Balbriggan 12 Roscrea 1 4
If any of the Roscrea team missed Christmas they got their present on Sunday when with less than 10 minutes to go Balbriggan led 12 – 0, only for the second time against Roscrea to give away two converted tries in those last minutes. The Balbriggan players are still shell shocked with what happened. As the Munster anthem states “Stand up and fight until you hear the bell” and that’s what the men of Roscrea did. Even though the match looked beyond them they never gave up and while they had a lot of luck on their side they took it. As their coach said afterwards – ‘they were two games that we never should have won’.
Balbriggan had a few changes from their normal starting XV. Graham O’Reilly started in the front row, Leigh O’Toole in the second row and coach Conor Casey at outhalf. Chris McDonnell and Anto Whelan dropped to the bench while Ian Murphy sat this one out. Tomas Murphy was in at full back. Balbriggan started the match playing with whatever wind there was. They came at the Tipp men in waves and as usual the back row of the Malone brothers and Connor Burke were talking it to them. Roscrea were good at slowing the ball down at ruck time and with scrum half Healy not getting the ball away quickly the three quarters were always running from a standing start which allowed the Roscrea defence to get up and smother the attack. Healy had a go at a long range penalty but it just drifted wide. Balbriggan were soon on the attack again and with the next penalty he found a good touch. A quick ball off the top from Burke saw Healy throw a long pass to Casey and whilst it was high and Casey had to take it going backwards he distributed it very quickly and the ball was flashed along the line for the older Healy, Dave, to score in the corner. A try well taken and showed what the back line could do. Dave Healy went off shortly after with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Dylan Staunton. As the half went on Roscrea got more into the game and threatened the Balbriggan line on a number of occasions but the Balbriggan defence was organised and they could not get over the line. Just before half time Balbriggan lost J Mullen to the bin when he was guilty of killing the ball in mid field and stopping a Roscrea attack.
Roscrea started off the second half looking to make something of their one man advantage however Balbriggan did not seem to miss the big man and they continued to foil the Roscrea attack. Roscrea had a number of penalties that were kickable but after a bad miss with the first attempt they gave up and looked to get ground and go for the touch. Balbriggan were able to combat it. While Balbriggan did not concede any points for the card they were on the back foot for the period.
Balbriggan then were a little unfortunate to lose Sean Malone to the bin for bringing down a maul, as he was still on the ground from the previous move when the maul came over him and down. A penalty yes – yellow a little harsh. Again Balbriggan survived the ten minutes and when he returned Anto Whelan and Paul Quinn came with him. Balbriggan then went through a strong period but could not push it home. Eventually they got the break through when Mullen looked to make up for his sin and soon after the opportunity came and he managed to sidestep his opposite number and with a number of players hanging out of him he powered his way over. Unfortunately Healy missed what really looked like an easy conversion opportunity. Two points to be rued by the end of the game. The Roscrea players did not let their heads drop and their captain urged them to remember what they did in their home fixture. With the match moving into the last 10, Ciaran Verdon completed the full set of yellow cards when he went offside at a ruck. Yet again Balbriggan looked to have enough in the tank to ride this one out. Balbriggan were attacking but lost the ball in a maul. Roscrea kicked to clear their line. Tomas Murphy fielded and passed to Staunton, who, with a winger’s instinct, took off for the open spaces as against coming back to the comfort of the pack. Roscrea had their line set and to the horror of the crowd when Staunton was tackled on the far side of the pitch a Roscrea player appeared ball in hand with a clear 50 metre run in under the posts. Game on. Still the home supporters expected experience to show and that Balbriggan would ride out the last two minutes. Unfortunately not, instead of up jumper the Balbriggan went wide and to the disbelief of the supporters, again saw a Roscrea player running in under the posts.
Fair play to Roscrea and that is why they are top of the table. Again a match Balbriggan should have won. History will show that in competitive fixtures Balbriggan have never beaten Roscrea. Culliton cup losses in 1975 & 6 were the start so this is one team it is about time we got the better of. A couple of areas for coach Casey to work on. In the lineout the Roscrea jumper was stealing a lot of ball but nothing was done out it. In the backs the inexperience of two of the back three was exploited. However this overall is a good team and their character will be tested with an away game in Wexford. A win leaves them still in the race, a loss may mean it is the cup to look forward to. Midland Warriors did Balbriggan a great favour beating Wexford, unfortunately Birr could not repeat the favour with Athy where Athy scraped through by a point. Balbriggan are now in 5 points behind leaders Roscrea.
T Murphy, T O’Toole, J Mullen, C Verdon, D Healy (D Staunton), C Casey, K Healy, P Joyce, J Davis, G O’Reilly (C Mc Donnell), L O’Toole (A Whelan), G Geraghty (P Quinn), S Malone, C Burke, K Malone