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04/03/2023

Belvedere 22 – 41 Lansdowne

Metro League Division 2

 

You’d be hard pushed to find a more emphatic end to a league campaign, or a clearer sign of things to come for the cup, than by looking at the J2s’ imperious, six-try performance against league toppers Belvedere J1s in Ollie Campbell Park on Saturday morning.  What a display and what a transformed group of players!

The last encounter between the two sides had been close (Belvo won 17 – 20 in Ballycorus), so the opening stages of this rematch were a cautious and touchy affair. Belvedere tried to attack down the centre and out wide, but to no avail as our defence proved utterly watertight, so it was perhaps a sign of their brittle confidence that they took the points when they were awarded a penalty after ten minutes. 3 – 0. But their confidence would take another blow soon afterwards when they found themselves back under their own posts, following the first of Bill McNamara’s two excellent tries just minutes later.  It was the kind of try that has become typical of this group’s tempo and style this season. After a clearance kick by Belvedere, full back Daragh Dennehy launched the counterattack from deep inside our half, slipping through the first two tackles and bravely taking the hit on the third, but still offloading to number 7 Luc Van Cauwelaert supporting at speed. Luc took it another 10 meters and into contact inside their half and from the speed of the ruck that followed in the centre of the pitch, captain and scrumhalf, Rob Kelly, was spoilt for options. He moved it right to centre Will McEvoy as first receiver, who passed it to outhalf JJ Walsh. JJ took it through a gap and made just enough ground to clear his arms and pop it into space inside, where centre Bill McNamara took it charging like a train to the line. No one could have stopped Bill from 15 meters and he touched down, scoring the first five, then converting to make it seven of the 21 points he would score on the day. 3 – 7.

Though our scrums struggled a little in the very early stages against a very wily Belvo front row, we were comfortable in every other area of the pitch and maintained territory and possession for the following period. Lineouts were pitch-perfect as hooker Alex McEvoy inevitably found jumpers Aaron Daly and Conor Horan with laser like precision. Even pocket rocket number 6, Dave Kavanagh was thrown up to catch a few. It was from another ruck in the middle of the pitch that JJ ran another decoy on the open side, so Rob could pop it to Bill again on the blindside. Bill, still giddy with the scent of their try line and wanting more, made short work of the attempts to tackle him and powered over for his second, following it soon after with another conversion. 3 – 14 after 20 minutes.

But Belvo aren’t league leaders (by a considerable margin) for nothing and they leapt on a momentary lapse of concentration to claw one back in the corner just after half an hour.

One of the great features of this team’s recent form has been that when we concede a try, we don’t drop the heads, but come charging back moments later with one of our own. And so we did here.  From the restart, we ruthlessly pinned them back in their 22 with excellent line speed in defence and forcing them into rushed passes and kicks.  It was from one such rushed pass that second row Aaron Daly knocked down the attempt to clear, following through and scoring in the corner. 8 – 19 as we approached the half time mark.

Belvo, though clearly shaken by the ferocity of our defence and variety of attack, didn’t want to go into the break with too big a hill to climb and they broke through our line and scored well into injury time of the first half. Seven minutes. Just saying.  So the margin at half time was narrower than the pattern of play had suggested, Belvo 15 – 19 Lansdowne and it looked like we might have a fight on our hands.

As if stung again by their late try in the first, we opened the second half like marauding mountain men plundering a defenseless village, with forwards Conor Horan and fellow Copper Celtic Warrior, Andrew McInnes laying waste all before them.  The attack ended with Will McEvoy touching after a crash ball and that man Bill Mac adding the two to restore a respectable margin 15 – 26.  Within five minutes, Bill would stretch the lead still further with a penalty, 15 – 29.

Your trusty correspondent was lured away at this point by the AIL pre-match lunch at HQ, but updates from Whatsapp suggested that the game settled down for the following 20 minutes until winger and birthday boy, Kevin O’Connor scored no doubt an elegant try with Bill doing the honors again. 15 – 36.

Belvo made a brave attempt to restore some pride with their final visit to the scoreboard and a try on the 30 minute mark, bringing it to 22 – 36 with five minutes to go.  But the game was ours and it was only fitting that our final and decisive blow would come from captain Rob Kelly himself, leader by doing as well as saying, as he touched down in the corner for our final try of the league in the closing moments of the game.

This brought to seven our unbeaten run since that tremendous victory in Blackrock in December, with six of these being bonus point wins. We beat everyone in the league and though it may seem like a pity we didn’t get to the winning playoffs, after years of either playing in or just avoiding playoffs for relegation, we’ll take third!  Full credit to this great team that played today and all those who have brought such honor to the jersey throughout this special season.  And let’s not forget who really made it possible, coaches Ross Barry, John Sparks and Lansdowne’s answer to Sir Alex Ferguson, Dave Tunney!

Bring on the Albert O’Connell Cup!

 

Match report – Brian Whelan

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