Holders off to a flyer in Junior
Rugby All-Ireland Junior Cup First Round: Ashbourne 31 Creggs 22
Ashbourne entertained Connacht side Greggs RFC on Saturday in the first round of the All Ireland Junior Cup with a quarterfinal place at stake.
Ashbourne have won the competition for the last three seasons so a four in a row is the prize - but a big ask.
That said, a 31-22 win gets them off to a good start.
But it was not an easy win and Creggs came back to trail by only one point as the game entered its concluding stages.
Ashbourne fielded a much-changed side and starts were given to McNulty, McLoughlin and Connelly who had not featured in the 1st XV this season, while Ben Mahon and Robert O'Meara featured in the panel as well. Several players started in unfamiliar positions with Gavin Kennedy in at 10 and Bass at 9, while Deevy started in the centre.
Ashbourne were up and running within 2 minutes when Kennedy converted an early penalty and added a second in the 15th minute, but Creggs were playing good rugby and were offering a solid defence. They struck next to narrow the home lead to 3 points before going ahead in the lead from their winger Coyle after a great break by their exciting fullback Dowd. The try was unconverted by they lead by 8 points to 6 with 23 minutes on the clock.
At this stage the game could have gone any way and Creggs were always dangerous. Ashbourne had the Whittaker brothers prominent while Hurley was running his usual effective lines. There was parity in the set-pieces, and it needed a bit of magic to break the deadlock
In injury time Ashbourne had moved the ball right to left and Hurley, Colreavy and Craigie prominent. Hurley's line break was stopped just outside the Creggs 22, and Bass and Kennedy combined to set the backline moving left to right. Kennedy's pass found Colreavy whose pass to Deevy was immediately moved on to Craigie playing at fullback. Craigie went right but side stepped back across the grain, with McLoughlin outside of him holding the cover. He drove through a tackle to make the line, and Kennedy converted. Ashbourne went into the break ahead by 13 points to 8.
The second started brightly with a Kennedy penalty and more scoring was to follow. In the 8th minute, with Creggs down to 14 for 10 minutes, Ashbourne set up camp in the Creggs 22. 4 scrum penalties later Ashbourne were awarded a penalty try after great work from the pack with Jake Wall controlling matters at 8. And then the game changed, and Ashbourne went asleep. Was it that they thought the game was won at 23 points to 8?
Ashbourne were also down to 14 men in the 20th minute when Behan was binned but it was a case of mistaken identity as the player was not involved in anything. Creggs went to the corner. A series of plays and several set-pieces saw them eventually drive over the line from a lineout. 10 minutes later they added a converted try when a show and go from their fullback Dowd and his pace saw him clean through with a well taken try and the conversion narrowed the score to 23 points to 22.
The alarm clock did go off and a penalty from Kennedy and an injury time try from player coach Andrew Whittaker saw the home side through. A quick tap penalty on the half line by Kennedy saw him make ground and gain a penalty advantage but his offload found Whittaker at pace to score in the right corner.
Next week Ashbourne 1st XV are back in Leinster League action with a visit to Seapoint RFC on the agenda. Kick-off is at 2.30pm, while the 2nd XV start proceedings with their game at 1.30pm at the same venue.
ASHBOURNE: Colm Craigie, Matt Connolly, Dermot Colreavy, Simon Deevy, Aaron McLoughlin, Gavin Kennedy (Capt.), Shane Bass, Ciaran Roche, Shane Boland, Shane McNulty, Andrew Whittaker, Conor Hurley, Adam Carberry, Justin Whittaker, Jake Wall. Subs: Danny Norton, Mark Behan, Sean Kent, Kelan Toolan, Ben Mahon, Robert O'Meara.