Not the ideal start to Lansdowne’s 2018-19 AIL campaign last Friday night as the Headquarters club set out on the defence of the All Ireland League title they won in such great style last season.
Played under lights on a cool, crisp evening in Castle Avenue, Lansdowne came up against a strong and well-organised Clontarf side which had bolstered its squad over the close season through the signing of several of last season’s Trinity team.
Having already lost season’s year’s second rows, Jack Dwan and Josh O’Rourke, who have both moved abroad for the year, Lansdowne were dealt a further blow through the late withdrawal of new arrival, former St. Mary’s lock David O’Connor.
The resultant reshuffle saw No. 8 Jack O’Sullivan move into the second row and last season’s Under 20’s No. 8, William Fay, come into the middle of the back row to make his AIL debut for the club.
The match was tightly fought, with neither side giving much away in the early exchanges. Out halves David Joyce and Scott Deasy exchanged early penalty misses, with ‘Tarf’s No. 6, Tony Ryan, earning the referee’s ire and a yellow card for his troubles in the 18th minute.
Indeed, the referee, Mike English, from the Welsh RFU, was to have a significant impact on the evening’s proceedings, issuing no less that 6 yellow cards and an astonishing 38 penalties during the game.
While it cannot be entirely laid at Mr. English’s door that the match failed to take off as a spectacle at any stage, nonetheless the ongoing, shrill blast of his whistle as yet another penalty was awarded certainly did not add to the evening’s entertainment.
Clontarf’s massive pack gave them a considerable advantage against the visitor’s smaller and lighter eight, and as a result the home side were winning most of the collisions. Lansdowne struggled to gain parity in the scrum, and the line-out was an inconsistent source of go-forward ball.
It was off a successful line-out, however, that the Lansdowne backs showed their mettle with a superb sweeping move to the left from 40 metres out. The move saw winger Daniel McEvoy display great pace and determination to cross for what looked for the vital opening score in the left corner in the 28th minute.
Unfortunately for Lansdowne, the intervention of the touch judge led to the cancellation of the score, as play was called back to the 10-metre line and a penalty awarded to Clontarf. To add insult to injury, second row Jack O’Sullivan was sin-binned as a result and the first score at a crucial stage of the match was disallowed.
Within five minutes Clontarf had taken advantage of their numerical advantage with lively centre Matt D’Arcy cutting through for a try which Joyce was unable to goal. This ice-breaker proved critical and, notwithstanding D’Arcy’s yellow card for a high tackle moments later, gave the home side the initiative.
Clontarf quickly capitalised on their numerical advantage, out half Joyce taking advantage of some hesitancy in the Lansdowne defence to cross for a second try and a 10-0 advantage on the 40- minute mark.
From the re-start, Aaron Conneely received the fourth yellow card of the half for colliding with the catcher and Lansdowne were down to 13 men for the remainder for the half.
Notwithstanding, the visitors managed to exert some pressure and put some good phases of play together, with ‘Tarf getting a lucky break when their promising Ireland Under 20 second-row, Cormac Daly, tried to kick the ball out, only for it to hit their own post and spin away area from the despairing hands of the Lansdowne attackers in the in-goal area.
The referee managed to play 51 minutes in the first half, although there were no injuries of note during the period.
Hooker Tyrone Moran came on for James Rael, but Clontarf struck early on the resumption with Joyce finally finding the range with a penalty to extend his side’s lead to 13-0 two minutes into the second half. Aussie flanker Tom Murphy came on for the injured William Fay, and Scott Deasy narrowed the gap with a successful penalty in the 48th minute.
This was quickly nullified by a further Joyce penalty on 55 minutes for off-side in front of the posts. Clontarf flanker Ryan had a lucky escape shortly after when the referee, having reached for his pocket, realised that he had already carded him and took no further action.
The official had no such hesitation a few minutes later when he sin-binned Willie Earle and then Tinga Mpiko, who had just come on as a sub, reducing Lansdowne to 13 men for the second time in the match.
To their credit, the Lansdowne side raised their game, and played some good rugby, with centre Mark O’Keeffe and full back and captain Eamonn Mills showing well.
Play petered out during the last quarter, with the shrill blast of Mr. English’s whistle the most noteworthy feature of a match that, unfortunately, failed to rise to the occasion.
Match Report: Michael Daly
Ulster Bank AIL Round 1: Clontarf RFC v Lansdowne FC
Venue: Castle Avenue
Date: Friday 5th October 2018: 8:00pm kick off
Referee: Mike English (WRU)
Scorers: Clontarf: Tries: Matt D’Arcy, David Joyce; Pens: David Joyce 2
Lansdowne: Pen: Scott Deasy
HT: Clontarf 10 Lansdowne 0
CLONTARF: Mick McGrath; James McKeown, Michael Courtney, Matt D’Arcy, Cian O’Donoghue; David Joyce, Angus Lloyd; Ivan Soroka, Declan Adamson, Royce Burke-Flynn, Cormac Daly, Ben Reilly, Tony Ryan, Adrian D’Arcy, Michael Noone (capt).
Replacements: Connor Johnston, Tom Ryan, David Moore, Andrew Feeney, Conor Jennings.
LANSDOWNE: Eamonn Mills (capt); Daniel McEvoy, Mark O’Keeffe, Fergal Cleary, Peter Sullivan; Scott Deasy, Tom Murphy; Denis Coulson, James Rael, Ian Prendiville, Jack O’Sullivan, Willie Earle, Joe O’Brien, Aaron Conneely, William Fay.
Replacements: Tyrone Moran, Ntinga Mpiko, Tom Murphy, Gareth Molloy, Tom Roche.