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04/02/2023

Enniscorthy 17 – 36 Lansdowne

Metro League Division 2

 

Co-coach John Sparks summed it up excellently in the dressing room afterwards: “When you play with smiles on your faces like that, no one can touch you!”.

And they’ve got plenty to smile about. This potent cocktail of bloody-minded defence and fierce but fluid attacking has extended this side’s unbeaten run to four and brought us from hovering dangerously above the relegation zone, to tantalizingly close to league winning play-offs.

We had to show our zeal in defence straight away when a mistake at the kick out forced us to withstand phase after phase of attack. Enniscorthy had several big strong runners, but they couldn’t breach the wall of our smaller but courageous defenders. Wave after wave they came, but they never made it past our 22.  If we seemed happy to absorb all this pressure, in fact we were just waiting for a mistake and in the fourth minute, it came.  One of their attackers was left briefly exposed in a ruck and blindside wing forward Mathew Whelehan ripped the ball from the prone Wexford man, setting up quick ball for our backs to recycle.  Captain Rob Kelly moved it sharply to centre, Will McEvoy, with Rob taking it again on the outside and showing great turn of pace to get well into their 22. He timed his last pass perfectly to the other centre Bill MacNamara who finished off the counter attack in the corner. Bill converted his own try in yet another show of quiet excellence that has characterized his season so far.  0 – 7.

Somewhat stunned, the “’Scorthy” lads resumed their battering ram attack after the re-start, but making little progress, they were ordered from the sideline to go for our 10, innocently thinking Steve “Stewie” Morris’ size meant he wasn’t much of a threat. How wrong they were!  Not only did he fell players three times his size throughout the game, he seems to possess X-Ray vision and can see a crack in the opposition’s lines invisible to the naked eye. Just a few minutes after our first try, ‘Scorthy mangled their own line out on the half way and the ball came tumbling back on our side. Rob scooped the ball out as best he could, so it was a hot potato that reached Stewie, with their back row bearing down on him. Somehow he broke through the first line of their defences and then set on a solo run, swerving and shimmying that saw him bamboozle three or four more attempts at tackles to score under the post. It was sublime!  There wasn’t a peep out of the ‘Scorthy dug out about him after that.  Bill did the honours again and we were 14 points up in as many minutes.

For most of the remainder of the half, though, we had to withstand immense pressure from the home side. Camped in our 22, they laid siege to our line, over and over again trying to crash through the middle, but now also using their speedy back three. Notable in defence through this period were prop Ronan Shaw, openside wing forward Luc Van Cauwelaert, Bill MacNamara (hasn’t he enough to do, scoring and kicking?) and that man again, Stewie. In spite of two great exits which saw us return to their half briefly, the pressure eventually told and they scored on 35 minutes. 7 – 14.

At this point in the game, a little piece of history was made. Matt Whelehan left the pitch and was replaced by Alex McEvoy, bringing to four the number of brothers on the pitch. Plenty has been said about this historic and poignant moment, as we fondly remember their late Dad, Donal McEvoy too, but the McEvoy lads weren’t there just there to make history, they were there to win the game for Lansdowne and they each made a profound contribution to that end.

The home side might have been happy to go into the break with that score line and looking forward to the wind at their backs in the second half, but again, our speed and ingenuity from the restart seemed to catch them off guard. We captured the ball soon after the restart and through a series of short “hard yard” breaks down the centre from number 8 Andrew McInnes and second rows, Aaron Daly and Jacques “The Hat” Chapeau, we made progress well into their half. And that’s where the backs came in with their sting.  Scrumhalf Rob had a choice of attacking options either side of the ruck and he went left, popping the ball up to Danny McEvoy who cut through the first line of defence. Rob was still there to take the inside pass and find a gap before launching an excellent pass 20m to winger Shane Donnelly, who beat his covering marker for pace to score in the corner.  7 – 19 as we went into the half time break.

Before the hosts could settle into the second half, we pulled off another of our wonder-tries. This time, we had a long ball off our lineout on their 10 m line and Alex McEvoy took the ball from the back of the maul that followed.  Now there is some debate as to whether what followed was miraculous skill in attack, or poor defence, but let’s just say that even though the ‘Scorthy defence parted like the Red Sea in front of Moses, a lesser man than Alex might not have taken as full advantage as he did to score under the posts!  (How’s that, Alex?!).  7 – 26

Even though the big ‘Scorthy lads showed signs of fatigue, they had the wind in their back and they were also using their backs to much greater effect now.  They might have had more impact on the scoreboard were it not for our tireless resistance and also the notable impact from the bench of Donal Liddy, defending like a tiger and attacking in tight and also out wide. In fact, this correspondent wasn’t sure what position he was actually playing, so ever-present was he around the pitch.  Eventually however, their pressure and the wind took its toll.  Enniscorthy scored in the corner twenty minutes into the half bringing them to 12 – 26.

In the past this team might have started to show some flickers of fatigue or doubt at this stage, but what did they do now? Only produce one of the best tries of the seasons, two minutes after conceding one.  Danny McEvoy finished off a text book move from ruck ball quickly recycled and moved effortlessly  through the backs’ hands, Danny, fittingly taking the last pass from brother and full back, Andy McEvoy to score in the corner.  12 – 31.

We would spend most of the remaining 10 minutes on our own line, and with just five to go we lost a player to a yellow card and inevitably conceded a try soon afterwards. (No names, but no prizes either!)  17 – 31.  But as the closing stages of the game drew in, the tables were evened up as one of their players walked for a high tackle. Fourteen men each now, we worked our way back into their half and won a penalty just on the edge of Bill’s kicking range.  Whether it was too far for him, or the wind was too strong, or maybe he just nodded off in the time he took to kick it, it didn’t matter much as we regained possession from the restart after Bill’s near miss. Yet again, even after an exhausting and very physical match, this excellent extended group had one more card to play and it was sub winger Max Moore that finished off the lightning fast counter attack in the corner with a wonderful try. 17 – 36

As well as winning our bonus point, importantly for the last few games of the league, we prevented Enniscorthy from getting one.  As John Sparks also said in the dressing room afterwards, it was one of the best performances from a J2 side that he’d seen in over ten years. And he should know.

Donal McEvoy would be rightly proud.

 

Match Report – Brian Whelan

 

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