RUNAWAY league leaders Tullamore bounced back from their surprise defeat to Wanderers the previous week to steamroll a Dundalk team decimated by injury and last-minute illness.
The pack had a number of changes, with Diarmuid Sloan out injured after the previous week's game against Cill Dara and Ciaran Sloan and Laurence Steen both unwell on the morning of the match. Against an experienced Tullamore pack the much younger Dundalk eight would have to put up a Trojan effort.
The 6pm kick-off meant that the results of the other League games were to hand before kick off, the draw between Cill Dara and Newbridge and Coolmine's victory over Enniscorthy meaning that a Tullamore win would make it almost certain that they could not be caught for the League title.
From the kick-off the Tullamore pack sought to pressurise the much less experienced Dundalk forwards, and after just four minutes Tullamore caught their own lineout ball cleanly and mauled towards the Dundalk line. John Smyth came through the maul to tackle the ball carrier but was deemed to have come in from the side and a penalty was awarded to and converted by Tullamore - 3-0.
Fourteen minutes into the game a Tullamore attack brought them to within five metres of the Dundalk line, only to be stopped by a superb tackle by Owen Mc Nally. Jonathan Grey was sin-binned for kicking at the ball from an offside position, which many thought harsh as the penalty count against Dundalk was very low.
Nevertheless, Tullamore took full advantage of the extra man and crossed the Dundalk line behind a strong scrummage, the conversion leaving the score at 10-0 with 18 minutes gone.
Dundalk were getting some possession, but the power of the opposition rucking led to turnovers and some knock-ons gave Tullamore the upper hand. Still down a man Dundalk tried manfully to defend a lineout to maul situation but could not hold out the Tullamore eight, conceding an unconverted try.
Grey returned to bring Dundalk back to full strength and bolster their efforts, but despite this Dundalk could not exert sufficient pressure on the opposition to register a score. The nearest they came was a penalty awarded for a Tullamore offside, but Thomas Campbell's effort drifted just wide, leaving the half-time score at 15-0.
Dundalk came out for the second half more focused and exerted some pressure on the Tullamore pack. However, they were not able to build phases and very aggressive rucking from Tullamore cut off any supply of ball. This was to cost Dundalk dearly and a break from the Tullamore scrum half from the half-way line looked a certain try but for a covering tackle by full back Robert Williams.
Williams was deemed to have had his hands in the ruck that followed, however, the referee showed him the yellow card and Tullamore converted the penalty to extend their lead to 18-0 on 45 minutes.
Dundalk upped their game and Tullamore conceded five consecutive penalties, eventually presenting Dundalk with one in front of the Tullamore posts. The visitors tapped and moved to within two metres of the Tullamore line before a Dundalk player entered the ruck from the side to give Tullamore a chance to clear their line.
Dundalk continued to pile on pressure for the next 20 minutes but to no avail as opportunities passed them by because of poor passing and handling.
Tullamore then stole a Dundalk lineout and spread the ball quickly wide where their full back, running a great line, broke past three tacklers to score under the posts. This try was converted to leave the score at 25-0 on 70 minutes.
The final play of the game saw Dundalk trying to break out from their own 22 with a quick tap and go, only to see the pass from Greg Whately and Ene Fa'atau intercepted by the Tullamore out half who crossed the Dundalk line to secure a bonus point.
This was a difficult day for this Dundalk team, but performances from the younger players, such as debutant Conor Williams, leaves them with hope for the future.