Big blow for Dundalk's title hopes
Rugby, Leinster League Division 1A: Ashbourne 23 Dundalk 15
Dundalk's Leinster League title hopes took a big blow on Saturday as they suffered a second defeat of the season to league leaders Ashbourne in a physically brutal encounter at Milltown House.
The Louth side went down by eight points and their failure to earn any sort of a reward will hurt as only a last-minute penalty by the hosts denied Adam Doyle's team the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Last season Dundalk suffered a 50-point defeat at the same venue, but after a two-week build-up to this game Doyle's side showed no signs of nerves in a blistering 20-minute period during the opening half.
Ashbourne did draw first blood on six minutes when, having failed to break the gain line several times, Gavin Kennedy kicked a drop goal to put three points on the board.
Ahead of this game, Doyle had spoken about how Ashbourne were heavy favourites to win the league, but his side didn't show them much respect as they smashed their frontline continually in an abrasive opening half.
Dundalk's first score came when Kennedy were penalised for a high tackle on Tiernan Gonnelly. The visitors moved the ball quickly through the hands to Robert Williams who showed quick feet to sidestep his way over the line for the game's opening try. Willie Schutz tacked on the extras to give the visitors a 7-3 lead on 16 minutes. Five minutes later Dundalk went over for their second try.
They swung the ball quickly across the field and James Shields exploited a gap in the corner to dive over. This time Schutz's conversion dragged across the face of goal, but nevertheless the Louth men had a useful-looking 12-3 lead at this early stage.
However, became their own worst enemy for a period after that as they pushed forward but undid all the positive work with some indiscipline which led to two successful penalty kicks.
With Kennedy off the field, Kelan Toolan slotted the first, but Kennedy returned to kick the second, awarded for another high tackle that saw James McConnon sent to the bin.
There was also a missed Ashbourne penalty in between, but they then exploited the extra man advantage to get their first try through Kennedy, and with the scorer missing the subsequent conversion missed Ashbourne took a 14-12 lead into the break.
Dundalk were restored to their full complement early in the second half and a few well-placed box kicks eventually resulted in a kickable penalty for Schutz. He successfully split the posts to give Doyle's outfit took a one-point lead, but that would turn out to be their final score of the game as Ashbourne upped their intensity.
The Meath side began to dominate the scrum, which put really pressure on Dundalk's defence, yet the visitors clung onto their slender lead until the 70th minute.
Having missed a kick moments earlier, Kennedy found the range and his team had now eked out a 17-15 lead.
After really putting their bodies on the line with some huge tackles, tiredness took hold in the Dundalk side and from a turnover they conceded another Kennedy penalty to give Ashbourne a five-point advantage with five minutes to play. That infringement - McConnon going in at the side - saw him sent to the sidelines on receipt of a second yellow card.
Then in injury time Ashbourne scored their final penalty, one that was brought forward into kickable range because of dissent, to deny Dundalk a losing bonus point.
Nevertheless, there were a lot of positives to take for Doyle's side and they now turn their attentions to Bective Rangers who visit Mill Road on Saturday with a 2.30 kick-off.
Ashbourne: Kelan Toolan; Colm Craigie, Dermot Colreavy, Donal Crotty, Patrick Murtagh; Gavin Kennedy, Shane Bass; Alan Wall, Danny Norton, Mark Behan; Andrew Whittaker, Conor Hurley; Jake Wall, Sean McKeon, Simon Deevy. Replacements: Shane Boland, Ciaran Roche, Lorcan O'Reilly, Shane McNulty, Matt Connolly.
Dundalk: Robert Williams; James Shields, Andrew Williams, Willie Schutz, Jonathan Williams; Conor Hennessy, Daragh Conroy; Jonathan Gray, Seán Arrowsmith, John Smith; Eoin Sullivan, Enda Murphy; James McConnon, Laurence Steen, Tiernan Gonnelly. Replacements: Patrick Reilly, Conor Williams, Ciarán Lennon, Robert Farrell.