Sunday’s Well 14, Skerries 9
It was a great afternoon in the cold winter sunlight at Musgrave Park as Sunday’s Well turned the form guide upside down to secure a thoroughly deserved victory over a strong Skerries side. The North Dublin club have been in great form; mixing some swashbuckling rugby with a couple of gritty hard-fought wins. The ‘Well knew they had to play and concentrate for the full game and despite trailing for most of the encounter; they were able to solidify the game in the closing minutes. There were heroes on the day throughout the squad. Conor O’Brien led by example as captain with a stunning display. Making crucial inspiration plays, including a number of line-out steals; some fantastic takes from our own kick-offs and several sublime carries. Even though not every situation yielded the ultimate reward in points; it would definitely have lifted the crowd and team-mates to keep in the game. Up front; Mike McCarthy and James Mulcahy – for while he was on the field were carrying powerfully. Jack McHenry and Shane Desmond got through plenty of dirty work while Mark Kelly and Cormac Kelliher made a nuisance of themselves at the line-out. Fabien Loughrey was lively at scrum-half – and particularly played a crucial role in the defensive side of the game. Regularly he managed to curtail potential attacking opportunities at source for the opposition by wrapping up his opposite number; especially from scrums. Eoin Geary varied the back-play with Will Trevor and Ryan Buckley making some strong surges. The game also saw Coach Denis Hurley make his first start and his leadership and capabilities shone while he was not afraid to do a lot of the dirty work. Everyone stood up and was counted – but some of the most crucial work came late in the game as the bench perhaps proved to be the lethal weapon. But back to that later.
It was a tough battle. The first thing the ‘Well knew they had to do was curtail Skerries running attacking style. This they did superbly. Rarely having their defensive line breached and the visitors barely had a sniff of a try-scoring chance. They still won some penalties with Paul O’Loughlen knocking over three throughout the course of the afternoon to score his side’s nine points.
The ‘Well also had to fight hard and wear down a very strong and determined Skerries defense. Indeed the ‘Well dominated the territorial battle in the opening half. Twice they had Skerries camped on their own lines and may have felt unlucky not to come away with tries or penalties. In fairness Skerries were made to work hard to keep them at bay. When the visitors did get down the field; they doubled their lead through another O’Loghlen penalty with Geary managing to halve the gap just before the break.
The opening twenty-minutes of the second half was more cagey; mostly concentrated between the Twenty-Twos. O’Loghlen knocked over another penalty to extend his side’s lead to six points. With fatigue, tactical changes and knocks setting in – the use of the bench was always going to be important in such a close game – and this may have ended up being the ‘Well’s decisive advantage. Ethan Ackland and Adam Browne came on earlyish and made their presence known around the field. Ackland working hard at the tight end and Browne making some big interventions at the breakdown. Louis Murphy replaced Denis Hurley and did admirable work around the field in both attack and defense. With the game entering the final quarter of an hour; the ‘Well needed some magic to get into an attacking position and a pin-perfect kick by Eoin Geary gave them an attacking line-out five meters out. After securing the ball; the ‘Well moved the position of attack, but were pulled down initially. The ‘Well kept going and had another powerful surge towards the line and Evan O’Connell who was off the bench managed to inch his way over. Geary missed the conversion narrowly, leaving the ‘Well still trailing 9-8. Then Cormac MArrey may have been slightly unfortunate to see a red rather than a yellow card for Skerries; albeit in the context of the match the difference was about two minutes. With the ‘Well needing further inspiration; O ‘Connell stepped up with a magnificent double surge around half-way to gain 15 meters before Conor O’Brien bought the ball inside the 22 and eventually won his team a penalty. Geary stepped up and slotted the ball to sneak the ‘Well in front at last. There was still time to play but the ‘Well didn’t panic. Josh Featherstone had to come on for a cramping Geary and his side continued to pin Skerries back. Eventually with a long distance penalty awarded, Featherstone stepped up and put the seal on a fantastic victory; nailing the kick perfectly with plenty of distance to spare.
The result sees things very tight at the bottom of the table with a lot of our rivals involved in similarly tense and tight affairs. Clonmel remain above us technically on points difference after the first win of the season away to Oman Academicals; with the Tyrone side having a late penalty bounce off the post – denying them the win. Our neighbor’s Midleton did us a favor with an excellent 20-19 win away in City of Derry while Bruff were well beaten in Tullamore. The results leave three points between the bottom four – with the bottom two at the end of the season set to play-off in a two-legged relegation play-off.