A Virtual Beggs
Skerries 1st XV v Ards, 17th January, 2004 at Holmpatrick
A cursory look at the dramatis personae in the match programme on Saturday was enough to fill the mind with exclamation marks. The Goats had their resident BEGGS at No. 15, of course, but the visitors had a BEGGS on the left wing… and another BEGGS at out-half. A chronic problem for Skerries over the years has been their inability to predict which BEGGS would turn up. Would it be the lithe athlete with the impeccable kicking skills? Or would it be the man whose early mistake sends him sliding into an afternoon of fretful dissent? Now, at no extra charge, the lads from Strangford Lough were offering the perfect solution. Have two BEGGS! Simple.
In the event, none of the BEGGS made more than a peripheral contribution to the game. Indeed the Skerries captain selflessly sacrificed himself on the altar of expediency by withdrawing to the bench in the second half. Dropout is too far removed from the coalface to know how BEGGS’ style of captaincy is being received by those around him, but he is so well liked as a person that it is hard not to see his influence in the overall good health of the team.
The game began with a coup de theatre – the apparent slaying of the hero, the Skerries open side flanker. When the visiting No. 8 appropriated the kick-off and powered forward O’SULLIVAN the elder, first into contact, was left scattered on the deck. But immortality is a useful asset in this kind of drama and a brief trip to the service area was enough to restore the No. 7.
The first-half threw up an interesting anomaly, further evidence that statistics are indeed an advanced form of deceit. Skerries won not a single line-out ball in that first forty minutes – yet they retired to the break with a five point lead. SHEERAN, habitually mugged by the critics for his flawed kicking, at last provided an immaculate trade sample of his flair as a runner. Ards won yet another line-out on the half-hour but faced with the menacing presence of O’NEILL they spilled the ball in the path of SHEERAN. The Kiwi out-half seized his chance adroitly, eliminating two defenders with composed footwork and reaching the line half-way out. O’NEILL was unable to garnish the try with a conversion – a miss that retrospection deemed crucial.
All season the Skerries defensive wall has seemed to be in dire need of grouting but, shorn of possession in that opening moiety, the Goats went some way towards rebuilding a reputation as staunch guardians of the try-line. That status was to be enhanced after the break. Former international TWEED was a veritable Gulliver as he laboured at the core of the visiting mauls; both friend and foe hanging off him like latter-day Lilliputians. But there was nothing anaemic about the local resistance. The alliance of this season’s recruits TANNER and ENNIS with the equally obdurate TOONEY provided a strong buttress against collective encroachment. When Ards opted to attack through their backs they came up against a similarly unyielding mindset with WHEARITY giving a very plausible impression of EARLY’S celebrated recalcitrance. “Not an inch” was the maxim of the day and only an occasional alert arose from the all too common confusion about the objective of the tackle. The primary responsibility of the tackler is to bring the ball-carrier promptly to earth. Spiking his distribution is still a work of supererogation.
Attack, of course, is rightly designated as the best means of defence. But Skerries didn’t have it in their repertoire on the day. A scalding pity then to see Lord Holmpatrick’s men undone by a pair of second-half penalties. The first on 63 minutes was accepted philosophically. The second, on the threshold of no-side, understandably drew forth a dam burst of sotto voce profanities.
Walking the pitch at the end was a salutary reminder of the difficult conditions. The playing surface, flawless when viewed from a distance, was frustratingly adhesive underfoot. Anyone who has ever tried to dance a hornpipe on a particularly viscous wallpaper paste will know the feeling. The multiple technical errors (particularly knock-ons), which littered the game, may well have had their origins here.
This question of the knock-on is a vexed one. There is a small sanctuary beyond the dead-ball line at the sea end of the Holmpatrick enclosure, which has become a forum for measured debate of all kinds – historical, scientific, philosophical. Well away from the stridency of the sidelines the most esoteric themes are broached during match time. A recent topic, for instance, was the doubtful legitimacy of replica shirts in civilian life - the point being, of course, that in a perfectly laicised society all ostensible signs of sporting affiliation should be proscribed. Well, on Saturday the subject matter was the knock-on. Where, it was asked, is the supposed advantage to the side which knocks on? Au contraire. It is surely a distinct disadvantage. And the territorial gain is often a matter of millimetres. In the context of a tackle situation, which has become visibly anarchic, the censure of the knockon is a pointless punctilio. Why insist on dotting the i’s while disregarding serious grammatical error? When the campaign for the abolition of the knockon gains momentum you can say you first heard of it on the Skerries website.
Finally, a note of optimism for the future. Sighted amongst the crowd on Saturday was the Electric Hare, the highly enterprising winger Dunne. Having at last submitted himself to the scalpel, he is setting the opening matches of next season as the date for his resumption. Setanta may be gone off to Australia but Oisín will soon be back in Tír Na nÓg. And he’s a virtual Beggs.