- Result: Galwegians Firsts 14 - Blackrock 13
- Venue: Stradbrook on Sat Apr 9th 2005
- Competition: AIL Division 1
Galwegians guaranteed their survival in the All-Ireland League Division 1 with an excellent win, albeit by the narrowest of margins against their old rivals Blackrock College at Stradbrook on Saturday. Stradbrook has become something of a happy hunting ground for the Blues in recent years, as this was their fourth straight win at the venue in the AIL. But for coach Bernie Kelly, and indeed for the majority of his players, it was the first outing at the south Dublin venue, and the manner of victory will have pleased them almost as much as the outcome.
With NEC Harlequins-bound prop Peter Bracken their only contracted player on view, the young Wegians team played with a slight breeze in the first-half, but not for the first time this year they failed to take full advantage of the elements. Indeed it was the home side who opened the scoring with a penalty from their reliable full-back and ex-UCG star Conor Kilroy. Although they rarely threatened to breach the home defence, the visitors never panicked and stuck to their task, despite losing open-side flanker Ivan Muldoon to the sin-bin for ten minutes. They were led from the front by stalwart captain John Casserly, with promising loose-head prop Ronan Loughney especially prominent in the loose.
Wegians were finally rewarded for their patience in first-half injury-time when they scored the opening try of the game. It was manufactured by out-half Paddy Noble who made an excellent break to breach the Rock rearguard, and it was finished off with a typical barnstorming burst for the line by Bracken to score in what is probably his last game for Wegians. Full-back John Cleary converted the try to give the visitors a 7-3 half-time lead.
The game was nicely poised at this stage, but early in the second-half the home side appeared to strike a decisive blow when they regained the lead. It came from a lineout, a facet of play which in fairness they had dominated throughout, with David Dillon eventually crossing for a try which Kilroy converted for a 10-7 lead.
With the breeze strengthening, the home side looked to be in the driving seat at this stage. Wegians had gone into this game with a six-point cushion over bottom club Lansdowne, and four ahead of second-from-bottom Carlow. But when word filtered through during the game that both these teams were winning their respective matches, a win for the Blues became imperative to maintain their Division 1 status for the fifth successive year.
But Wegians showed how much they have matured as a team this season, as they upped the ante considerably, especially in the forwards, to work their way back into the game. Despite blotting his copy-book with his first-half booking, Muldoon produced yet another outstanding display, tackling his socks off. And despite enduring a torrid start to his season which was plagued with injury and self-doubt, Paddy Noble maintained his dramatic improvement in recent weeks by giving a very assured performance at out-half.
Coach Bernie Kelly also made two very astute second-half tactical substitutions, bringing on Connacht prop Dan McFarland for Loughney and Derek Boyd replacing second-row Brian McClearn. With the game well into its final quarter, Wegians were now exerting real pressure on the home defence. Despite carrying a knock from the pre-match run-out, Cleary almost made it for the line at one stage, but was tackled just short. But when awarded a series of scrums close to the line, the visitors had the home pack in all sorts of trouble, with McFarland using every ounce of his scrummaging expertise to torment his opponent. Inevitably the referee Dermot Moloney finally lost patience and awarded a penalty try to Wegians on 72 minutes, with Cleary adding the simple convert for a 14-10 lead.
There was still some work to do as the home side came looking to reclaim their lead. When awarded a penalty on the Wegians 10-meter line with three minutes of stoppage time remaining, they opted to kick for goal, and Kilroy duly obliged to reduce the margin to one point and set up a tense finale. But Wegians again showed great composure by retaining possession to close out the game and seal their second away victory of the season, and fourth in the AIL.
This victory saw the Blues leapfrog four teams in the league table, including arch-rivals Buccaneers. Their final Division 1 encounter is a home tie against another of these sides, Dungannon, whom they entertain this Saturday April 16th at Crowley Park (2.30pm). And despite having recently flirted with relegation worries, another win could even see Wegians finishing in the top half of the table, which would be a fair return for their season’s efforts.