Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ringrose the master in stunning 'Rock recovery

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

When you're reduced to 14 players and trailing by 11 points, it is fair to assume your time is up. But try telling that to Blackrock.

At 20-9 down and with left-wing Sean Coughlan sent to the line for what the match officials deemed a dangerous tackle, the safe money was on Roscrea qualifying for a second final in three years.

Great credit must go to Blackrock for the manner in which they fought back. Roscrea – the strongest team ever to represent the Co Offaly school – appeared to have this one in the bag, but the inability to translate territory into points ultimately contributed to their downfall and exit from this year's competition.

By contrast, 'Rock possess in centre Gary Ringrose the most substantial goal-kicker to represent them in a long time. With Ringrose on board, any opportunity created in the opposition half can be translated into points.

Wanting

By contrast, Roscrea out-half Ciaran Gaffney – who contributed so much in so many other ways, not least the try of the match – was found wanting when between seven and 10 kickable points went astray.

But it was with the ice-cool Ringrose, who was on the button every time, that the seeds to this extraordinary comeback were well and truly sown. Ringrose and Gaffney exchanged successful penalties in the opening 10 minutes before the No 13 edged 'Rock in front (6-3) on the quarter-hour. Then, enter Gaffney, who produced a piece of magic to set this game alight.

It came in the 22nd minute when a superbly crafted chip over Blackrock's defence culminated in a mismatch between the tall Roscrea No 10 and the diminutive 'Rock No 9, skipper Charlie Rock. Gaffney regathered and raced in for a brilliant individual effort, converted by the on-fire out-half for a 10-6 lead.

Each side had one more opportunity before the break but, whereas Ringrose succeeded (on 28 minutes), Gaffney failed three minutes later, leaving a single point (10-9) between two hugely committed, well-drilled teams at the break.

For Roscrea, skipper Sean O'Brien, centre Dwayne Corcoran and, most particularly, roving flanker Rory Moloney were immense, while for 'Rock, where No 8 Nick Timoney went, the rest followed.

A mere four minutes into the second half 'Rock were in a bind with the dismissal of Coughlan followed soon after by a powerful Roscrea maul and try, accredited to the outstanding O'Brien. Not to be outdone, Moloney raced in for another brilliant solo try and at 20-9, despite missing both conversions, Roscrea seemed home and hosed.

But cometh the hour cometh the men and with full-back Jack Power splitting the Roscrea defence before being tackled just short of the line by Rob Wharton, super-sub Jack Dwan crashed over for Ringrose to narrow the gap to four (20-16).

Roscrea prop Jacob Walshe was then yellow-carded, and at 14 a side it was game back on. As the clock ticked down, Power and the tough-as-nails Steve Lawton provided the groundwork leading to a scrum to 'Rock just five metres short of the Roscrea line.

Incredibly, following another Dwan surge, fellow sub Zane Fitzpatrick crashed over beneath the posts for Ringrose to add the extras.

Roscrea had one last opportunity when, with the final kick of the game, the outstanding Corcoran's long-range effort to seal the draw – which would have made for the most appropriate result – fell just short.

Agony for Roscrea, ecstasy for Blackrock but, with Ringrose on board, they are going to take some stopping now.

Blackrock – J Power; Z O'Hagan (L O'Dea 56), G Ringrose, S Lawton, S Coughlan; P Quirke, C Rock; J Loughman, T Cooke, O Jager; D O'Connor, G Fenn; R Tyrell (J Dwan 43), D Fortune (D Fitzpatrick 56), N Timoney.

Roscrea – F Higgins; T Carroll, C Brennan, D Corcoran, R Wharton; C Gaffney, D Lavelle; J Walshe, C Gavin, O Heffernan; D Trayers (MJ Gavin 67), K Buckley; M Kelly (B Walsh 64), R Moloney, S O'Brien.

Ref – E O'Dowd (LRR).

Irish Independent

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