Sunday’s Well 24 Midleton 23
It was a great occasion in Musgrave Park last Friday night; as arch-rivals Sunday’s Well and Midleton battled it out under the bright dazzling lights. Both sides bought a massive set of vocal supporters for this crucial end of season encounter and in a topsy-turvy second-half where momentum kept shifting; it was the reliable reboot of returnee Fabien Loughrey that sealed what could be a massive win for the home side.
Both sides played with great passion and intensity. The ‘Well line-out; with Conor O’Brien and Cormac Kelliher being prime targets; dominated and they produced several magnificent driving mauls that had the home side reeling. Dan O’Brien, Kevin Holland and Evan O’Connell were punching some big holes around the fringes. They also pressurized the Midleton line-out – although Mark Hickey secure some ball at the front.
The scrum provided another battle that epitomized the game – with the momentum and advantage shifting between both sides that gave no quarter. The most crucial scrum, right at the end with the ‘Well trailing by two points, on a Midleton put-in in their own half saw a ferocious (and legal) effort from the ‘Well pack. They managed to earn a penalty from it and with three tries on the board; Conor O’Brien sensibly went to secure the win first with the trusted boot of Loughrey maintaining his 100% record with a sublime kick under pressure.
The game was far from being all focused on the grind-mill up-front. Loughrey slotted back in at scrum-half to unleash his back-line with Harry McHenry mixing up his game; with some clever kicks through and a couple of quick passes out wide. Eoin O’Sullivan was poking holes in the East Cork side’s defence and putting team-mates in space; while flying winger Shane Keevers made some excellent bursts up field.
The first-half was a bit cagier and tighter than the game that was to emerge in the second-half. The game was largely played between the two Twenty-Twos with the ‘Well having more of the possession and territory but a robust committed Midleton defensive effort continuously keeping them at bay. Ex-‘Well youth player Stuart Lee kicked an early penalty before using his massive boot to put a big up and under that saw the ball run loose with Cillian Lynch racing clear to gather and score. Midleton’s coolness and clinical nature saw them hold an eight-point lead.
The ‘Well knew they needed to add more dynamism and pace in the second half. A couple of replacements made big impacts in the second forty minutes with Ross Taylor, Finn MacFhlannchadha and Adam Brown prominent around the park while David Hourigan continued to solidify the ‘Well scrum.
The ‘Well needed a big start to the second half and by god they got it. From an early line-out; they produced a magnificent rumbling maul. There was a hint that the team was focusing a little more on intensity and chaos rather than complete control; which they still largely maintained. It had Midleton’s defence reeling and once the maul was halted; the ball was quickly fed out with the imperious Conor O’Brien producing a foraging burst around the fringe. The chance was halted with a penalty ensuing.
The ‘Well went for a tap and after a coupe of carries it was Cormac Kelliher who managed to force his way over to the loud cheers of the jubilant home supporters. Loughrey converted and almost immediately the ‘Well were back on the attack. The backs ran some good lines and Harry McHenry spotted space out wide. The kick was going towards Denis Hurley free in the corner but a big bounce against the grain bought it back infield, catching almost everyone off guard. However; the on-rushing Eoin O’Sullivan took a perfect line to gather the ball and touch-down. Loughrey’s trust boot once more did the business.
With the ‘Well appearing to be in full control; Midleton managed to regain momentum. A Stuart Lee penalty twelve minutes in made it a one-point game and their kicking and chase game was getting them back into the match. A great burst by Aaron Leahy bought play up to the ‘Well line and Stuart Lee was on hand to squeeze over; with his conversion making it a 18-14 game.
Once more the ‘Well needed to wrestle control back. The strong set-piece provided them a platform to do so. After setting up position, another great line-out drive had Midleton’s defence reeling. Conor O’Brien took the ball on and powered towards the line. He looked as if he was going to be held up but got the ball back where it seemed Kelliher wriggled into some free space to touch the ball down on the artificial turf. Loughrey did what he does with the conversion giving the ‘Well the lead in the final ten minutes – 21-18.
Midleton, with Hickey and Conor Walsh leading the charge went back on the offensive. With the game so tight and so many permutations at the bottom of the table; both sides were faced with tough decisions. First Midleton had a series of kickable penalties but Lee and captain David O’Sulivan opted for the corner. The ‘Well appeared to have driven back the maul but scrum-half Kyle Read wriggled his way over through a small space on the blind-side to touch-down. Crucially Lee narrowly missed the touch-line effort.
The ‘Well pinned Midleton back but appeared to lose their chance with a crooked line-out. Midleton would have been looking to clear their lines from the defensive scrum but a massive surge by the home pack saw them regain possession. With a couple of minutes left; three tries in the bag, plenty of weary legs and minds, O’Brien rightly trusting his scrum-half decided against going for all or nothing with a bonus-point try and his calm head opted for the posts.
Out to the left near the fifteen meter, this was no gimme with the immense pressure that Loughrey was under. Of course he is use to the situation after the heroics in Clonmel last season and he fronted up and sweetly struck the ball straight through the center, The ‘Well gathered the restart and played out the remaining two minutes to secure a vital win and remain very much in the hunt to produce a great late season miracle escape.
Scorers: Sunday ’s Well: C Kelliher (2), E O’Sullivan tries; F Loughrey pen, 3 cons.
Midleton: S Lee try, 2 pens, con; C Lynch, K Read tries.
Sunday’s Well: D Hurley; G Downey, E O’Sullivan, R Geary, S Keevers; H McHenry, F Loughrey; E O’Connell, J McHenry, M McCarthy; A Mintern, K Holland; C Kelliher, D O’Brien, C O’Brien (c). Replacements: A Brown, D Hourigan, R Taylor, F MacFhlannchadha, K Maye.
Midleton: A Malone; J Power, A Leahy, J Colbert, C Lynch; S Lee, K Read; M Corby, D O’Sullivan (c), C Smiddy; R Lehane, M Stanton; F McCarthy, C Walsh, R Hickey. Replacements: E Lordan-Bailey, F O’Connell, J Deady, R Daly, G Collins.
Referee: B O’Connell (IRFU)