Dundalk's title hopes checked by Enniscorthy
Dundalk 10 Enniscorthy 13
Dundalk's pursuit of Leinster League glory won't be won or lost by Christmas, but their challenge suffered a major setback with this narrow defeat to old foes Enniscorthy last Saturday.
The clash of the second and third-placed teams was eagerly anticipated but turned out to be a nervy, error-ridden affair, with the importance of the fixture weighing heavily on the two sets of players.
Match referee Mark Jenkinson didn't have his best game either as he made a few highly contentious decisions, with Dundalk aggrieved over a number of calls that went against them.
The penalty count against the hosts was so high that it was a miracle Mr Jenkinson didn't go into his pocket and dish out a couple of yellow cards, and had he done so then Enniscorthy would have won more convincingly.
Indeed, the Wexford outfit should have had victory wrapped up by half-time as they dominated the opening 40 minutes but failed to take advantage of a number of scoring opportunities.
From the start they carried the ball with purpose, thundering into Dundalk tackles, and only a knock-on from a crossfield kick in behind Robert Shields denied them a clear sight of the try-line.
Dundalk skipper Enda Murphy snaffled an Enniscorthy lineout after guessing right from David Murphy's throw, but Enniscorthy were soon back on the attack as full back Richard Dunne chipped ahead and collected his own kick. However, in the passage of play that followed, a very poor pass was intercepted by Shields to give the hosts a chance to clear their lines.
Dundalk didn't have any ball in the opposition half until the 16th minute when Enniscorthy were penalised for crossing, but Gearoid McDonald's attempt to put points on the board failed as his 45-metre kick dropped short.
Enniscorthy should have scored in the 24th minute when their dynamic out half Killian Lett burst through to touch down. However, the try was rightly chalked off as he had run into his own man in doing so. Definitely a Lett-off for Dundalk!
There were a couple more escapes before half an hour had elapsed as two further crossing offences were spotted by the referee just as Enniscorthy looked certain to score. Poor execution was destroying all the visitors' good work, but they continued to dominate possession.
Darting runs by Daragh Conroy, Laurence Steen and McDonald late in the latter stages of the half brought the home supporters to life, but there was no end product and the sides turned around still deadlocked at 0-0.
On the restart there was more purpose about Dundalk's play, with Tiernan Gonnelly and Robert Williams making good yardage, but the first scoring chance went to the visitors as their captain Ivan Poole mis-cued an attempted drop goal.
The referee brought play back for an Enniscorthy penalty and Poole turned down the chance for three points to kick for the corner, a strategy that failed as the visitors won the lineout - only for Dundalk to secure turnover ball four phases later.
Nevertheless, the hosts - now playing against the wind and up the slope - couldn't get out of their half and on 48 minutes Enniscorthy were rewarded for their persistence, hooker Murphy going over from close range after a tapped five-metre penalty.
Poole added the conversion and when yet another penalty was brought forward into kicking range for back-chat, Poole obliged once more and the Wexford men led 10-0 in the 55th minute.
But having not had possession once in the opposition '22 in the entire game, Dundalk came to life and grabbed a lifeline just two minutes later.
Crucial was Derek Williams' clean take in the air from McDonald's restart, and great carries followed from Gonnelly and Johnny Gray, before play was moved right from McDonald to Derek Williams who gave the scoring pass to brother Robert.
McDonald sliced the conversion to the left, but Dundalk were back in it.
Enniscorthy, though, immediately regained their grip of the game. Only for a forward pass by out half Lett they would have been in for a try, and then a superb break from the impressive Jim White saw Daniel Pim dive over the line, only to be brilliantly held up by a couple of Dundalk men.
Moments later a cross-field kick by Killian Lett was gathered by brother Evan before he was bundled into touch just short of the line.
With five minutes of normal time left, Dundalk were desperate for a score, but in running from deep McDonald was brought to ground and held on to possession too long for the referee's liking. Poole nailed the resulting 35-metre penalty and the hosts were once more in danger of going home with nothing, trailing 13-5.
In the first minute of stoppage time, though, they rescued a bonus point when McDonald kicked a penalty to the corner, from which lineout possession was secured and a maul formed. There was no stopping Dundalk from that range and hooker Sean Arrowsmith got over the line for a deserved try.
Once more McDonald missed the conversion, leaving him with a record of none from three kicks, and for all Enniscorthy's dominance they would have lost had the hosts' out half managed to put two of them between the posts.
DUNDALK: Robert Williams; Derek Williams, Daragh Conroy, Laurence Steen, Robert Shields; Gearoid McDonald, Mike Walls; Johnny Gray, Sean Arrowsmith, Ciaran Brannigan; Enda Murphy, Hamish Walker; Tiernan Gonnelly, Alistair McCormack, David Whately. Replacements: Robert Farrell, Conor Williams, Andrew Williams, Ciaran Lennon, Joe Marks.
ENNISCORTHY: Richard Dunne; Arthur Dunne, Daniel Pim, Ivan Poole, Dave O'Dwyer; Killian Lett, Evan Lett; Angelo Todisco, David Murphy, Tony White; Thomas Stamp, Joe Carley; Tom Ryan, Jim White, Nick Doyle. Replacements: Tom Farrar, Jamie Barron, Joe Bulmer, Ivan Jacob, Hughie O'Neill.
Referee: Mark Jenkinson.