Match Report: Balbriggan vs. Portlaoise – 12th November 2023

In a highly anticipated clash between Balbriggan and Portlaoise on Sunday, the two teams, both vying for promotion, battled it out in a thrilling encounter. Balbriggan, accustomed to traveling to Portlaoise in their pursuit of promotion over recent years, made several changes to their lineup for this away game.

Graham Reynolds returned to the Hooker position, replacing Stephen Dowling, while Conor Caldwell was replaced by Eoin Hannigan. In the openside position, Ciaran Hannigan came in for Mark Faye. The backline also saw changes, with Cal O’Connor taking the place of Brian Mollohan, and Floyd Runswue stepping in for Jack Scannell.

The first half kicked off with Balbriggan setting the tone with their kick-off. Portlaoise sent the ball into touch, and from the lineout, Balbriggan executed a well-planned move. Kyle Healy’s precise kick mounted pressure on the Portlaoise 15, leading to Balbriggan gaining possession deep in Portlaoise’s half. Despite a lineout hiccup, James Gibbs managed to clean it up and make a strong break. Quick play by Michael Walls and a powerful carry by Ciaran Hannigan put Balbriggan on the front foot.

Sensing a scoring opportunity, Balbriggan shifted the ball to the backs. A slick switch between Michael Walls and Tomas Murphy allowed the fullback a chance to break the line. Unfortunately, the ball was ripped in contact, allowing Portlaoise to clear their lines. Balbriggan’s lineout troubles gave Portlaoise a scrum outside their 22. Balbriggan’s formidable front 8 applied serious pressure, leading to a knock-on. James Gibbs seized the opportunity and found Cal O’Connor, who, with a good pass, set up Tomas Murphy and Kyle Healy for a 2v1 situation. However, poor execution and communication let Portlaoise off the hook, as the pass ended up in touch.

From the ensuing lineout, Adam O’Connor managed to regain possession for his team, but Balbriggan’s scrappy play and insufficient support at the rucks allowed Portlaoise to snatch the ball with a penalty, clearing their lines and ending Balbriggan’s attacking pressure.

A poorly executed lineout by Portlaoise for a non-straight throw allowed Balbriggan to reset and run a good move from the scrum. Callum Breeds made a powerful carry off the back of the scrum, but it was followed by good hands from Graham Reynolds to put Adam O’Connor in space. Balbriggan linked well with their backs, and a well-timed offload from Cal O’Connor set Tomas Murphy free, but another ruck penalty halted Balbriggan’s momentum.

Portlaoise found their touch on Balbriggan’s 10-meter line, but the lineout didn’t go as planned with another non-straight throw. Balbriggan regained possession through a scrum, and Callum Breeds made a determined carry, followed by good link play with the backs, resulting in Tomas Murphy making a significant break. However, Balbriggan once again conceded a penalty at the breakdown, letting Portlaoise off the hook.

From the ensuing lineout, Portlaoise opted for a maul and made valuable yards. However, they failed to support their players breaking off, allowing James Gibbs to steal the ball back for Balbriggan. A penalty followed, and Balbriggan cleared their lines. A fantastic kick from Kyle Healy brought play to the halfway line, but Portlaoise were penalized for being offside, awarding Balbriggan a penalty. However, Balbriggan’s lineout didn’t go as planned, and Portlaoise regained possession, shifting the ball to the backs. A combination tackle from Graeme O’Reilly and Paul O’Connor led to Paul O’Connor ripping the ball and finding Cal O’Connor, who kicked deep into Portlaoise’s half.

Balbriggan chased hard, and Tomas Murphy, Floyd Runswue, and Callum Breeds applied pressure to the Portlaoise 10, forcing him to bring play up to the halfway line. A good lineout take from Eoin Hannigan and a move from the backs opened up space for Paul O’Connor to kick effectively behind the rushing defence. From the resulting lineout, Ciaran Hannigan disrupted again, and James Gibbs nearly made a great break from the resulting breakdown.

Adam O’Connor made a strong carry, and the ball was shifted out to the backs, where Fiachra Tuckey’s deft hands found Paul O’Connor, who set Tomas Murphy in space. Murphy executed a brilliant dummy to break through the middle of the field, but Balbriggan’s poor rucking resulted in another ruck penalty. Portlaoise found a good touch on Balbriggan’s 10-meter line, but the lineout did not go as planned, resulting in another non-straight throw. Balbriggan regained possession through a scrum, and Callum Breeds made a powerful carry off the back of the scrum, followed by good hands from Graham Reynolds to put Adam O’Connor in space.

Balbriggan linked well with the backs, and a lovely offload from Cal O’Connor set Tomas Murphy free. Murphy drew in his man and found Kyle Healy, who used his power and strength effectively. However, poor rucking again resulted in Balbriggan giving away a penalty at the breakdown, allowing Portlaoise an easy out. The penalty count was proving costly for Balbriggan, stalling their attacking efforts.

Portlaoise had their moments, making inroads and displaying good continuity in their attacks. However, strong defence, including a massive combined hit from Ciaran Hannigan and Graeme O’Reilly, kept Portlaoise at bay. But Balbriggan’s ill-discipline at the ruck allowed Portlaoise to set up lineouts and gain penalties in Balbriggan’s half.

In the first half, Portlaoise’s persistence paid off as they opted for a lineout and executed a well-worked move that allowed their No. 8 to crash over the line, securing the first score of the game. Paul O’Connor attempted to restart the game with a deep kick, but a solid chase and the 10’s clearance found Tomas Murphy, who returned a decent kick.

Balbriggan’s chase, led by Callum Breeds and Ciaran O’Donoghue, forced Portlaoise to move the ball wide into space. Cal and Paul O’Connor shut down the attack, but a high tackle by Paul O’Connor resulted in a yellow card. Portlaoise chose a kick to touch, but Callum Breeds and Ciaran O’Donoghue managed to win the ball back. Surprisingly, the referee deemed Balbriggan to have infringed and awarded Portlaoise a penalty.

Portlaoise’s lineout was disrupted by Balbriggan’s truck and trailer, allowing Balbriggan to clear their lines. After a scrappy phase at lineout time, Balbriggan put themselves under pressure in their own half but managed to clear their lines, with Portlaoise kicking the ball back to Balbriggan. As the first half neared its end, Balbriggan earned a penalty and kicked the ball to touch to conclude the half.

Second Half:

Balbriggan received the second-half kick-off, with Callum Breeds taking the ball and feeding Michael Walls to find a good touch. From the resulting lineout, Portlaoise executed a maul and initiated a series of attacks and kicks, resulting in a 22-meter dropout. However, Balbriggan was penalized for offside at the ruck, allowing Portlaoise to kick a penalty and extend their lead to 8-0 in the second half.

Paul O’Connor’s poor restart gave Portlaoise a scrum, but Balbriggan’s power and strong scrummaging from Adam O’Connor, Graham Reynolds, and Ciaran O’Donoghue gave Balbriggan a penalty. Paul O’Connor attempted to find touch but missed, allowing Portlaoise to clear their lines and find touch at the halfway line.

Balbriggan’s lineout was lost, and poor tackling and a breakdown infringement resulted in Portlaoise extending their lead to 11-0. Balbriggan restarted the game with the introduction of Cillian Reynolds, and from Paul O’Connor’s kick-off and a good chase from Graeme O’Reilly, the Portlaoise 10 attempted an audacious offload, which was knocked on by their prop forward. Balbriggan capitalized on the resulting scrum, orchestrating a well-executed set-piece move. James Gibbs passed beautifully to Paul O’Connor, who carried strongly down the 10-channel. Good support play from Floyd Runswue and Ciaran Hannigan cleared the ruck, but Portlaoise was penalized for being offside, granting Balbriggan a penalty.

Quick thinking from James Gibbs led to a quick tap penalty, and with strong support from Graeme O’Reilly, they carried the ball further. However, the referee blew his whistle, and Paul O’Connor stepped up to knock over three points. From the ensuing restart, Callum Breeds collected the ball, and Michael Walls cleared but missed touch. Adam O’Connor made a good tackle but failed to roll away, resulting in the referee awarding Portlaoise a penalty, which landed 5 meters out from Balbriggan’s line.

Portlaoise initiated a maul and was rewarded with a try, extending their lead to 16-3. Balbriggan was now facing an uphill battle, with penalties proving to be detrimental to their game plan. A good restart, however, saw Graeme O’Reilly slip off a tackle, and Portlaoise sprang into action with a well-structured play. They hoisted the ball cross-field, but the referee penalized them for being offside and ahead of the kicker.

A quick tap penalty from Michael Walls set Adam O’Connor free, and he made a good carry. James Gibbs then found Cal O’Connor, who exhibited good footwork and gained extra yards. Strong carries from Graeme O’Reilly and Ciaran O’Donoghue allowed the backs to launch an attack. Michael Walls executed a switch with Paul O’Connor, who then found Adam O’Connor with an excellent offload. Adam reset the play for his team, and Callum Breeds, making a powerful carry down the left-hand side, found Floyd Runswue with a nice offload to gain extra meters.

Floyd Runswue was supported well by Cillian Reynolds, who made his presence felt significantly after being introduced onto the field. After a well-executed dummy line from Ciaran O’Donoghue, James Gibbs found Fiachra Tuckey, who ran straight and hard at the Portlaoise defence, with good ruck ball allowing Michael Walls to find Adam O’Connor. Adam took on the defence again but was stopped just short.

The backs then displayed excellent movement, with quick hands from Paul O’Connor to Michael Walls. Walls found Tomas Murphy, who used his guile and skilful hands to locate Cal O’Connor and allow him to score a try, bringing the score to 16-10 and raising Balbriggan’s hopes.

A good restart was taken by Graeme O’Reilly, and Fiachra Tuckey’s follow-up carry forced Portlaoise onto the back foot. However, Balbriggan’s poor rucking resulted in them losing possession on the 10-meter line, allowing Portlaoise to kick a goal and restore their lead to 19-10.

The introduction of Jamie Kinninmont saw Balbriggan quicken the pace at ruck time. The nippy scrumhalf, coming back from a hamstring injury, showcased his skills with accurate passes and sniping runs. He came close to scoring a try but sadly knocked on due to good defence from the Portlaoise players.

Portlaoise managed to secure two more scores in quick succession, one from a lineout and another from Graham Reynolds, who initially thought he had stolen the ball but was told to release. Portlaoise exploited the short side to cross the line.

Despite the setbacks, Balbriggan showed resilience and responded with two tries of their own. The first came when Graeme O’Reilly recaptured Paul O’Connor’s restart and put Balbriggan deep into Portlaoise territory. Adam O’Connor and Ciaran Hannigan combined for a well-worked try. The second try was a result of excellent hands, with Michael Walls and Graeme O’Reilly setting up Graham Reynolds on the wing, who then fed Kyle Healy to race down the flank. Good cover defence allowed Balbriggan to regroup and attack the other side of the defence, giving the backs an opportunity to form a cohesive move. Cal O’Connor ran in for his second try of the match, but it proved to be a bridge too far for Balbriggan, as a high penalty count proved detrimental.

The final score was 34-22 in favour of Portlaoise. Balbriggan will need to address their penalty issues in the coming week as they prepare for their next Leinster League game at home against Roscrea next Sunday 26th Nov at Bowhill.

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