Metro League Division 3 FINAL

Lansdowne FC v Tullamore RFC

Sunday 24th March 2024


Lansdowne FC 14 – 10 Tullamore RFC

Cup finals, in any competition, have a special energy and this titanic struggle between Lansdowne and Tullamore didn’t disappoint.  Perfect conditions promised an open game and that’s what a big crowd got in the shadow of the Aviva Stadium on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  The scores may have been low – none at all in the second half — but that’s more credit to both sides’ defence than either’s lack of adventure in attack.

Tullamore, the only team to beat our J2s all season, came to Head Quarters full of confidence and started the game the more composed of the two teams.  We opened with a good take from the kick off and started running through the gears with casual aplomb – too casual, as it turned out, as a sloppy pass was intercepted by their centre and he sped to the line like a scalded rabbit.  It didn’t look like anyone could stop him, but our own greyhound, centre Finn Cranston, somehow managed to close him down and tap tackled him just on our 10 meter line.  The covering defence wasn’t far behind Finn and an embarrassing start was narrowly averted.

Tullamore got their reward soon after with a kickable penalty and we were 0 – 3 down with less than five minutes played.  It didn’t look like we had regained much control of the game soon after when rather than kick to the corner, we took a quick tap on a penalty in their half, losing the ball in the next ruck just as quickly.  We somehow contrived to pin ourselves back in our own 22 for the bulk of the first quarter, as Tullamore seemed to be the only ones that knew they were in a final. But their attack was limited and our defence was excellent. Openside flanker (according to his jersey anyway, but you’d never know where he’d turn up) James “Cheesy” Power and vice captain, Aaron Daly were outstanding, driving them back time and time again.

But if you’re looking for inspirational tackles, look no further than Jack “Look Mum, no Penalties” Coolican.  They had just won a threatening lineout inside our 22 and a backrow started to drive through a gap. Jack saw him coming and planted his shoulder into his ribs, bringing forth a gasp you could hear in Tullamore, and lifted him like a fireman for 20 meters back into their own half. Our individual defensive efforts were heroic but there were still gaps and Tullamore kept probing and prodding until finally they found one.  They recycled the ball just a bit quicker than us and wrapped around their runners quicker than we could regroup and as we entered the second quarter they went over under the posts, adding the conversion. 0 – 10. Without spoiling any surprises about the finish though, that was all the points they were to score for the rest of the day.

Now, finally, we started to wake up.  James Power went off with a cut on his head, but was seamlessly replaced by Hugo Fitzgerald, the first example of how important the excellent bench would prove all day.  From the restart we looked like a different team.  No more to be bullied off the ball, we held possession with half backs Afonso Mendonca and Cap’n Will McEvoy linking up smoothly now, giving centres Jack Loscher and Finn Cranston a chance to show what they could do.  After another powerful scrum on half way and a few phases of fluid, but now purposeful play, we were inside their 22. A quick ruck and Afonso moves it to the blindside where Power nearly makes it over the line, but is taken down. Another lightning fast recycle and that man Jack Coolican takes the ball off the back of the ruck and drives over the line, dragging two or three defenders with him.  Will McEvoy added the trimmings and we were back in the game, 7 – 10.

And our purple patch didn’t end there. We continued to play delicious rugby, but Tullamore also upped their game too and for a while they seemed to anticipate and pre-empt all of our best attempts. Our scrum was a dominant platform and as well as winning our own with ease, we were making mincemeat out of theirs, props Aaron Lesnar and John Barry owning their opposite numbers.  After a scrum penalty, Will put us on their 10-meter line for a throw in.  The maul was perfect and, showing we have muscle as well as flair, we drove over the line, and Alex McEvoy had the final touch. Will added the extras and we went ahead 14 – 10 as the half time break approached.

But Tullamore restarted the game with a vengeance, and we spent the remainder of the half, including six tortuous minutes of injury time, inside our 22 again.  But our defence was tighter now and with Ronan Shaw replacing Aaron in the front row now, the scrums were as dominant as ever. Another scrum penalty saw us clear our lines and we welcomed the half time whistle  … at last.

The second half was a festival of junior rugby in all its messy glory.  We played with flair and ambition, sometimes a bit loose. The lads looked like they were having a great time, but for those of us on the side-line with nervous dispositions it was harrowing!  We lived in their half peppering their defences with inventive attacks, short and wide, but the visitors scotched every attempt.  Credit where it’s due, they hardly saw the ball in the third quarter, but Tullamore never completely lost their shape, forcing us into mistakes.  When our twin tower second rows, Conor Horan and Daly, were both called to the side-line, our scrum was briefly disrupted and Tullamore managed to edge their way back up the pitch. But now we disrupted their attacks and forced mistakes. As one sage supporter (and model Dad) on the side-line observed, “both of these sides are going out of their way NOT to win this game!”

Tullamore helped our cause by repeatedly missing touch when they had chances to clear their lines, creating opportunities for our back three to show their skills in counter attack. First was winger Andrew Russell, who athletically leapt to keep the ball out of touch and regained 30 meters in a lightning counter.  Next it was time for full back Finn “Ronaldo” O’Loughlin. A miskicked clearance came spinning out of the heavens towards him, and showing no ill effects from the full body wax he endured earlier in the week, he controlled the ball with his feet before starting his own counter attack with a bobbing and weaving run.  And there was also another super-sub, Max Moore, who staggered the visitors and left his personal entourage of supporters swooning with his remarkable speed (and of course his very impressive hair).

Tullamore’s next gift was to win a penalty on our 22 in front of the posts and to send it wide.  A one point deficit might have changed the complexion of the last ten minutes and we would have had cause to rue our lack of points in spite of our dominance of the half. But we were back where we belonged in their half again now as the game drew to a close.  The only sad moment of the day came when the last pass to Choran was deemed to be foreword, as he loped to the line, knees up around his ears as usual, disallowing what would have been a glorious finish for him and us.

There were a few more dramas in another extended period of injury time, with Lansdowne going for the record for the number of penalties conceded in five minutes (none of them involving Jack Coolican, just to be clear!). But to the immense relief of the large and lively crowd of home supporters, the final whistle finally blew.  Full time and League Cup 14 – 10.

What a joy to lift the The Jack Dawson Memorial Cup after such a great contest.  Let’s hope Will’s team can crown a great season by bringing home the Albert O’Connell Cup as well!


Match Report – Brian Whelan