Wednesday 22 May 2019

Kick in teeth as Goats end up in play-off

Skerries 22 Dungannon 24

As the dust has now settled, Skerries know their fate - two additional matches to stay in Division 2B of the All-Ireland League.

It was a hard pill to swallow when Dungannon scored with the last kick of the match to condemn Skerries to the play-offs, when the day had started with five teams all battling to avoid finishing second bottom ahead of doomed Sundays Well.

As with most games for Skerries this season, there were changes to be made. Ross McAuley was returning along with Ruairi Woods at scrum half, Robbie Jenkinson slotted in at 10 but Michael Turvey absent from the back row.

The weather was a deciding factor for both teams, with a strong wind blowing into the Churchfield end which would ultimately decide the match. Both teams has a large contingent of supporters with them, a point acknowledged by both presidents at the pre-match pleasantries.

Skerries played with the strong breeze in the first half and started brightly. Conditions were difficult for running rugby, but they took the fight to Dungannon and were awarded a penalty which Robbie Jenkinson duly slotted over.

Within five minutes of the restart Skerries made a great turnover in the middle of the pitch, Trevor Scuffli stole the ball and found Kev McGrath who made great ground before passing to Ev Sherlock who dotted down over the whitewash for a great try. Robbie Jenkinson made the conversion to give Skerries a 10-0 lead and all was going according to plan at that stage.

The rest of the half was played within the two 22-yard lines, with both teams making a high number of tackles to deprive each other of scores. Skerries probably needed another score before half-time to put a bit more daylight between the teams.

Lorcan Jones went off injured and was replaced by Sean Dempsey, while Conn Marrey replaced Kieran Leonard at the break.

The second half started brightly for Skerries, now playing against the strong breeze. Forwards Halligan, Marrey and Mulvany made great progress up the pitch and after a number of phases the ball was shipped wide and Kev McGrath stepped inside the cover to dot down under the posts. The conversion was added by Paul Devitt to make the score 17-0.

Within five minutes, Skerries applied more pressure and a fortuitous piece of rugby in the Dungannon half allowed Ben Jenkinson to pick up a loose pass and run 50 metres to score a third try to make the score 22-0, with the difficult conversion missed.

Skerries probably thought the game was over, but Dungannon worked their way back and scored two tries to make the score 22-14 with 20 minutes still remaining.

A lengthy stoppage in the game due to a serious injury to a Skerries player meant that both teams now knew what they had to do. Corinthians had beaten Belfast Harlequins which meant either team probably needed to win to survive. Thankfully the Skerries player was able to walk from the pitch.

As play got underway again Dungannon were awarded a penalty which they duly converted to leave just five points between the teams with 10 minutes remaining.

The atmosphere got very tense after that, with Skerries trying to manage the game by using their forwards to make the hard yards in their own 22. Twice Dungannon got the ball back, but great defending from Skerries prevented a try.

Skerries were awarded a penalty, but with the wind a factor they decided to run and again use the forwards to retain the possession for the last two minutes.

Agonisingly, on one phase Dungannon ripped the ball away from a Skerries forward and the visitors tried to batter their way to the line. Great defending keep them at bay, but on about the 10th phase Dungannon squeezed their way over the line to leave the scores tied at 22 each.

That still would have suited Skerries had it stayed that way, but the conversion was good and the final whistle was blown immediately after.

Both supporters and players were stunned and after various calls and checks on scores, it was confirmed that Skerries were condemned to the play-offs.

They will look back and reflect on how they lost this game despite showing great spirit. The forwards, led by Ben Jenkinson and with Ross McAuley prominent, took the fight to Dungannon, the front row of Cormac Marrey, Ciaran Leonard and Trevor Scuffil matched a heavier Dungannon pack, while Tom Mulvany and Ross Halligan made great yards and also tackled everything around them to stem Dungannon attacks.

Ruairi Woods was excellent at scrum half, while Robbie Jenkinson, Paul O'Loghlen, Mikey Sherlock and Kevin McGrath worked hard in difficult conditions.

Skerries now take on Malahide on Easter Saturday in the play-off which undoubtedly will be another tough encounter.

SKERRIES: Kevin McGrath; Paul Devitt, Lorcan Jones, Mikey Sherlock, Conor Lennox; Robbie Jenkinson, Ruiari Woods; Ross McAuley, Ben Jenkinson, Evan Sherlock; Tom Mulvany, Ross Halligan; Trevor Scuffil, Kieran Leonard, Cormac Marrey. Replacements: Cann Marrey, Cormac Murphy, Barry Murphy, Paul O'Loghlen, Sean Dempsey.

Fingal Independent