The towns cup like many similar knockout competitions still has a certain romantic attraction, one that can really only be found in amateur rugby. It can occasionally provide us with unfortunate mismatches as team from different leagues meet, but it can also entertain us with when two unacquainted clubs pair off for a winner takes all battle. When Roscrea RFC welcomed Balbriggan RFC to Streamstown on Sunday March the 1st the fixture was definitely in the latter category and although 2 division separated the clubs, the teams put on a superb show for the large crowd in attendance.
As soon as the 2 teams ran onto the pitch in Streamstown we knew we were in for a cracker. Both sides set out their intensions from the very first whistle exhibiting incredible physicality in attack and defence. The swirling wind played a huge factor in the opening exchanges as kicking was a bit of a lottery, however it was from a kick and then an early line out on the Balbriggan 10m line that eventually saw Roscrea score first. Roscrea Hooker Mikey Fitzgearld found jumper Malachy Maher perfectly and the maul was set which gained ground. Then after a series of rucks and drives by the forwards gave momentum, Roscrea Captain Ger Stone slalomed his way through the Balbriggan defensive line and touched down, Sam Quealy’s subsequent conversion went narrowly wide as the wind pushed it past the far post, although he was to make up for the miss not long after with an expertly taken penalty in a similar position. Roscrea were then reduced to 14 players for 10 minutes as centre John Joe Ryan was penalised and received a yellow card, but the numerical disadvantage didn’t reduce their ambition or effectiveness and not long after we were provided with a magical bit of skill as Roscrea outhalf Jack Feeney kicked a sensational drop goal after the Roscrea forwards had set up an attack on the Balbriggan 22 meter line. Balbriggan RFC are truly a quality team and possess some fantastically direct runners who consistently gained ground when they attacked the Roscrea defensive line. Half way through the first half after some excellent work by the Balbriggan backs and then a series of driving rucks saw their forwards inch their way towards the Roscrea line. Roscrea defended valiantly and with huge aggression, but eventually influential Balbriggan captain Conor Caldwell cleverly touched the ball against the post to give his side 5 points. The following kick was converted by Paul O’Connor who also subsequently kicked a very good penalty after an infringement by one of the Roscrea forwards was spotted by the referee. With half time approaching the game was evenly poised at 11 – 10 in favour of Roscrea, but then with what was the last play of the half, Roscrea’s outhalf Jack Feeney who was having an incredible game intelligently kicked into space behind the balbriggan winger, Johnathon Sutton somehow scooped the ball under pressure and after a series of passes the ever imperious Jake Lawlor touched down for a super team score and his first try for the club. Sam Quealy added the extras to give his team an 18 – 10 lead at half time. The second half started as the first, with big collisions, aggressive rucking and no end of direct attacking play met with determined defence. The wind continued to play its part as it affected not only territorial aspirations but also the accuracy of the line out throwing. Balbriggan scored early in the second half, with a well struck penalty by Paul O’Connor narrowing the score at 18 – 13 to Roscrea. From then on the game turned into an intriguing arm wrestle with Roscrea attacking the Balbriggan line for long periods with Balbriggan defending valiantly and quickly turning defence into attack as they managed to turn the ball over on a few occasions. The Roscrea Forwards began to find some ascendancy with brothers Mikey and Seamus Treacy in devastating form and Ger Stone and Malachy Maher a menace at the breakdown. This was never a game for the 2 sets of backs and when the teams did release their outside men, there was always a staunch and determined defence in their path. For long spells the backs were forced to surrender their attacking instincts to diligently concentrate on the necessary defensive duties as the game demanded. The match eventually finished where it started on the halfway line as referee Willie Murphy, who had an excellent game throughout blew the final whistle to end an intriguing encounter. Both teams were deservedly clapped off the pitch by both sets of supporters after a display that speaks volumes for the competition and the amateur game in general.
After the game Roscrea RFC head coach thanked Balbriggan for playing their part in an enthralling game. He also paid tribute to the supporters who once again had been influential in encouraging the team and had deserved praise for 21 year old 2nd row Ben Spencer who played excellently and with maturity beyond his years in his first start of the season. As a reward for their endeavours, Roscrea will play at home against division 1 side Wicklow in the next round. We are already looking forward to that battle!