Leaders boost their league credentials
Rugby, Leinster League: Ashbourne 23 Dundalk 15
All-Ireland Junior Cup semi-finalists Ashbourne consolidated their position at the top of the Leinster League table with a local derby win over Dundalk at Milltown House on Saturday afternoon.
Gavin Kennedy scored 20 of their 23 points, but this was an excellent displayed by the whole team and they now have a five-point lead with six games remaining either side of Christmas.
The day may have been dull and wet, but this game brought excitement to the large attendance for this local derby and Dundalk arrived unbeaten since losing to Ashbourne on the opening day.
They had strengthened side with the addition of Kiwi Will Schutz in the meantime and have been playing well, and they took this strong showing into the game, yet it was Ashbourne who struck first with a cheeky drop goal after six minutes from Kennedy.
Kennedy was involved again in the 14th minute when he was adjudged to have tackled high on Tiernan Gonnelly, though the latter was dipping into the tackle.
Dundalk capitalised on the man advantage and score two tries in quick succession.
The first came immediately after the dismissal when the penalty to the Ashbourne five-metre line set up a lineout. Dundalk retained the ball through a number of phases until full back Robert Williams touched down and Schutz added the two points.
This was followed up quickly when James Shields crossed the line in the right corner for an unconverted try.
Ashbourne were reeling, but they knuckled down and worked their way back into the game. They were playing well, with Deevy, Whittaker and Wall carrying the ball strongly, while Hurley and McKeon put in some big hits.
Ashbourne worked their into the Dundalk 22, with the backs moving the ball and Crotty driving them forward. They were reward when Steen was penalised for preventing the ball being recycled, and with Kennedy off the field Toolan stepped up and slotted the three points in the 26th minute.
Kennedy returned to the field after this and three minutes later he had a penalty miss after a strong carry from Jake Wall, but shortly after that he was successful from the tee, following a yellow card to McConnon for a high tackle, which the referee was consistent on.
Behind by four points Ashbourne were very much back in it. Dundalk were impressive in the lineout but the sides were very evenly matched in the scrum, with the home side just beginning to get the upper hand.
From the restart Dundalk failed to get the kick 10 metres and Ashbourne opted for a scrum and drove the seven-man Dundalk pack back and the visitors were penalised.
Having kicked for touch, Norton found Hurley who dropped it down to Jake Wall. He carried into traffic and then it was carried on by Whittaker. Bass, playing at 9, quickly moved the ball to Kennedy whose inside pass found Craigie hitting the line at pace and he drove into the 22.
Fast ball from Bass saw Wall carry again, and from the ruck Bass sent the ball to Kennedy. He went left and then stepped back against the cover and sprinted 20 metres to score a try, but was wide with the conversion.
At 14-12 Ashbourne went into the break in the lead, but it had been an arm wrestle, with yellow cards for both sides having an effect on the scoreline.
Dundalk were quick out of the blocks in the second half with an early penalty, but that proved to be their only score of the half.
Ashbourne started to take control and though Kennedy missed a penalty to take the lead the feeling was that another score was coming.
However, it did take time to break down a resolute Dundalk side who did not look like scoring but were giving nothing away.
Ashbourne had chances, with at one stage Deevy powering over the line, only to have the ball knocked away as he was about to score.
In the 70th minute the breakthrough finally came when Kennedy put Ashbourne ahead by two points with a well-taken penalty.
More drama was to follow. Ashbourne won possession from a lineout on the Dundalk 10-metre and set up a driving maul which powered into the 22. McConnon was penalised for a side entry which stopped the forward motion and picked up his second yellow card. Kennedy converted the penalty and stretched the lead to 20-15.
As the game headed into injury time it seemed that Dundalk would at least have a bonus point, but Ashbourne were awarded a penalty near half-way and something was said to the ref and he added 10 metres.
This brought it into Kennedy's range and he slotted the kick for an eight-point victory in a game which suggests that rugby is alive and well in the North East.
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.