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01/04/2023

Wanderers 12 – 19 Lansdowne J2


Albert O’Connell Cup

 

This was a proper cup tie and full credit to Rob Kelly and his team for coming out on top, even if they gave supporters a few nervous moments along the way.

These two sides have played each other a lot over the years, and the mutual respect between them was clear to see.  But only one team would progress, so we had to set aside all those normally warm, fuzzy feelings we have for our neighbours and get a job done.

As usual lately, we started well, with most of the possession in the first ten minutes, but a series of dropped balls and an embarrassment of penalties conspired to keep us off the scoreboard.  Wanderers withstood our attack and slowly built up their own, edging inexorably up the pitch and scoring a good try on the quarter hour mark.  5 – 0.

They would stay in our territory for much of the remainder of the half, but a combination of our tenacious defence and some dodgy decisions on their side, meant that we went into the break lucky to be only five points adrift.

Co-coach John Sparks must have harnessed the best of the family oratory skills at the break, because the 20 minutes that followed his pep talk were our best of the day. First, we pitched camp on their 22 and commenced our onslaught on their line, with phase after phase, patiently wearing down their defences and tying up their loose forwards. The ferocity of our attack forced them to infringe and they got a yellow card for a high tackle. Inevitably, our pressure bore fruit and the gap that emerged was enough for Alex McEvoy to power through for our first try. But the purple patch was only beginning, and we resumed our attack straight from the kick out, now incorporating our rejuvenated back line who took turns at running laser straight lines at the hosts’ wilting defences. There was joy, but no big surprise then when the ref’s hand went up again as Andy McEvoy doubled the family score, finishing in the corner. The final member of the McEvoy triumvirate Will topped off with an excellent conversion. 5 – 12.

Back to our lethal best now, everyone was breaking the line and offloading effectively with passes now staying to hand and it wasn’t long before we rattled the score board again with an excellent finish from “Teak-Tough” Tadgh Brennan on the wing. Will McEvoy finished off with another excellent conversion from the corner, adding further to Wanderers’ woes. 5 – 19 with all our points being scored within just ten minutes.

But this was a knockout cup tie and the Wanderers weren’t going down without a fight.  With ten minutes left to play, we got a yellow card and we were back on the ropes for the closing stages.  Wanderers threw the kitchen sink at us, and it became inevitable that they would score eventually. But how long could we delay the inevitable? Die hard defence held them out for about five minutes before the Wanderers score which they converted with a quick drop goal. Just a score separated us now at 12 – 19 and we entered the last five minutes with resurgent hosts and a man down. (Gripping, eh?)

It wasn’t ferocity, but rather calm and cool heads that saw us over the winning line.  Again, that stalwart, Aaron Daly was immense, spoiling their lineouts and mauls while all the time keeping just on the right side of the ref. Full back, JJ Walsh continually caused Wanderers to have to retreat with his pin perfect punts. But the first of the two moments that finally crushed Wanderers’ attacking spirit belonged to winger Daragh Denahy who fielded a ball at speed and counter-attacked from within our 22, evading a tackle before hoofing it down to their danger zone, winning a massively relieving 50/22.  And their hopes were finally dashed when sub wingforward Matthew Whelehan stole a ball in a ruck and won a penalty within the last minute, recovering possession and assuring our victory.

A nerve-wracking way to spend a couple of hours, but this ever-improving J2 side showed that they have the mental as well as physical toughness to bring a cup campaign to its proper conclusion.

On now to the semi finals.

 

Match Report – Brian Whelan

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