To paraphrase Oscar Wilde … To lose one outhalf is unfortunate; but to lose two outhalves and a full back having started without a front row smacks of carelessness!
But the reality is that the men that turned up to Marley Park on Sunday to play Stillorgan were anything but careless; they were courageous and honest. The carelessness came earlier in the week and was nothing to do with the players!
We started with 14 men, as injuries and a last minute schedule change (!) meant we couldn’t safely field a front row and so had to lose a player in order to play uncontested scrums. Another set back was to strike even before the kick off when John Delany (JD) took a hard knock to the shoulder in the warm up and had to be taken to hospital for an X-ray (not quite the Sunday afternoon JD’s Dad, Aiden had planned!) . Not to worry, we still had Jack (of-all-positions) Bushe. Strike two: five minutes into the game, Jack also takes a heavy blow to the neck and shoulder when a ruck collapsed and after an extended and worrying time on his back without a physio, has to gingerly leave the field. And so, with only ten minutes gone, we’re down to 14 men and no subs.
But the rest of the afternoon was an example of character and composure under pressure. Yes, Stillorgan had most of the ball, yes they even had the advantage of a hill that would challenge most 4×4’s and so yes, they did eventually score once then twice on the 20th and 30th minutes. But far from lying down and hoping to make it into half time with just two tries conceded, our men fought their way up the pitch (literally!) and scored under the post just before half time. After several phases of short passes and rucks, one of the many stand out performers of the day, Steve Keegan topped an extraordinarily energetic afternoon (for a man older than Rory Best!) with a great short range try. Half time 14 – 5.
Stillorgan reopened their account early in the second half, but we replied with another well taken try from a maul. I can’t say who finally touched it down, but credit should probably go to lots of them: Ross Farrell, Patrick Chapeau, Michael O’Sullivan, Michael Fitzgibbon, Doff and maybe even winger/scrumhalf/openside flanker David Staunton might have got a hand to it! 21 – 10 before they got another try running wide, to make it 28 – 10.
The hill helped us a little in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to counter the inevitable effects of fatigue, as we withstood wave after wave of attack. The toll would grow even greater when another “seasoned” campaigner, full back Rob Manning (45) courageously threw himself down on a kicked through ball, putting his head in a place this correspondent (in his playing days) would have thought twice about putting his boot, receiving a solid (though accidental) clatter on his head for his efforts.
Now we were down to 13 with 20 minutes to go and it is a credit to the character of the guys that they never dropped their heads and kept fighting, conceding just two more tries before the final whistle.
The final score was 40 – 10, but as coach Dr Phil said at the end, it was a “perfect storm” of unfortunate events that hit us, but the performance and especially the heart was actually a solid building block for the rest of the season.
Match Report: Brian Whelan