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Albert O’Connell Cup  (Metro J2)  First Round

Lansdowne FC v Old Wesley RFC

Wednesday 3 March

Back Pitch, Lansdowne Road

Lansdowne 34 – 10 Old Wesley

 

After two defeats in the league already this season, Old Wesley may have come to this cup clash in HQ as the underdogs, but nobody with an ounce of sense doubted that they were still the menacing force they always were. This was going to be tough.  And it was. The scoreline told one story, but the cuts, bruises and breathless bodies at the end of the game told the real one.  Wesley put up a battle royale, but captain Will McEvoy’s lads were more than up to it.

The opening clashes were like the Battle of Bannockburn, with the sound of bones and teeth crushing as Wesley put in some immense tackles.  But they had to, as we took possession from the kick off and hardly let it go until half time.  Our over enthusiasm and their excellent counter rucking early on led to some penalties against us and so they edged their way into our half and found themselves within kicking distance.  They took the points and against the run of play it was 0 – 3 after ten minutes.

But their lead wouldn’t last long. Three minutes, to be precise. Straight from the restart, we held their catcher up in the maul and won the scrum that followed.  The scrums were dominant all night, but it was a particularly powerful drive that presented the ball on a plate to scrum half Afonso Mendoca.  Afonso moved it quickly to Will at 10 who gave a short pop to inside centre, Jack Loscher, looping around to take the return pass and finding the gap he’d hoped for. Now he had options, and the one he chose was “Teak Tough” Tadgh Brennan and his was the last pass to fullback Finn “Lightning” O’Loughlin who scorched the earth over the last 10 meters as he ran over in the corner. Will tossed a bit of salt in their wounds with an excellent conversion from the touch line.  Those three minutes were the only period we were behind all night.  7 – 3.

We may have kept the lead, but Wesley kept fighting. In the next 15 minutes, they tried everything, but were forced into mistakes by our relentless defence, back rowers James Power and Jack Coolican tackling with gusto and grit. Wesley’s rucking was excellent and we might have counted ourselves lucky not to get yellow card for repeated infringements.  As well as dominance in the scrum,  our lineouts were also the better of the two. Hooker Keenan Barrett’s darts continually found the bullseye like an older and brawnier version of Luke Littler, while we also spoiled their throws.

Their efforts continually stymied, Wesley started to take risks and leave gaps. On the half hour mark, we stole their ball in a ruck in the middle of the pitch. When it came out to Will, he saw that their back line wasn’t as organized as usual and popped it over their centre into a gap for Jack Loscher. The chip hit the hapless defender as he retreated and it bounced neatly into Jack’s hands. He stormed forward into space and, for all his speed, he couldn’t outrun his own supporting forwards. First came rampant second row, Aaron Daly who took the pass, carried and offloaded to Jack Coolican who touched it down.  After a period of absorbing all they had to throw at us, we pounced on the first opportunity that presented itself and this was the incredibly enjoyable pattern of the night.  14 – 3 … and counting.

Wesley, wounded but still dangerous, they try to retaliate but concede a penalty just inside their half. Captain Will opts to go for the points, some on the side-line believing he was just slowing the game down. He may have been, but he was also keeping the scoreboard moving 17 – 3.

As half time approached Wesley camped in our half for extended periods, but they seemed to have little we couldn’t anticipate and defend against.  Eventually, they got a penalty in front of the posts and they opted to kick it, revealing the extent of their ambitions, perhaps. And they missed!  Sometimes it just isn’t your night.  Half time.

Well as we had performed in the first half, the best was yet to come.

As if the score line was reversed and we were the team with everything to play for, we played with even more aggression and finesse in the third quarter.  Wesley, for all their spirit, had no answer for it.  Obviously, they didn’t see this J2 team against Tullamore (or read the match report!) but they made the foolish mistake of trying to regain territory by kicking into our half – straight into the grateful paws of our ruthless counterattacking back three. Lightening O’Loughlin was first to show them the error of their ways, scything through them and re-establishing territory back in their 22 with deceptive speed and direct lines.  Super sub winger Max Moore preferred the scenic route, but he too would skirt with warp speed outside their oncoming forces and return us to the same position on the pitch.

Hard as it might be to pick the try of the night, the next one probably wins the prize.  As we returned to their danger zone again and again, the visitors’ scrambling defenders didn’t know where the next onslaught was going to come from. This time it came from blindside flanker Oscar O’Brien who was lurking menacingly in the centre. He took the ball from Will at speed and burst through their normally robust central defences, pressing the turbo button somewhere along the way. He displayed a turn of foot usually reserved for those with double figures on their backs and left the flailing defenders in his wake as he powered 20 meters to their line before offloading to a gasping, but grateful Conor Horan who scored a classic.  22 – 3.

Rinse and repeat.  The next candidate for the try of the night (or season) followed a similar pattern. A half-hearted clearance fell to Max Moore. Emitting a clearly audible “Meep Meep”, as he evaded the oncoming coyotes, he regained 20 meters before offloading to ever present Jack Coolican. Jack batted away a couple of Wesley defenders in his march to the line, before offloading to the other second row, Aaron Daly, who went over.

God, this was fun!  Will tops it up and it’s 29 – 3.

And we had one more to go before the night and this cup clash drew to a close.  This time it was the turn of center Frank O’Grady to make the telling break through their defences, running a powerful line through contact but keeping his hands free enough to offload to that man Max Moore again who finished in the corner, adding the last nail in the visitors’ coffin. 34 – 3 with ten minutes to go.

We said it at the beginning, but Wesley are a class side and they never gave up. They battled into our half and in spite of their weary limbs and deflated spirits, they ran through their phases and scored their solitary try of the night. 34 – 10. Full time.

A masterful performance from all 20 of the squad, coaches, managers and physio – Darragh was especially busy!  But the celebrations, while heartfelt and well deserved, were necessarily short. Let’s wait until the next round and the ones after that and  … dare we hope? … ultimately the return of the Albert O’Connell Cup.

 

Match Report – Brian Whelan

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