sitting at home playing with his baby daughter only two hours earlier, the captain of the J4s responded to the call and came running to our aid when we needed a prop. And our defences were also shored up by another super club man, Cathal Boyle, who like Paddy is heading off to the southern hemisphere after Christmas. Asked before the game whether he was a forward or back, he just replied “yes!”. These brave men joined their comrades on the ramparts for those last interminable 15 minutes.
And we needed every ounce of their commitment and energy to keep us in the game as Blackrock took advantage of their numbers and kept us pinned back in our danger zone for the following period. It was inevitable, but eventually they found the chink in our defences they’d searched for all night and went over, but only in the corner. They missed the following conversion, and it was 5 – 11 with less than five minutes on the clock.
For the final scenes of this epic story, we have to try to imagine Spielberg’s notes:
“The ball is kicked out for the restart by a depleted Lansdowne … can they find the energy to hold out for the last few minutes? … [cut to slow motion as the ball hovers in the air over a Blackrock player] … mysteriously, he fumbles it and it falls to the visitors’ side … the exhausted Lansdowne hooker, Rory O’Donnell gathers the ball, somewhat stunned by such a windfall … cries from the sideline assail him … “go to ground”, “run down the clock” … he looks over … then looks ahead … miraculously, like the parting of the Red Sea in the Bible … a huge gap opens up ahead of him … he runs, slowly at first, bracing himself for the crash tackle that never comes … the Rock players are now stunned and seemed paralyzed … they can only look on in despair as Rory picks up speed, the try line now rising into view … his feet seem to have grown wings as he glides over the ground to the line … a strange but friendly angel seems to whisper in his ear “aren’t you forgetting someone?” … he looks to his right, there’s no one there … then to his left and there is Paddy … his captain … his leader … the man of the moment and the man for all seasons … this is his day, thinks Rory and he returns to human pace, allowing Paddy to catch him … the crowd are screaming a mixture of “pass it to Paddy” and “for God’s sake, don’t pass to anyone!!” … but Rory draws the last defender and lets loose an arcing pass to the prop turned winger, Paddy … everyone holds their breath … can a prop catch a ball at full pace? … it’s never been done before … but this no ordinary prop … and this was no ordinary game … of course Paddy catches it and runs the last 10 meters with his entire team and sideline, subs and supporters in his wake … and scores!! … manic scenes of celebration in the end zone … fades to images of Paddy in San Sebastian, Biarritz, HQ etc. …”
Whatever the impact of the tackles, the rucks, mauls and scrums he endured that day, Paddy must have felt the impact of those celebrations.
JJ Walsh converted and the final whistle was drowned by the sound of Lansdowne’s unbridled joy.
Full time Blackrock 5 – 18 Lansdowne.
The Fairytale of Stradbrook drew to an end, but the revelry was only getting started as these J2s joined their victorious team mates the J3s and J4s back in HQ for the Junior Club Christmas Party.
Junior rugby is alive and kicking in Lansdowne FC.
Happy Christmas everyone, and see you in the New Year for more of the same!!
Match report – Brian Whelan