Top four in Ashbourne's reach
Leinster League Division 1A: Wicklow 3 Ashbourne 8
Reigning All-Ireland Junior champions Ashbourne are on course to qualify for the 2019/20 competition after moving into the Leinster League's top four with this narrow away victory over Wicklow.
Conditions on Saturday last were wet, with a very strong wind blowing straight down the pitch, but still the two teams served up an absorbing tussle which could have gone either way.
Ashbourne had lost their home game to Wicklow earlier in the season and knew this would be a tough game, but the side has a growing confidence on the back of their recent league form and the All-Ireland win and went to Wicklow looking to take home the points.
From a forwards perspective it was a great display, with the scrum being used as a means of retaining possession as kicks for territory and lineouts were extremely difficult.
Ashbourne's superiority at the set piece was plain to see, with their man of the match - tight head Mark Behan - anchoring the visiting pack, supported by Meehan and Wall in the front row and Kent and Whittaker in the engine room.
The Meath side played with the gale behind them in the first half and Crotty and Bass in the half back positions tried to control the game and put the ball into the Wicklow half.
The hosts were well able to run the ball, but handling conditions were difficult for both sides and Wicklow discipline was also a factor as they fell foul of the referee.
However, in fairness to Wicklow they started well and only for a try-saving tackle by Shane Bass they would have taken an early lead.
After that most of the game was played in the Wicklow half and while Deevy, Wall, McKeon and Hurley were at their ball-carrying best they got no joy on the scoresheet.
Jake Wall went off early in the half with an injury and was replaced by Sean Kent and a Crotty penalty was all Ashbourne had to show for the half - yet it proved to be an important score.
In the second half Ashbourne showed their ability to retain possession and across the XV the side carried well and frustrated the home team. Rooney and O'Brien were dominant in all facets of play, while the back trio of Murtagh, Dunne and Gibson were comfortable under the high ball and took it back to Wicklow as kicking into the wind was futile.
When the decisive try came it fell to Conor Hurley, who has been playing great rugby all season, to touch down. From a scrum on the Wicklow 22 Ashbourne worked the ball left through more than 30 phases of play.
McKeon, Deevy, Hurley, Bass and Crotty were prominent, but most of the pack actually handled the ball at some point along with Rooney. With the ball on the left side of the 22 Crotty dummied a pass and then fed Hurley who angled his run from left to right against the grain and broke through a tackle to score.
Crotty's conversion attempt came back against him kicking into the wind and Ashbourne led 8-0 with 30 minutes left.
There was a Wicklow fightback of sorts, but it never really gained traction. A penalty from the Ashbourne 10-metre line, with the wind in his back, saw Earls convert a penalty, but that was the nearest they got.
Ashbourne tied the ball up for long periods of the half and when not in possession went in pursuit of the ball, and at the final whistle the two sides were glad it was over and a warm shower was a welcome relief.
Ashbourne 1sts have a week off now, with the focus on the 2nds' Provincial Towns Cup game away to Birr 1sts. The 2nds have maintained their narrow lead in the 2nds league following a 19-16 win over their Wicklow counterparts. Aaron McLoughlin got the try, while Kelan Toolan kicked three penalties and a conversion.
ASHBOURNE: Patrick Murtagh; Andrew Gibson, Jack O'Brien, Mark Rooney, Casey Dunne; Donal Crotty, Shane Bass; Mark Behan, Brendan Meehan, Alan Wall; Sean Kent, Conor Hurley; Jake Wall, Sean McKeon, Simon Deevy. Replacements: Danny Norton, Frank Keegan, Andrew Whittaker, Colm Craigie, Kelan Toolan.