Midleton 27 – 13 Tullamore
This AIL Round 9 clash with our old rivals Tullamore took on huge importance following the IRFU’s revised plans to the league format which had been hit by Covid 19 related cancelations. As a result, the format of the league now entails the top 4 teams in the league entering into a semi-final and final play-off at the end of the league proper. With Tullamore lying in 4th position, one place ahead of Midleton, the importance of wining was huge. A loss would have left daylight between the teams which would have been difficult to overcome, especially with a tough visit away to Tullamore ahead in the first round of matches after the Christmas break.
The importance was no doubt impressed upon the players by the Coaching and Management teams although in the early stages of the match it didn’t look like the message had hit it’s target. Midleton, who were forced into a late change which saw young Danny McCarthy starting his first senior match at loosehead prop, started well initially but came under a prolonged spell of pressure from the Tullamore attack. This eventually lead to Tullamore winning a kickable penalty. However, Midleton were let off the hook when the kick sailed wide. More pressure from the Tullamore attack put the Midleton line under pressure but a superb turnover on the deck by hooker Bryan Moore relieved the pressure.
It wasn’t until 12 minutes into the game that Midleton started to get a foothold and work their way up the field. A great break upfield from centre Shayne Anderson was followed by another break from his centre partner, Rory Horgan. After some pressure on the Tullamore line, Bryan Moore crashed over for a try. While this was against the run of play, it followed some great flowing rugby and was a sign of things to come later in the game. The conversion was tapped over by Stuart Lee in the first of many great kicks that were to follow.
Unfortunately, as often happens when teams score, Midleton’s concentration left them down off the resulting kick off. A mix up in the back 3 lead to the kick off crossing over the Midleton tryline before being touched down. However, the referee deemed that the ball had touched one of the Midleton players and awarded a 5m scrum to the away team. This was a cause of concern as the relatively inexperienced Midleton front row had been under the pump at scrum time. However, a huge effort from the Midleton pack resulted in them winning a scrum penalty which allowed them to clear their lines.
Midleton played some good running rugby up to, and after, the 20minute water break with all players from 1 – 15 looking very comfortable handling the ball. They consistently stretched the Tullamore defence from touchline to touchline. It is a feature that the coaching team and players have obviously worked hard on, with the benefits clear to see! It was heard said that ‘It was like watching France in the 70’s’ after one particularly flowing move, in the 27th minute, which saw multiple offloads and brought Midleton from their own 22 deep into the Tullamore half.
Midleton kicked a penalty deep into the Tullamore 22 and, following a great throw and catch at the tail of the lineout, were awarded a penalty on the 22m line, 15m out from the touchline. Stuart Lee stepped up to slot the penalty and leave the score 10 – 0. This was followed by more pressure from Midleton, but in fairness to Tullamore their defence withheld everything that was thrown at them until they eventually cleared their lines.
On 36 minutes Tullamore kicked a penalty deep into the Midleton half and went on the attack. However, following a bone crunching tackle from the Midleton 2nd row, Luke Obersby, Horgan turned the ball over and it was hacked down the field. Midleton were unlucky when, following a great chase by Horgan and backrower Florence McCarthy, they were penalised at the breakdown.
Tullamore went on the attack again and it took some solid tackling from Julian Power, and Charlie Murphy bundling the Tullamore winger into touch on the 5m line, to keep the tryline intact. Eventually the pressure told and Tullamore kicked a penalty to leave the score 10 – 3 at halftime.
Midleton hit the ground running in the second half with a big carry from Danny McCarthy followed up by a barnstorming break by hooker, and captain, Bryan Moore. This lead to a kickable penalty being awarded and Lee made no mistake to make the score 13 – 3 after two minutes of the 2nd half. Tullamore, however, responded quickly with their own 3 pointer shortly after to leave only 7 points in the difference.
Then disaster struck when, against the run of play, Tullamore scored a breakaway try. A loose kick inside the Tullamore 22, while Midleton were attacking, resulted in a superb counter-attack which saw the Tullamore centre crossing under the posts at the far end of the field.
This was a huge body blow for Midleton who, after playing all the rugby, found themselves at 13 – 13. It would have been easy for the team to drop their heads, but that’s not what this team is about as we have seen on numerous occasions in Towns Park this season.
When Tullamore came on the attack again off the kick off, they were met with a thundering tackle from Shayne Anderson. Following this, the play resided in the middle 3rd of the pitch for the next 10 minutes or so with Midleton guilty, at times, of over complicating their play inside their own half instead of punching the Tullamore defence, or kicking in behind for territory. Eventually, Jack Colbert cleared the lines with a kick into the Tullamore half. The kick was chased up brilliantly by Richie Daly and from the resultant scrum, this was when Midleton kicked into another gear.
Another superb break from the Midleton second Centre, Anderson, put Midleton into a great attacking position. After a number of pick and drives close in, a good call from the backline saw the ball spread wide for Rob Carey to cross the line, with work to do, for a great team try. Stuart Lee kicked a nice conversion from way out on the left for the extras, to leave the score 20 – 13 for the home side with 65 minutes played.
Midleton rang the changes over the next few minutes in the forwards and the backs. Richie Daly made a great break on the right wing and Charlie Murphy made another touchline tackle to prevent Tullamore from scoring. On 70 minutes, Midleton disrupted a Tullamore lineout allowing Rob Carey to make a half break. The ball was spun wide with Richie Daly finishing an excellent move in the corner! Stuart Lee was once again on hand to slot the conversion from the opposite touchline – he really brought his kicking boots!
Midleton now had 3 tries scored, lead 27 – 13 and had 10 minutes remaining to chase a bonus point victory. However, Tullamore had other ideas and they retained the ball well through multiple phases to put pressure on the Midleton defence. The character and the training of the team shone through as on multiple occasions they snubbed out Tullamore attacks. Some great communication between Rob Carey and Richie Daly saw them manage a Tullamore overlap well in defence in the 74th minute. 2 minutes later Ryan Lehane came up with a brilliant tackle and turnover to relieve the pressure again. Rory Horgan made 2 tackles in a row to drive the Tullamore defence backwards and a huge tackle from Shayne Anderson in the dying minutes pushed Tullamore back into their own half.
Midleton’s offensive defence almost paid dividends in the very last play of the game when Richie Daly almost intercepted a pass. If the ball had stuck it would have meant a certain bonus point try but unfortunately the ball slipped past his finger tips before the referee blew his final whistle.
This was a great team performance with all players from 1 – 20 having a positive impact on the game. The front row boasted 2 young props in Dan McCarthy and Fionn O’Connell. While the scrum struggled in the early stages, they found their feet a put in a great shift both in the tight and around the field. Hooker Bryan Moore was his usual consistent self, with a number of carries, some turnovers on the deck and a try to his name. When Paul Kingston and Mark Corby came off the bench they helped to up the ante in the forward pack.
The front row was ably supported by the second row of Denis Broderick and Luke Obersby who carried well and put in some thundering tackles. Rob Hickey came off the bench in the second half and did some great defensive work along with carrying some good ball.
The back row of Florence McCarthy, Charlie Murphy and Rob Carey were all over the field carrying strong, making try saving tackles and being a general nuisance wherever they went! When Ryan Lehane replaced Florence he made a number of excellent tackles and turned over a great ball in the dying minutes.
Our half backs controlled the ball well, with Willie Casey marshalling the troops well and Stuart Lee moving the backline well. The 2 centres, Rory Horgan and Shayne Anderson were both as good in attack as in defence, both players combining a big defensive effort with multiple line breaks in attack.
The back three have an exciting look to them. They did everything that was asked of them in defence in the first half and took the game well to Tullamore in the second with some great breaks from the wingers Julian Power and Richie Daly, along with some excellent clearance kicks from Jack Colbert. Fionn Bailey came on in the 2nd half and also contributed well with some good carries on the wing.
Overall you would have to imagine that head coach Ken Murphy was happy with his charges performance and, while the winning bonus point eluded us, we would have taken this win before kick-off. Added to the fact that Tullamore didn’t register a losing bonus point, this was a great way to sign off 2021. The first game back after the new year is a return visit to Tullamore who will be sure to try to exact revenge for this game. But I’m sure the lads will enjoy the break (but not too much!) and be ready for the second round of AIL matches at the beginning of 2022.