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18 February 2014

These are exciting times for Irish rugby followers. The appointment of Joe Schmidt, the magnificent performance against the All Blacks and the emphatic wins over Scotland and Wales have all added to this excitement. Lest we forget, three of our high-flying provinces have reached the last 8 of the Heineken Cup and lead the way in the RaboDirect League. Professional rugby in the country is in a very good place at a current moment.

However, the professional game, with its 200 or so contracted players, is only a very small part of the Irish rugby scene. Every weekend, many thousands of amateur players both young and not so young tog out on pitches all over Ireland. They are supported by hundreds of managers, coaches, mentors, selectors, medics, bagmen, groundsmen, water-carriers…. the list is endless and they are all doing it for the love of the game and the love of their clubs. This is the traditional cornerstone of Irish rugby and, without this, support for the professional structure would undoubtedly dwindle.

Skerries RFC is very much part of this tradition. It is community-based and community-supported. Wins are enthusiastically celebrated and defeats are taken with good grace (for the most part!). On Saturday last, there was certainly good reason to celebrate. Corkonians Sundays Well travelled to Holmpatrick with a proud tradition and a formidable set of forwards. They set about putting considerable pressure on the home pack at scrum and maul time. However, despite their industrious efforts, they had simply no answer to the Skerries back line.

Six tries, each a gem in its own way, turned the game from a tense arm-wrestle into a 54-17 rout. The first was a tour-de-force from young Mikey Sherlock who danced by three would-be tacklers before touching down under the posts. The second (following some impressive carrying from Rick O’Mahony and Mark Nally) was a beautifully executed move involving Conal Keane and Kevin McGrath with the latter slicing through the Well midfield without a finger being put on him. After the break, four more followed. The third was arguably the best of the lot with the move starting deep in the Skerries half. McGrath was unleashed outside the two centres before outrageously off-loading to his fellow winger, Devitt, who selflessly put full-back Quirke away down the sideline. McGrath then pounced to intercept a wide backline move from Well and canter 60 metres for the bonus-point try.

Skerries weren’t finished. Up next was a solo effort from the mercurial Hewitt who touched down after showing dribbling skills which would do justice to Lionel Messi after a kick-off was misfielded. It was Hewitt again who finished the last try with an outrageous dummy after a scything break from Devitt brought play from the Skerries 22 to the Well 5 metre line. Yes, these were 6 of the best tries scored by a Skerries team in the AIL for many a year! To cap a great day for the home team, out half Conal Keane converted all of his 10 kicks despite the strong wind swirling around the ground.

The game was a great reward for the supporters who turned up despite the inclement weather. Afterwards, they all agreedthat ‘grass roots rugby’ has still plenty to offer even in the prospering professional era.