Nenagh Ormond got their season off and running on the best possible note last Saturday with a win over Shannon RFC in the opening round of the Munster Senior Challenge Cup. Nenagh broke new ground last year by making it all the way to the final of this competition and lost out agonizingly in the final moments to Young Munster RFC in Thomond Park after a thrilling contest. The task of emulating that achievement has become much steeper however as this year’s competition is based on a round robin format rather than the original straight knockout structure. Nenagh are in what is undoubtedly the group of death with Shannon, Cork Constitution and Highfield. For context the other three share 51 titles between them. On top of this the draw has Nenagh on the road to both Shannon and Con before welcoming Highfield to Nenagh. With only the group winners progressing, a win first up was essential to have any hope.
The game proved to be highly competitive and entertaining for the sizeable crowd enjoying the sunny conditions in Coonagh. Nenagh started the brighter and dominated territory in the opening ten minutes. The Shannon defence were game to the task though and when Nenagh were loose in an attacking lineout on the ten minute mark Shannon were very efficient in quickly breaking out of their half and setting up camp in the Nenagh 22. A penalty for a high tackle saw Shannon refuse a shot at the posts and their bravery was rewarded with a series of close in phases after a lineout maul yielding the opening try of the day with the extras added.This started a ding dong scoring pattern for the remainder of the first half. The teams traded scores in an end to end contest leaving the half time score at 19-17 to the home side. At three tries apiece, only a conversion separated the sides. Nenagh’s scores came from Willy Coffey, Conor O Shaughnessy and Kevin O Flaherty in the first half with Ben Pope adding one conversion.
The 2nd half however saw Nenagh turning the screw, particularly in the forward exchanges. In the energy sapping heat the strength of the benches would be key and this is where Nenagh had the upper hand. The scrum in particular proved a good weapon for Nenagh and Mikey Doran, Jack O Keefe and debutant Colm Skehan all had telling contributions here. John Healy added a lot of dynamism on his introduction and scored the next try for Nenagh.
At half back Ben Pope, recently arrived from New Zealand was finding his feet alongside the ever dependable Nicky Irwin and as the game wore on the potential in this partnership was clear to see. Pope looks a really useful addition with great distribution off either hand, some very clever tactical kicking and a real appetite for the physical exchanges. Irwin for his part chipped in with a very well taken try off a sniping break after a number of positive forward carries.
It could have been more comfortable for Nenagh with a few other chances spurned but a final tally of 29-19 was a good start to a long season. The task will undoubtedly be harder in Cork next Saturday but the team will be heartened by the ability to chalk up 5 tries against Division 1 opposition while still having much to improve. Saturday’s game has an earlier kickoff time of 12.30pm to accommodate viewers of Ireland v Romania in the afternoon’s opening Rugby World Cup game. Who knows? Maybe two cup winning odysseys are about to begin!
M Doran, D Murphy, J O’ Keefe, K O’ Gorman, K O’ Flaherty, R Buckley, J Coffey, J O’ Kelly, N Irwin, B Pope, P Scully, W Coffey ©, C McMahon, C O’ Shaughnessy, J Rowland, J Healy, S Frawley, C Skehan, J Brislane, J Meagher, E Fitzpatrick, C O Doherty