There was a time when a visit to Limerick to take on the Shannon Club in the AIL would have been looked forward to with some trepidation.
Nine-times All-Ireland title winners, Shannon still hold the record for the greatest number of wins in the competition by a long way.
Time waits for no man (or no club, for that matter), and the once-mighty Shannon RFC were relegated from the top Division six seasons ago following a heavy play-off defeat at home to UCD in the same year than Lansdowne won their first AIL title.
It took the Limerickmen until last season to muscle their way back into the top division, and early successes this year means they are looking good to consolidate their position.
On Saturday last, Lansdowne travelled to Thomond Park (back pitch), and duly asserted their pre-match billing as favourite by IrishRugby.ie – but not before receiving a stern examination of their title credentials from a young side well-coached by former Exeter player Tom Hayes, brother of the famous Shannon, Munster and Ireland tight head, John “Bull” Hayes.
A cool breeze from the city end favoured the home side, and they dominated early possession. Lansdowne rebuffed these early attacks and worked their way up the pitch. They were rewarded with an opening penalty after 13 minutes, coolly dispatched by young tyro out half Harry Byrne, who gave another impressive performance. The position had been set up by a brilliant aerial take by 2nd row Willie Earle, playing as well as ever in his career.
Lansdowne won a free kick, then a penalty in the first two scrums and went on to dominate this facet of the game. Ronan Kelleher started at hooker and his powerful presence, ably supported by loose head Denis Coulson and Ian Prendiville, made sure the Shannon forwards were always under pressure in the tight.
Last season’s captain, Prendiville, notched up his 100th AIL appearance for the Club and joined a small, select band of Lansdowne players to have achieved this distinction.
Both defences were proving hard to break down, and the next score didn’t come until the 33rd minute, when Shannon No. 10 Conor Fitzgerald knocked over an equalising penalty.
Lansdowne responded, and another scrum penalty saw a line-out deep in the home ’22.
A powerful maul ensued, and flanker Aaron Conneely pealed off for the first try of the match after 37 minutes. Harry Byrne’s conversion across the wind from 5 metres in from touch clattered off the upright, but fell the right way for the visitors, and it appeared a valuable half time lead had been established.
Shannon had other ideas, however, and their Captain and second row, Jade Kriel, surged through the Lansdowne midfield defence before releasing the supporting Fitzgerald, who did exceptionally well to find centre Robbie Deegan. Deegan crossed for an excellent try which even the most die-hard of those dressed in red, black and yellow applauded.
Fitzgerald was unable to convert, and a two-point lead, 10-8, ensured that the competitive edge would remain in the second period.
Invariably at their best in the third quarter of tightly-contested matches, Lansdowne were immediately on the attack following the resumption. Another powerful line-out maul from a penalty after only two minutes saw flanker Conneely rumble over for his second score of the afternoon. Byrne obliged with the extras and there was a little daylight between the teams as, in contrast, the winter sky above darkened considerably.
Shannon refused to back down, however, although increasingly the collisions were going the defending League Champion’s way. A powerful counter-ruck following on from an earlier turn-over by Ian Prendiville saw several Shannon attacks repulsed. A towering, relieving kick by Harry Byrne saw play switch from one ’22 to the other and an enforced penalty saw Byrne convert from 18 metres out to stretch the visitors lead to 20-8.
No. 8 Joe O’Brien went off with a shoulder injury and was replaced by last season Under 20 Will Fay. Shannon were penalised for coming in at the side of a ruck, and from the ensuing penalty line-out they dragged the Lansdowne maul down. Referee Mr. Gaffikin, who had a good match, awarded a penalty try to the visitors while at the same time he reduced the home side temporarily to 14 men.
On 62 minutes Shannon were penalised for a high tackle, and Lansdowne were subsequently held up over the line fromk the line-out maul. From the ensuing scrum Lansdowne drove forward and young Fay, who spent most of last season injured, dived over for his first try for the Seniors, securing the try bonus point and a 32-8 lead.
With 12 minutes remaining, Shannon pressed for a consolation score. First Lansdowne were penalised in a scrum, then Shannon, from which they had a prop sin-binned. The Limerickmen continued to exert pressure but were repulsed by some stern tackling from the well -organised Lansdowne defence.
Shannon did receive their reward when the impressive Conor Fitzgerald flighted a beautiful cross-field kick for right winger Nathan Randles to gather on the full and dive over for a well-executed try. Fitzgerald nailed the conversion in the gloom but it was the Dubliners who were celebrating a thoroughly deserved bonus-point win and a rare enough victory against the Shannon Club on their own patch.
Four matches in a row coming up against university sides – UCC at home next week, Trinity before and after Christmas followed by UCC again. Lansdowne indeed have a lot to play for once again this season.
Match Report: Michael Daly
Match Details: Ulster Bank AIL Division 1A Round 7: Shannon RFC v. Lansdowne FC
Venue: Thomond Park back pitch
Date: 1st December 2018, k.o. 2:30pm
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin
Score: Shannon 15 Lansdowne 32
Scorers: Shannon: Tries: Robbie Deegan, Nathan Randles; Con: Conor Fitzgerald; Pen: Conor Fitzgerald
Lansdowne: Tries: Aaron Conneely 2, Willie Fay, Penalty try; Cons: Harry Byrne 2, Pen try con; Pens: Harry Byrne 2
HT: Shannon 8 Lansdowne 10
SHANNON: Jake Flannery; Nathan Randles, Pa Ryan, Robbie Deegan, Jamie McGarry; Conor Fitzgerald, Aran Hehir; Conor Glynn, Eoghan Clarke, Tony Cusack, Luke Clohessy, Jade Kriel (capt), Luke Moylan, Charlie Carmody, Kelvin Brown.
Replacements: Jordan Prenderville, Sam Karlsen, Colin Deane, Jack Stafford, Eathon Moloney.
LANSDOWNE: Eamonn Mills (capt); Daniel McEvoy, Harry Brennan, Tom Roche, Peter Sullivan; Harry Byrne, Tim Murphy; Denis Coulson, Ronan Kelleher, Ian Prendiville, David O’Connor, Willie Earle, Jack O’Sullivan, Aaron Conneely, Joe O’Brien.
Replacements (all used): James Rael, Ntinga Mpiko, Willie Fay, Alan Bennie, Mark O’Keeffe.