ENERGIA All-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1B
Match Report: Mark Herbert
Photos: Michael Linehan
Naas 41 – Garryowen 38
This was the ultimate game of two halves! When the Naas versus Garryowen 2023/2024 Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B game commenced last Saturday afternoon, nobody in attendance could have imagined the drama they were about to witness. In one of the most extraordinary games that I have had the privilege to watch, Naas managed to overcome a 33 points deficit, in the process leaving their Munster rivals stunned and shocked to the core. That is not a misprint or typo. After 32 minutes Naas trailed by 33 points, yet somehow turned it around, in a game that will be talked and reminisced about for decades to come.
It had all begun so well for Garryowen. On a dry, crisp afternoon, they started at a pace that Naas could not live with, playing some exhilarating rugby for the first half hour. They were in front after just four minutes. Liam Coombes evaded a couple of tackles to make ground down the left wing, and he then passed inside to the supporting Jack Oliver who dived over to score. Oliver failed to convert his own try, but he made no mistake with his conversion attempt after 12 minutes, which followed a Donnacha Byrne try who could not be stopped from close range after sustained Garryowen pressure.
Within two minutes the visitors were further in front. Great hands by the Garryowen backs created space out wide for Liam Coombes, who raced clear to score in the corner. Although Oliver missed this conversion attempt his side led by 17 points to nil. After just 18 minutes they had gained their try scoring bonus point, when a few missed tackles by Naas saw Bryan Fitzgerald break clear and he punished the Naas mistakes by scoring under the posts. The successful conversion by Oliver stretched the lead to 24 points.
Naas had to respond and to their credit they did on 22 minutes. From a line-out win by Paul Monahan, they went through a number of phases, before quickly moving the ball out to the backs, where Donal Conroy was waiting in space on the right wing and he dived in for the score. Peter Osborne narrowly missed the conversion, leaving the score 24-5 in favour of the visitors.
Unfortunately, things were to get worse for Naas. After 26 minutes a great sidestep by Oran McNulty left the Naas defence for dead as he raced away for a fifth Garryowen try – converted by Jack Oliver - two minutes later Naas prop Adam Coyle received a red card for what referee Kieran Barry deemed to be a dangerous tackle, and then Jack Oliver rounded a tremendous first half display which a superb individual try, which he converted himself.
32 minutes gone, Garryowen, the three-time All-Ireland League winners, leading Naas by 33 points – a Naas team with just 14 men, a Naas team low on confidence after a few recent beatings. Surely the game was done and dusted. To suggest otherwise might have seen the men in white coats called for. But that is the beauty of sport. It is unpredictable and anything can happen. On this occasion it certainly did, thanks to the never say attitude of this Naas side.
They began the long road to recovery with a sublime try by Charlie Sheridan in first-half injury time. He collected a ball on the left wing, he put a deft chip over the Garryowen defence, collected the loose ball and raced away to score. The conversion was missed, leaving the interval score 38-10 in favour of Garryowen.
Naas were really only playing for pride at this stage, and they certainly displayed a lot of that in the second-half. They reduced the margin even further after 46 minutes. They won a scrum penalty which was dispatched to touch. From the line-out they set up a driving maul which the visitors collapsed, giving Naas another penalty. The home side, knowing they had a penalty advantage, elected to spin the ball wide out to Donal Conroy and he again finished in style to score in the corner. A great conversion by Sam Cahill made the score 38-17.
After 49 minutes the playing numbers were evened up when Byran Fitzgerald received a red card for a high tackle, but the Garryowen lead remained at 21 points as the game entered the final quarter. Then on 61 minutes Naas scored again. The visitors were penalised for another high tackle and Naas took a quick tap penalty which caught them unawares. The home side transferred the ball out to Gary Kavanagh, who showed great strength to crash in at the corner. Although the conversion was missed the score was now 38-22.
This score gave Naas the hope that they might be able to score another try, which would give them a try scoring bonus point, and something to take out of what was, to this point, a miserable afternoon for them. This score duly came on 76 minutes when a Bryan Croke crossfield kick was gathered by Donal Conroy who duly scored his third try of the day and a fourth for Naas. Garryowen were now rattled, and every Naas attack looked like yielding a score. With the game entering its 80th minute, a great break by Bryan Croke put Jack Sheridan away and he scored under the posts, which Peter Osborne converted to make the score 38-34.
There was still time for more drama – there was no less than 13 minutes played in injury-time. In that period two Garryowen players - Donnacha Byrne and Jack Delaney – received yellow cards, as the visitors did everything they could to stop Naas completing a sensational comeback. But it was now 14 playing 12, Garryowen could not plug all the gaps that were now appearing and they finally cracked in the very last play of the day, when Jack Sheridan sliced through them for a brilliant score. Peter Osborne converted, Naas were in front for the first time all day by 41-38 and immediately afterwards referee Kieran Barry blew the full-time whistle. The impossible had happened!
After the match there were not the normal scenes of jubilation that normally prevail. Instead, there was a stunned shock around the venue. The Garryowen supporters and team were coming to terms with their concession of such a big lead, while Naas people were digesting what had just happened, wondering if they had imagined it all, and shaking their heads in disbelief.
Storm Debi is due to arrive on these shores this week. Around 3.15pm last Saturday, Storm Naas preceded it and managed to blow the unsuspecting Garryowen team away. It truly was a game that words cannot fully do justice to.
Next up for Naas is an away fixture against Blackrock College next Saturday afternoon. Kick-off is at 2.30pm and as always all support will be greatly appreciated.
Naas: Peter Osborne, Donal Conroy, Charlie Sheridan, Gary Kavanagh, Sam Cahill, Bryan Croke (capt), Tadhg Brophy, Adam Coyle, Aidan O’Kane, Peter King, Conor McVerry, Paul Monahan, Muiris Cleary, Francisco Bartorelli Lagomar, Eoin Walshe. Replacements: Neil O’Hanlon, Conor Doyle, Jack Rogers, Cillian Dempsey, Jack Sheridan, Derry Lenehan.
Garryowen: Oran McNulty, J.J. O’Neill, Bryan Fitzgerald (capt), Gordon Wood, Liam Coombes, Neil Cronin, Jack Oliver, George Hadden, Dean Fanning, Darragh McCarthy, Kevin Seymour, Jeronimo Ureta Saenz Pena, Des Fitzgerald, Jack Daly, Donnacha Byrne. Replacements: Ben O’Sullivan, Mikey Veale, Johnny Keane, Sean Rennison, Kelvin Langan, Jack Delaney.
Referee: Kieran Barry.