DUNDALK welcomed Cill Dara to Mill Road on a sharp, cold Saturday evening under the newly installed flood lights, with a large crowd in support for Ladies Day at the club.
The hosts were looking to make a move up the league table with a win as news had come through that others ahead of them in the table had slipped up earlier in the day. Wanderers defeated league leaders Tullamore by three points and Coolmine had accounted for Enniscorthy.
From the kick off Ene Fa'atau won possession, side-stepped two players and off-loaded to John Smyth who charged forward. The ball was recycled and kicked into space, but Cill Dara's full back returned the kick with interest to turn defence into attack and after carrying well through six phases they got to just outside Dundalk's 22metre line. They were awarded a penalty for tackling a player without the ball, which was converted to open a 30 lead with only four minutes gone.
Dundalk were under pressure in the scrums, and were penalised for an early hit. The Cill Dara scrumhalf tapped and went quickly and Dundalk were penalised again. This time it was within shooting range, 10m out, but luckly for Dundalk the kick drifted wide.
Cill Dara kept Dundalk pinned in their own half for the first 15 minutes, with Dundalk making it easy for them by not protecting scrum half Thomas Campbell at ruck time. Too many knock-ons gave possession back to Cill Dara time and again. Eventually Dundalk got into their opponents half on the 18 minute mark. Repeated drives by the home side came to naught as the Cill Dara number 7 repeatedly got hands on ball to ease the pressure and clear their lines.
Shortly afterwards a well taken catch by Man of the Match, Robert Williams, saw him sprint up the wing, cut back inside away from the touchline before he was evetually caught by the Cill Dara no 7. Unfortunately for the Cill Dara player sustained a knock to the side of his head in the process of tackling Williams and had to be helped off the pitch with a severe concussion. He made a full recovery but took no further part in the match. This was a bad blow to Cill Dara, as he was clearly one of their star players and had been causing Dundalk a lot of problems.
A charge out of defense by Afa Fa'atau from Dundalk's 22 saw him break into open space and pass to Williams, who cut a great line back inside only to be brought down inside the visitor's 22. Cill Dara were penalised for hands in the ruck and Campbell slotted over the resulting penalty to level the score at 3-3 with 30 minutes gone.
Dundalk realised that if they simply held on to the ball, they would break through their opponents defence and from the kick off, a strong Dundalk scrum saw Campbell pass to Ultan Murphy who ran a line across Afa Fa'atau who was charging from a deep position. A beautifully excuted soft pass set the big man free into space.
The Kiwi side-stepped woulod-be tacklers with ease and passed to Williams in support, who found Owen McNally. The now really vocal crowd roared him on as he set off and drew the cover before picking out Afa Fa'atau at precisely the right moment, freeing him to finish off a great score by the Dundalk backs.
The home support was making plenty of noise now and they had more reason to cheer when Campbell slotted over an easy conversion to make it 10-3 at the break.
From the restart, Dundalk secured possession and a great run and jump by Gerard Scully saw him tap the ball down to prop John Smyth. This was literally meat and drink to the big man who charged forward like a raging bull dragging Cill Dara players behind him. The ball was recycled and passed out to Conor Beattie (who had come on for the injured Diarmuid Sloan) to gain some more vital yards. Cill Dara's tackler didn't roll away and a penalty was awarded. Murphy kicked it deep into the Cill Dara half for a Dundalk line out.
A great throw by Jonathan Grey found Ciaran Sloan jumping high in the lineout. Campbell passed to Murphy who picked out centre Stephen Murphy who was finally tackled just inside the visitor's 22. Another penalty was awarded to Dundalk for hands in the ruck, and Campbell slotted it over to increase the gap to 13-3 on 45 minutes.
A big carry by Cill Dara's number 20 saw him bounce off two tacklers before he reached the hard hitting Ene Fa'atau. In the process of the tackle Ene ripped the ball clean and sprinted up the pitch from Dundalks 22. He offloaded the to Campbell who passed to Williams, who had clearly been picking up tips from Ulster and Ireland's Craig Gilroy as he stepped inside another two tacklers and sprinted clear to score under the posts. Campbell convertedt o increase Dundalk's lead to 20-3 on the 60 minute mark.
Cill Dara knew that the game was out of reach now and an element of ill-discipline crept into their play. Dundalk refused to be drawn into any sort of retaliation and kept their discipline in the face of some deliberate provocation.
Some great tackling by Lawrence Steen, including a great steal late on in the game when Cill Dara were on the five-metre line, kept the visitors at bay. Some great tackling and carries by replacement prop Conor Williams also helped to keep Cill Dara pinned back in their own half.
It was a messy final 15 minutes from both sides but Dundalk will be happy with the win, going joint second in the league table behind their next opponents Tullamore in Spollinstown. The race to the top is not over yet for Dundalk.
The Man of the Match award went to Robert Williams, who's breaking run to beat four tacklers led to Afa Fa'atau's try. A close second was new cap Lawrence Steen, who was playing at six and made some great tackles and supporting runs.