Leinster League Div 1A
This match always promised to be epic. The two highest scoring teams in the league, battling for the title, on a ground where Enniscorthy have not lost this season. It lived up to the promise - and then some.
Fast, direct rugby with seldom much more than a score in it, the game did not flag for 80 minutes. Ultimately, Skerries breached the Ross Road fortress and left the pitch to news that second place Tullamore had suffered a shock defeat at Garda. Skerries are now five points ahead with three matches to go. Our destiny is firmly in our own hands.
In front of a large travelling support, Skerries will know that this wasn’t necessarily their sharpest perfomance: passes went to ground, balls were dropped, moves didn’t quite come off. But this was a victory born of a refusal to stop playing the rugby they wanted to play - and from a strength of character which saw them step up in the final 20 minutes.
As has been a habit this season, Skerries opened the scoring early. On nine minutes, a perfectly executed move off a line-out saw centre Ed Caraher burst into Enniscorthy territory. From there, quick hands, notably from full-back David Quirke, released Paul Devitt on the right wing. Over he went, and with the conversion drifting wide Skerries were 5-0 up.
Enniscorthy came back. They repeatedly attacked Skerries and took advantage of some lax refereeing of the offside line before Quirke was sin-binned for slapping the ball away. Yet, the home side didn’t score in that 10 minute period, and instead Skerries stole three line-outs on the trot (captain Joe Glennon and, especially, flanker Thomas O’Hare have been superb in recent games).
Still, Enniscorthy crossed the line only for winger Kevin McGrath to pull off a wonder tackle which stopped them grounding the ball. But from the scrum, Enniscorthy’s number 8 Murphy took advantage of a man shielding him from the Skerries defence to run in a try. It was 7-5.
Skerries came back on 39 minutes, when Quirke rounded off a move which had started when he dropped the ball backwards. In the broken play, Skerries searched for a route through, until Quirke found it with a brilliant break. Conal Keane converted, and it was 12-7 at the break.
Enniscorthy scored a try early in the second half when some poor defending allowed them through on the left wing and a touchline conversion from their excellent out half Ivan Poole put them back in front.
Then it was time to trade penalties. After 55 minutes, when Poole’s kick from the half-way line bounced on the bar and over, there was a sense among then large crowd that this was going to the home side’s day.
Instead, Skerries galvanised themselves and began to grow in the match. Enniscorthy lost their hooker to the sinbin, and Keane punished them by kicking the penalty. The Skerries pack was now dominant, and despite early nerves the team stuck with the quick, adventurous rugby it knows best. Even "Seamus" was finding the gaps in loose play. But every player scrapped too when it was needed.
It paid off when phase after phase of play led to a pass dropping behind the back line. But Quirke’s speed of thought, coupled with Caraher’s positioning causing indecision in the opposition defence which saw the full-back dash over for his second try. Keane converted, and it was 25-17.
Yet, every time Skerries pulled eight points ahead, Enniscorthy would come back. Penalties were traded, until it was 28-23 with a couple of minutes left. But the home team's determination wasn’t enough. Skerries held out for a magnificent win.
There have been times in recent years when a Skerries team would have lost this kind of match, but this side has been a different animal for several months now. This Saturday, Skerries welcomes Dundalk. It’ll be another huge match. They’re all huge matches now.
15 David Quirke
14 Paul Devitt
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 Kevin O’Connell
8 Ross McAuley