En Route to Thomond Park
On Saturday the Skerries team bus became embroiled in the Limerick version of traffic paralysis. But, by performing prodigies of circumvention and putting his paintwork at risk the driver was consistently getting over the gain-line at junctions and roundabouts. CARRON, the slickest exponent of Marxist humour since Groucho saw his opportunity, "If you fellas play as well as this driver is driving you'll win the match easily" he barked, deadpan at his protégés. A few hours later the hypothesis had been proved by its converse. Skerries didn't play as well as the driver drove. And if they won, it was not without anxiety.
It may well have been an inspired decision by the Skerries club to appoint a comedian as coach this season. Not only is CARRON able to draw on his vast repertoire of riposte to deal with such card-carrying carpers as KEANE, DUFF or GARRY. But only someone with CARRON'S sharp sense of the absurd would be able to digest the on-field aberrations of his team on Saturday. Richmond had lost al their AIL matches to date and their appearance as they took the field suggested that they were, indeed, a job lot. Faded green was evidently the official club colour, the hooker looked like something HORAN would have for breakfast on a fast day and the player-coach CLARKE now has the ample bosom of an ageing operatic diva. Skerries began, in fact, as if this was a demonstration match. The resistance of the locals was purely token. But a ten point lead after as many minutes seemed to have the affect of a strong narcotic. Lord Holmpatrick's men culpably allowed the re-start kick to bounce and subsequent events intimated that it was at this point that the current to Skerries dynamo had been cut by a mental trip switch. Yes, CARRON'S sense of humour may be severely tested before the season is out.
Skerries, during their ten minutes of fame looked a highly skilled, highly motivated side as they ran Richmond ragged with a series of incisive attacks. A set move from a scrum with an empty DUFF looping blind and KEANE coming in from the wing to take the pass from KELLEHER was only just aborted by a forward transfer to GRAY. BUTLER made searing drive off a line-out and DEMPSEY punted with precision to the corner. The virtual monopoly of possession was finally rewarded when DUFF found MULCAHY standing well off a ruck and the horizontal hooker slid home on a greasy surface. BRADY wasted no time with the conversion. Richmond hadn't yet been out of their own half when cumulative pressure forced them to concede another penalty. BRADY'S silken swing of the leg from 35 yards left his team ten points in credit. And that was it. The remainder of the game saw Skerries looking - for the first time this season - a good deal less than cohesive.
All phase of forward play went into palpable decline. The line-out which, with three outstanding aerial artists in DOWLING, HIGGINS and GRAY, has been a cornerstone of Skerries strategy suddenly took on the appearance of a lottery and little tangible disruption was offered on the opposition throw. The loitering scrum was a direct contravention of the stated policy of pace. And there was a marked reluctance to engage in the law of the jungle, apparently the only law in force at ruck.
But all this was as nothing compared to what was happening behind. A defense that has been close to impregnable all season, with electronic locking and closed circuit television and with the lowest points conceded in the while of the AIL, was now cordially saluting intruders of every hue. CLARKE, under intense pressure in his own half was allowed to exit left and when he finally straightened up he was given an escort to the 22. Twice MARKHAM, a robust centre, had the freedom of midfield bestowed on him before the caresses ran-out and a tackle was made. More crucially still, when RODGERS the full-back was put in possession by a skipped pass following a scrum he was not as much asked for an I.D. He scored close to the posts and kicked the conversion himself to leave the tally at 13-10 to the visitors (RODGERS and BRADY had earlier exchanged penalties). Late-arriving Skerrigoat partisians were quietly informed of the ominous turn if events.
Against the run of play, Skerries did manage another try before the break. When a Richmond attack was checked an alert DEMPSEY was able to prod the ball forward with the boot. The bounce was benevolent for QUIRKE and from 65 yards out he reached the corner. The journey was something of an epic and afterwards it was being talked about as if it had been a bumper at Bellewstown. Did he get the whip out a bit late? Had the blinkers obscured his view of the pursuit? In view of the sticky going should he have been withdrawn before the start? It was, at any rate, a blatant example of the difficulties of playing rugby within the octave of the New Year - everyone knows that on any kind of firm sod the thoroughbred QUIRKE would have been so far ahead that he could have done a few hornpipes and still scored.
It is much to Skerries credit that they reacted sufficiently to confine the home side to their own half for much of the second period. But inspiration was as scare as truth at the tribunal and there was no serious threat to the opposition line. With a quarter hour left Richmond did gain a foothold in Skerries territory, kicked a penalty and laid siege to the line in a way that Skerries supporters eyeing each other apprehensively. But the Goats stood firm. QUIRKE was prominent with a touchline counter-attack and an invaluable block-down and DEMPSEY afforded his team some late serenity by kicking a superb goal from near half-way.
The lesson should now be well absorbed, in the AIL you underestimate a team at your peril. Rugby has been entrenched in the "Pouleen" area of Limerick for as long as it has been entrenched in Skerries. Indeed the two areas have it in common that they were both reputedly cursed by Saint Patrick, the latter area for killing his goat, the former one for stealing his ass. The men from "Polleen" went close to pulling off another larceny on Saturday. And that would have been a curse.