ALL-IRELAND League rugby made a welcome return to Holmpatrick under lights on Friday night on a magnificent pitch and in front of the biggest crowd in recent years.
All that was needed was a win - and while the Goats made heavy weather of it in dry, chilly conditions, they did just enough to claim their first victory of the campaign. The home side was burdended by injuries, among them Leinster Player of the Year number 8 Ross McAuley and centre and placekicker Conal Keane who were both sidelined.
For much of the first half, v Skerries appeared to miss them as the opening exchanges saw Suttonians dominate. They came close to scoring early on - denied on that occasion by some hard tackling from former Ireland Under-20s full back Mike Sherlock - but did find a way through after just 10 minutes.
Some neat angles carved open Skerries and allowed the visitors to dart in under the posts. The conversion put them 7-0 ahead and the early signs were worrying. Skerries, though, began to get their measure of their north-side rivals and owned the ball for the rest of the half. However, mistakes, missed kicks and a blunt edge meant that they had to wait until towards the end of the half for a reward.
It eventually came from prop Mark Nally when Skerries finally found the numbers, and passing, that they'd been looking for. It helped that Suttonians had been temporarily reduced to 14 men after repeated infringements, but it was also a reward for the home team's patience, and while the supporters were a little subdued as the whistle went on a 5-7 scoreline, there was a sense that further Skerries pressure would pay dividends.
Sure enough, a second try came early in the second half when prop Ross McCorry was on hand to dive over the line after Skerries stretched Suttonians' thin line. Having struggled to find his range, David Hewitt this time converted the points and the score was 12-7. Hewitt then began adding points with penalties, and by the hour mark Skerries were 18-7 ahead and seemingly in control of the match. However, Suttonians suddenly rediscovered some of the attacking confidence, and running angles, and they scored a well-worked try in the corner and brought the score back to 18-12. David Hewitt eased nerves a little by slotting a penalty, but much of the final 10 minutes saw Suttonians on the charge, and when Skerries hooker Chris Tonge was sin-binned, the seemingly comfortable lead suddenly looked a little threadbare. However, when a seven-man Skerries scrum shoved the opposing pack backwards, it was clear that it would be the home team's day after all. A missed Suttonians penalty was the last act of the match and Skerries could celebrate a first AIL win.
They will play better. Indeed, they probably had more dropped high balls, knocks-on and forward passes, than they had for the whole of last season. But a win is a win and when you've waited several years for one in the All-Ireland League, that's more than enough reason to celebrate. There is now a break before the third round of games in Division 2B, with Skerries' next assignment currently scheduled for Saturday October 27th at 2.30 when they host Naas who are one of only three teams to win both of their opening fixtures.