(Try scorer John Healy on the charge in Saturday's 15- 12 win over Greystones RFC in Dr. Hickey Park, Greystones)
Senior Rugby: Having seen their unbeaten run ended at the hands of county rivals Cashel the previous week, last Saturday’s visit to Greystones RFC took on a whole new level of importance for Nenagh Ormond. Having had an eight point cushion over the mid season break on Cashel in 2nd place, Nenagh might have entertained thoughts of comfort as league leaders and prospective candidates for promotion to Division 1A. Seeing that lead slashed to only 5 points though, and knowing Cashel’s willingness to jump on any chink of light to allow them back into the automatic promotion reckoning though, saw this latest fixture clouded in jeopardy for Nenagh. Throw in to the equation the fact that Greystones themselves are in the thick of a dogfight to stay out of the drop zone and had helped their cause hugely by winning away to Banbridge, as tough a place to win points as you can find in AIL rugby, then the size of this task for Nenagh suddenly was much bigger than league placings indicated. All of this proved very much true as the game played out on a windy Saturday afternoon on the Wicklow coast.
Nenagh had the better of the very early tussles and put together a strong period of pressure from the kick off to work their way towards the Greystones 22. Losing patience in the face of efficient Nenagh recycling the defence tried illegally to steal the ball at ruck time and from what looked like a kickable position the breeze unfortunately dragged Conor McMahon’s attempt at opening the scoring wide.
From the restart Nenagh built phases once more but kicked loosely on half way. The Greystones winger gathered and returned the kick with interest down the touchline into the Nenagh 22. Under little pressure Nenagh pushed the panic button and tried an ill advised chip out of defence which the Greystones number 7 collected easily to run in for the games opening try under the posts. Despite much industry Nenagh found themselves 7-0 down and a little shell shocked.
Greystones on the other hand surged in confidence from their good fortune. As Nenagh struggled to deal with the gale in their faces they were caught in two minds on a number of occasions as to how best to exit their half. Kicking into the strong wind was a risky approach probably best avoided, as it allowed the Greystones back three far too many easy opportunities to return the kicks to the green space behind the Nenagh chase line. It has to be said that in this opening quarter Greystones handled the tactical battle much more wisely. Indeed from one such probing kick return Nenagh were again pinned back in their own 22. Having done well to win a difficult defensive lineout the ball was then spilled into touch handing Greystones the put in. From there they mauled well to bring play right to the Nenagh line. The defensive effort was strong from Nenagh initially but in the end patience paid off for the Wicklow men and they worked the numbers for a score, wide on the left. The conversion was missed but at 12-0 down things looked bleak for the players and the travelling Nenagh fans.
Nenagh to their credit totally dominated the next 15 mins or so. Adapting to the conditions, they showed much more pragmatism in lowering the risk level and keeping the ball in hand. Progress was slow but their patience was rewarded as Greystones showed a tendency to infringe in the face of multi- phase attack and Nenagh kept the tempo high by tapping and going with the resultant penalties on each occasion. In fact it was eventually from a tap and go penalty move that Nenagh got off the mark. John Healy being the one on the end of the move for a good try against the wind. Again that wind proved problematic for Conor McMahon from the tee and with the conversion missed 12- 5 ended up being the half time score. That wasn’t before Nenagh had to endure a few more testing periods deep in their own territory as Greystones continued to use the elements to pin the visitors back. The last ten minutes to the half took place very much in Nenagh territory but this time Nenagh stayed patient, stuck to their task and avoided any mistake to open the door for Greystones.
With the breeze now at their backs it was Nenagh’s turn to play the kick pressure game. With Greystones struggling to exit, much like Nenagh in the opening half, a rushed clearance allowed Nenagh to probe the Greystones backfield. With a strong Nenagh chase line following up, the Greystones defenders were forced to touch down for a goal line drop out. The restart held up in the ever strengthening gale and drifted directly into touch. From the first meaningful kicking duel of the 2nd half Nenagh were now packing down for an attacking scrum 5 metres from the Greystones line. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands Nenagh scored straight off the base through no. 8 Evan Murphy and Conor McMahon added a really well struck conversion to tie up the game at 12- 12. With 35 mins to play and a gale at their backs Nenagh were now in an altogether more promising position than they had been 20 minutes previously.
Greystones were not going to die off on home turf however, with four valuable points still there for the taking. They gave every bit as good as they got and much of the following half was played, despite the strong breeze, in the middle third of the pitch. A worrying aspect for Nenagh in this time will be the number of promising attacks they put together that were undone by basic handling errors. This was a factor that was evident in the Cashel loss too and had been anything but a regular occurrence in the earlier part of the season. No doubt conditions were a factor but Nenagh hold themselves to high standards and will want to rid their game of these problems. In saying that the fact that they are making openings brings confidence that if they can sort their basics the opportunities will be there for the taking.
Just as in the first half, it was the patient approach that once more yielded dividends for Nenagh. Having dug out a penalty in the midfield slugfest that was the main fare of the second half, Ben Pope kicked Nenagh into the Greystones 22. A really good lineout take at the tail was mauled towards the Greystones line. A succession of Nenagh carries in midfield were met with strong resistance but Nenagh didn't panic. Eventually Pope hit Conor McMahon on a strong carry back against the grain of the attack and the Greystones line wobbled. As on a number of earlier occasions, the Wicklow men got on the wrong side of the referee at the ruck, and an easy shot at three points was awarded to Nenagh under the posts.
Or so it seemed! Nenagh took the scrum option, perhaps seeing a chance to break the home team's spirit. It proved unwise as a number of fruitless phases later this time it was Nenagh’s turn to fall foul of the man in the middle and Greystones were off the hook.
Rob Buckley and John Hayes both entered the fray for Nenagh at this point and both played their part in upping the pressure on the Greystones defence. Hayes as always was a big threat on the carry and Buckley had a big impact through strong efforts on the counter ruck when Greystones were in possession.
A lot of the middle 20 mins of the second half involved a kicking tussle between both sides. The wind was wreaking havoc, with Nenagh kicking dead on a few occasions and Greystones, like Nenagh earlier in the day, struggling to clear the ball any great distance. Eventually a penalty was won once more by Nenagh, further out then the earlier one which they elected not to kick. But sensing this was not a day for huge numbers of opportunities, this time the kick option was taken. McMahon made no mistake and at 15- 12, Nenagh took the lead for the first time. With the wind in their sails Nenagh dominated the closing ten mins territorially but ultimately couldn’t find the insurance score. Greystones had one final attack in search of a winner but it came undone 40 out from the Nenagh line with an excellent jackal turnover from Nenagh.
This was not Nenagh’s most impressive win visually this season. But in the context of the conditions, the result the week earlier and the early hole they found themselves on the score-line here it may well prove to be a very important one come the year’s end. For now Nenagh remain 5 points clear at the head of the division and having got back to winning ways will look forward to returning to home comforts next week when they meet Ulster outfit Malone RFC. Kick-off is at 2.30pm in Lisatunny and all support is most welcome.
Underage Update: With Storm Isha tearing up the script for what might have been a very busy weekend of underage activity there are no games to report on from the past week. With many underage competitions coming towards their latter stages scheduling of fixtures will become an unwelcome challenge for administrators in the coming weeks especially if the inclement weather conditions persist for much longer. Stay tuned to our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and X as well as through our Clubzap account for the most up to date fixture information.
A Night with Keith Wood: Thank you to Munster, Ireland and Lions legend Keith Wood for a super night’s entertainment in the clubhouse last Thursday night. Keith joined us as part of a fundraising event for the U12s tour of Barcelona coming up in March. He spoke about his many experiences on the playing field and latterly as the father of three rugby playing sons. The large attendance of members young and old had a very entertaining night. Best of luck to our U12s on their upcoming tour, more details of which will follow.
Split the Bucket: Our Split the Bucket Draw continues to hand out a minimum of €500 in prize money every week. This is our main fundraiser and supports the work of the club at all age levels. Go to nenaghormondrfc.com/products to enter and be in with a chance to win our next weekly jackpot.
Senior: Nenagh vs Malone RFC. Saturday Jan 27th @ 14.30 (Lisatunny)- Energia AIL