ENERGIA All-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1B
Naas 24 – Blackrock College 31
Match Report: Mark Herbert
Photos: Michael Linehan
When Naas entertained Blackrock College in the 2023/2024 Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B last Saturday afternoon, the general consensus was that we were in for an open, attractive game of rugby, as both sides like to run the ball at every possible opportunity. That prediction proved correct with the attendees certainly receiving their money's worth, with the verdict right in doubt up to the final whistle.
Despite all the recent rain the pitch at Forenaughts was in great condition for this contest, and it was the home side who struck first. After just six minutes Blackrock ran a ball just inside their own half, but Fionn Higgins managed to intercept, and he raced clear to score. Sam Cahill added the conversion and Naas led 7-0.
Blackrock missed a chance to reduce the margin after nine minutes. After the Naas backs strayed offside the visitors turned down a shot at goal and went for the corner. However, they knocked on when trying to catch the line-out ball and the chance was gone. But five minutes later they got their set-piece right from a similar position. This time the line-out was taken by Roy Whelan, a driving maul was set-up which Naas were powerless to stop, and Niall Hardiman crashed over for the try. The successful conversion by James Fennelly levelled the scores.
The home side regained the lead after 20 minutes with a fine try. After a long period of possession, a lovely soft pass by James O’Loughlin put Muiris Cleary into space, and the wing forward was not to be stopped from close range. Sam Cahill was again on the mark with the conversion. But the visitors responded just six minutes later with the score of the match after a brilliant move by their backs. When their out-half James Fennelly received the ball thirty yards out, there did not appear to be much danger lurking for Naas. However, his lovely reverse pass found Dave Heavey who had joined the line at pace. Heavey subsequently passed to Dave McCarthy who raced away to score. Fennelly added the conversion, and the scores were level again at 14-14.
The remainder of the half belonged to the home side, and this period of pressure was rewarded when Sam Cahill kicked a penalty after 35 minutes, and the same player was subsequently narrowly wide with another penalty effort in first-half injury time, to leave the score 17-14 in favour of Naas at the interval.
The first-half was played at a relentless pace, and this did not relent in the second period. The visitors regained the lead after 46 minutes. A well worked line-out move put Naas on the back foot, a series of pick and drives by the Blackrock pack followed, before Paul McSweeney powered over from close range. The conversion by James Fennelly made it 21-17.
Naas came within inches of scoring on 49 minutes when Fionn Higgins was stopped just short of the line, but the home side did get their third try of the afternoon on the 60th minute mark. Blackrock ran a ball on their own ten metre line, but the move broke down due a loose pass. Jack Sheridan was onto the ball in a flash and fly kicked it ahead, he then gathered it and sprinted away for a try under the posts. Peter Osborne added the conversion to leave Naas in front by 24 points to 21, and after 66 minutes the same player was narrowly wide with a long range penalty effort.
Five minutes later Blackrock retook the lead – a lead they were never to relinquish. The visitors attacked in waves and a crash ball by Dave McCarthy almost got them over. The ball was then quickly recycled to Shane Connolly, and from close range he was able to get in for the try. Peter Quirke added the conversion to leave the visitors 28-21 in front. However they received a huge blow within sixty seconds of this score, when after the invention of the touch-judge, referee Paul Haycock had no hesitation in showing Odhran Ring a red card for a high and dangerous tackle.
To their credit the 14 men Blackrock side saw out the remaining time comfortably, and even added to their score when Peter Quirke kicked a penalty, after Naas were penalised for holding on at a ruck. Soon after Paul Haycock blew the full-time whistle with Blackrock victorious by 31 points to 24.
Although Naas fell narrowly short on this occasion, they can take plenty of positives from this performance. They have won games playing worse than this, and even with this defeat they remain only four points outside of the play-off places, so they have plenty to play for in their remaining five games. The first one of those games is next Saturday, when they travel to face Garryowen. Kick-off is at 2.30pm and as always as support will be greatly appreciated.
Naas: Fionn Higgins, Donal Conroy (capt), Charlie Sheridan, Lance Batten, Sam Cahill, Peter Osborne, Derry Lenehan, Conor Doyle, Neil O’Hanlon, Adam Coyle, David Benn, James O’Loughlin, Cillian Dempsey, Muiris Cleary, Eoin Walsh. Replacements: Ben Howlett, Stephen Lackey, Francisco Bartorelli, Paul Monahan, Jack Sheridan, Ethan Travers.
Blackrock College: Brian Colclough (capt), Chris Rolland, Matthew Dawn, Dave McCarthy, David Heavey, James Fennelly, Ross Barron, Paul McSweeney, Niall Hardiman, Jack Mullany, Roy Whelan, Hugh Doyle, James Burke, Dave Fortune, Odhran Ring. Replacements: Liam Nicholson, Shane Connolly, Josh Dixon, Jack Gardiner, Sean Coughlan, Peter Quirke.
Referee: Paul Haycock.