Leinster League Div 1A
Skerries gave themselves an early Christmas present on Saturday, when they deposed Newbridge as Leinster League Div 1A leaders. In front of a big crowd under the lights at a buzzing Holmpatrick, the two teams played out a top of the table clash that did not disappoint.
Both teams specialise in running rugby, and each looked for the chance of a break, but this was also a game of tactical kicking, smart fielding, and ferocious contests at the breakdown and scrums. And it was tight right up until the final quarter, with Skerries finally pulling away after a superb David Hewitt try gave them a lead that they weren’t going to give up.
The early exchanges were nervy for both sides – a couple of simple catches were spilled and passes went into opposition hands. Up front, it was clear that Skerries would be need to be at their best and smartest. The tactic of having No. 8 Ross McAuley pass from the base of the scrum saw him more than once having to dig the ball out from a pack under pressure.
First blood went to Newbridge, when their excellent full back Karl Darragh kicked a penalty on 11 minutes. Shortly after, a Conal Keane penalty levelled the scores.
With injured winger Colin Doyle replaced by Paul Devitt, Skerries had the territory but weren’t fluid enough to take advantage. Then, on 25 minutes, full back David Quirke crossed the line and seemed to have touched down, only for the referee to rule that he had been held up. A try then might have allowed Skerries relax into the match, but this harsh decision meant they needed to just keep the scores ticking over. Conal Keane stroked over two more penalties, before Newbridge replied. It was 9-6 at the break.
The second half began with Newbridge pressure, and a wasted chance of a line-out close to the Skerries line. The home team pressed back, stretching their lead with another penalty. But Newbridge returned, with a line break and a couple of scrums on the Skerries line. Skerries held firm in what was to prove the critical phase of the match. A few minutes later the try came.
Its foundations were laid by Hewitt, who broke from his own 22 before releasing Ross McCauley, who took it to the opposition 22. After the move ended with a Skerries player dragged into touch, the home team stole Newbrige’s line-out. Scrum half Chris Keane found Hewitt who broke through the centre and scored under the posts. It was a fine try and no more the player and team deserved. The conversion was a formality, and Skerries were 19-6 ahead.
A penalty for Skerries followed, with Conal Keane stretching Skerries’ lead beyond two converted tries. Suddenly, the game looked beyond Newbridge but stung by the realisation that their long held league lead was gone, they camped on the Skerries line. They even managed to cross the line twice, but each time were prevented from grounding by the outstanding McAuley. And that was to be it.
The final whistle was greeted by a roar from players and supporters, and there was no doubt that Skerries deserved their league lead. They’ve scored more points, and conceded fewer, than anyone else so far. They’ve played a fast, incisive game. They’ve seen younger players - Thomas O’Hare, Chris Tonge, Kevin McGrath, Chris Wilkinson among others - develop markedly this year. The likes of Quirke and Doyle have brought their game to another level. The pack has offered a platform previously lacking, while at 8, 9 and 10 they have an unrivalled cutting edge.
There are still five matches to go, and there will be further twists in a league that now sees four teams within two points of the top. But for the first time in years, Skerries can enjoy a league lead at Christmas, even if they know that the ultimate prize won’t come gift-wrapped.
15 David Quirke
14 Colin Doyle
13 Conal Keane
12 Ed Caraher
11 Kevin McGrath
10 David Hewitt
9 Chris Keane
1 Mark Nally
2 Chris Tonge
3 James Ngatupuna
4 Rick O’Mahoney
5 Joe Glennon ( c )
6 Thomas O’Hare
7 Chris Wilkinson
8 Ross McAuley
Kevin O Connell
Ross Mc Corry