An agonising one-point defeat, with a last gasp penalty sliding wide, is never easy to swallow.
As relieved UCD players and supporters celebrated their squeaky-bum victory, the men and women from Lansdowne were left rueing a desperately poor start to the match which saw the visitors 19-0 down after only 12 minutes play and 21-5 down at the interval.
To turn this around and win the second half by 21 points to 5 was, in itself, a remarkable achievement. How Lansdowne got themselves into such a predicament in the first place will, you may be assured, be an issue engaging the most serious consideration by Mark McHugh and his coaching staff in the coming days.
On a perfect early December day for rugby, the two sides lined up to compete for the Sutherland Trophy – presented by the late Peter Sutherland, who captained both clubs, in honour of his late father, the great Billy Sutherland.
So, a fitting occasion and venue graced by a considerable crowd in this, round 8 in Division 1A of the Energia-sponsored All Ireland League.
The patrons had barely taken their seats before UCD came storming out of the blocks and grabbed an early try in under two minutes – full back Niall Carroll gathering an excellent cross kick from out half James Tarrant – as the Lansdowne defence became too narrow under pressure from several well-worked Collidge phases.
The Students maintained their strangle-hold on proceedings, with No. 8 Leinster’s Sean O’Brien and captain and hooker Bobby Sheehan prominent.
The referee appeared to miss a 50/22 in favour of UCD, but this didn’t hinder them as a neat cut from the lively Tim Corkery in the centre set up winger Alex O’Grady for a second try which Corkery converted. A 12-nil lead on 11 minutes.
Lansdowne sought to regather themselves and set up a promising attack off the restart. A sweeping move going right promised an overlap for the visitors, only for a looping pass to be picked off by the grateful Carroll, who raced away for his second and his side’s third try. All inside 13 minutes. Corkery’s conversion stretched the home lead to 19-0 and there were some anxious faces amongst the Lansdowne faithful.
To their credit, the Headquarters side dusted themselves down and began to respond to the early pummelling. A good attack down the left saw winger Cillian Redmond, who had a good match, cross wide out for an unconverted try. Redmond followed this up with an excellent follow-up tackle that forced his opponent into touch.
Lansdowne’s recovery efforts were stifled, however, by a yellow card to replacement Donough Lawlor for batting a pass down, and the rest of the half petered out mostly in midfield with the exception of a penalty kicked by Corkery to extend the home lead to 22-5 in the 26th minute.
Lansdowne badly needed the interval to regroup and they emerged after the break a revitalised side. Considering the poor quality of their play during the first period, this wasn’t that difficult a thing to achieve, but they did finally begin to apply themselves.
The forwards upped their game, and the introduction of prop Frank Kavanagh gave them a fresh impetus. Loose head Ben Popplewell, hooker Tadgh McElroy and captain Clive Ross were in the lead and Lawlor set about making up for his temporary absence with a prominent display.
Collidge, for their part, began to concede a series of penalties as their pack came under pressure. Right wing Peter Sullivan made strong inroads down the left touchline leading to another penalty. From the resultant line out Lansdowne put some good play together and moved close to the posts.
First scrum half Cormac Foley – the class back on show – made an excellent thrust. Several dynamic rucks set up a great position beside the posts from which McElroy crashed over the line. Peter Hastie converted, and suddenly the home lead didn’t appear quite so unassailable at 22-12.
UCD’S cause wasn’t helped by a yellow card issued to O’Brien and his influence was greatly missed by the Students.
Lansdowne sought to take full advantage and were immediately on the attack for the penalty conceded by O’Brien. Lawlor picked a great line off a Foley pop to surge over for his side’s second try on 50 minutes. Hastie again did the necessary and at 22-19 it was all to play for.
From a scrum penalty the visitors again set up an attack in the home ’22. McElroy made headway, was well supported by centre Conal Doherty who linked with the onrushing Foley who showed a great turn of foot to beat the cover to the line.
Peter Hastie converted and suddenly the almost unthinkable appeared to be within Lansdowne’s grasp with the score line now 26-22 in their favour.
A decision not to take 3 points from a penalty beside the UCD posts was, as it transpired, a fateful one. 3 points would have seen the Headquarter’s side 7 points ahead with little time left – at worst, a draw, and 3 league points.
The scrum had been on top, and a second penalty re-scrum appeared promising. The scrum twisted again, but the ref didn’t give a penalty this time and the ball was turned over and a great chance lost. Easy to say in hindsight and from the touchline, but on another day…
Sean O’Brien’s arrival back on the pitch steadied the Collidge ship, even if he was cheekily stripped in possession by Lansdowne replacement, Under 20 back rower and namesake, Michael O’Brien!
Cillian Redmond was sin binned for knocking a pass down; ironic in view of what transpired in the last minute of the game.
It was all quite frantic and very exciting at this stage. College swept into a last, desperate attack and the Lansdowne defence was stretched. The Students moved the ball right, and centre Corkery squeezed over in the corner. He struck the upright with the conversion, but UCD had their noses ahead 27-26 in injury time.
There was still time for a restart; the Lansdowne forwards did brilliantly to regain possession for the kick; the ref missed a similar pass interference offence by UCD and awarded a knock on against a bemused Lansdowne side.
From the resultant scrum Lansdowne won a last penalty. It was kickable but just didn’t go over on the day. Nonetheless, it was a great and spirited fight back by Lansdowne which they can build on for the forthcoming double-header with Shannon which, I strongly suspect, will have a major impact on the final League table come next April.
Match Report: Michael Daly
Match Details: ENERGIA MEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE, Round 8, DIVISION 1A
UCD 27 LANSDOWNE 26, UCD Bowl
Scorers: UCD: Tries: Niall Carroll 2, Alex O’Grady, Tim Corkery; Cons: Tim Corkery 2; Pen: Tim Corkery
Lansdowne: Tries: Cillian Redmond, Donough Lawlor, Tadgh McElroy, Cormac Foley; Cons: Peter Hastie 3
HT: UCD 22 Lansdowne 5
UCD: Niall Carroll; Alex O’Grady, Harry Donnelly, Tim Corkery, Chris Cosgrave; James Tarrant, Michael Moloney; Chris Hennessy, Bobby Sheehan (capt), Evin Coyle, Mark Morrissey, Gerry Hill, Diarmuid Mangan, Mark Fleming, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Gus McCarthy, Emmet Burns, Rory McGuire, Joe Cronin, Rob Gilsenan, James Nicholson.
LANSDOWNE: Sam Burns; Peter Sullivan, Conall Doherty, Kyle Dixon, Cillian Redmond; Peter Hastie, Cormac Foley; Ben Popplewell, Tadgh McElroy, Temi Lasisi, Ruairi Clarke, Conor McMenamin, James Doyle, Clive Ross (capt), Darragh Murphy.
Replacements: Jamie Kavanagh, Frank Kavanagh, Donough Lawlor, Michael O’Brien, Mike Walsh, Liam O’Sullivan.