Saturday the 31st of March saw the re-scheduled fixture against Bective Rangers at home. This game was meant to take place on the 3rd of the Month however the elements intervened and the snow won the day. Going into the game Bective were sitting in bottom with Midleton in 7th yet a mere 8 points separated the sides. Midleton were on the wrong side of a good beating in Donnybrook back in September and were looking for retribution against a side fighting to protect their 100 year heritage as a senior club.
The game started poorly for the visitors with the kick off going straight to touch and then conceding a penalty from the resulting scrum, no better way to take the wind out of the sails and to kill any momentum they tried to carry through from the warm up. The Midleton pack that dominated a poor Bangor pack in the loose a week previous were given no quarter in this game as the line speed and ferocity of the tackles from the visitors ensured the hard yards were that bit harder to eek out.
Neither team managed to get the upper hand throughout the first half, as both sides battled hard. A number of times either team could have taken a significant lead only t0 be repelled. Stuart Lee and his opposite number, Gearoid O’Grady, traded two penalties each to go in level at the break. While there was no winner on the score board it can be said that Bective may have had the upper hand. Despite having more possession and territory the home side could not cross the line for the all important five pointer instead giving away penalty after penalty.
Lee kicked off the second half, the ball being knocked back into home side hands, giving Midleton the opportunity to attack early on and get that coveted first score of the half, which came just 5 minutes later.
A period of sustained pressure from Rob Smyths men, the big ball carriers being used well by Lee which he combined nicely with the speedsters out wide, led to a lapse in defensive concentration. Michael “Yorkie” Cronin found a soft shoulder on the edge of a ruck and crashed over from ten yards out for his seventh try of the season. Lee stepped up to add the extras making it 13-6 with 45 minutes gone.
From the restart the visitors got on the ball and began their own purple patch where they manged to hold onto the ball for nearly 20 phases. This period was a real test for the Midleton defense, especially considering the lack of discipline in the first half, as Bective were well within penalty range for the majority of it. However, a lone ball carrier found himself under pressure from Dan Murray who won a penalty for the home side, giving them the chance to relieve the pressure.
10 minutes later a turnover came when a spilled ball by the visitors in the middle of the park was pounced on by the home side. Three strong carries and offloads from Aidan McCarthy, Yorkie and Charlie Murphy saw Midleton progress into the opposition 22 where another penalty was awarded. Lee slotted it making the score 16-6 with 25 minutes remaining.
Rob Smyth launched a high box kick from the restart which was knocked back by a Bective hand for Rian Hogan to hack forward, he showed his pace to beat all others too the ball over the line and get Midletons second try of the game. Stuart Lee stepped up to add the extras again, 23 – 6.
Only 3 minutes later Bective struck back with a try of their own. Some weak tackling from Midleton combined with good offloading from Bective saw them go over the line following a short number of phases. 60 minutes gone and the score line read 23 – 13 in favor of the home side.
Another foray into the visitors 22 saw yet another penalty, with a man in the bin for an earlier infringement against Rian Hogan, the defensive effort was beginning to tell. Lee added another 3 points to is tally making the scores 26 – 13 with 15 left.
Bective got their hands on the ball in the Midleton half yet some strong tackling and impressive line speed soon pushed the visitors back to their own 10 metre line. They say it is always a testament to the defensive effort when the attacking side are forced to kick the ball away which they did. Landing in Rian Hogan’s hands, he showed strength, speed and guile to get away from the on rushing defense to break away down the pitch with 50 metres to go. However, the covering tackler made it and forced the pass into the hands of Stuart Lee who somehow managed to find that extra yard of speed to collapse over the line breathless. He was so tired from his efforts that he skewed his kick wide from an easily kickable angle, the score now stood at 31-13 with seven minutes left.
Now seeking the bonus point the home side really turned on the pressure in both attack and defence, doing everything in their power to get over the line one more time. With the pressure mounting on a relegation battling Bective the heat got too much and they turned over the ball in their own half. Buoyed by this turn of luck the Midleton men ran hard at the spaces between the green and white jerseys to create gaps out wide. Just as it looked like we were going to exploit these Lee turned up with ball in hand to step inside the rushing defense and go over the line for his second of the day and that all important fourth try. He added the extras making the final score 38 – 13 to Midleton, bringing Lees total for the day to 28 points, a serious effort by anyone’s standards.
This bonus point win moves us up into 5th with two games to go. However, the nature of the league this year means that we are not safe from relegation but it also means we are in contention for a promotion play off place!
Our next match is this coming Saturday, the 7th of April, against Omagh who are coming down to us in third place with a view to go first. It is going to be a huge game as both teams will really be pushing for that big win, especially considering the last minute draw in the North in September.