Top two share spoils in thriller

Old Crescent 16 Dolphin 16

Not that the provinces are getting such massive support, but that the superb fare now on offer in the AIL is being played out in front of such paltry numbers.

This was superb fare, a magnificent contest between two well-drilled sides, both showing lashings of attacking adventure, with the ball spun wide at times and taken tight at others, as well as some deft kicking when the occasion called for that.

Even more impressive perhaps was the defence, especially by the home side, with the hard-hitting Ian Dillon and Eugene McGovern putting in some shuddering tackles, just the one try conceded by each team.

This is Dolphin's centenary season and they are determined to mark it with a return to the top division. On the evidence of Saturday's performance, they have every chance of doing just that. Even opposition

player/coach Matt T'Pau was impressed. "Dolphin are a fine side, very physical, as you'd expect from a Munster side," the former Tongan international said afterwards. "They have an exceptional lineout, which caused us a few problems."

Central to the Dolphin lineout dominance was late call-up Shane Madigan who, along with young

second-row Rory McGrath, was the most imposing of a very impressive side.

Blind-side Madigan was majestic in the lineout, stealing several of the Crescent throws, and very impressive around the pitch, while McGrath did a marauding Paul O'Connell impression in the loose big, strong, athletic, aggressive footballer.

From the kick-off, Dolphin took the game to Old Crescent, practically owned the ball for the first 25 minutes, but failed to capitalise on any of the several occasions in which they threatened the Old Crescent line. Not that it was all one-way traffic, as Old Crescent too had plenty of attacking ideas, one memorable cameo seeing their exceptional number 8 David Bowles placing a soft O'Gara-like cross-kick to the corner which bounced just over the head of hard-charging second-row T'Pau, out on the wing.

First blood came to the home side after 27th minutes. Bowles was central to it, with a beautifully-balanced slashing break and centre Michael Brodie was on hand to give the scoring pass to the powerful Liam Browne, the hooker adding to his try against Young Munster last time out. Within five minutes, Dolphin had replied in kind. A defence-freezing miss-pass from veteran out-half John O'Mahony found outside centre Barry O'Neill as the Old Crescent tacklers focused on the hard-charging Mick Manning. Both tries were converted but despite every effort, that was to be the final time either defensive line broke.

The respective out-halves, Stephen Touhy for Crescent and O'Mahony for Dolphin, converted and added three penalties each (Dolphin led at the break 10-7) to leave them tied at the end. Mind you, right at the death, Crescent should have taken it. Sub Paul McDonagh broke through after an intercept on halfway but the winger was hauled down just short of the line by the speedy Donagh Keeshan and his attempted pass went forward.

"I thought we brought the game to them a bit more, worked very hard all over the park," reckoned Hamish Adams, the Dolphin coach. "It's not the perfect result, but at least we're still on top."

Matt T'Pau was equally sanguine. "It's a result neither of us really wanted, but we're still the top two, and it keeps the pressure on everybody else. We still have our destiny in our own hands, but there's still a lot of rugby to be played this year."

If it matches the standard of this game, the fans will surely come back. Surely. Oh, and a footnote. With his second successful penalty kick of the afternoon (he finished 4 from 4), John O'Mahony passed the 1000-pt mark in the AIL. Impressive.

OLD CRESCENT: S. Stephens; B. Leahy (P. McDonagh 65), J. Cusack (capt), M. Brodie, F. Hogan; S. Touhy (3P 1C), C. Forde; E. McGovern, L. Browne (1T), J. Cullinane; M. T'Pau (P. Ryan 50), D. O'Malley; I. Dillon, D. McDonagh, D. Bowles.

DOLPHIN: D. Keeshan; S. O'Halloran, B. O'Neill (1T), M. Manning, C. Cronin; J. O'Mahony (3P 1C), D. O'Mahony; J. O'Sullivan, D. O'Farrell, E. Knowles; D. Pomeroy (capt), R. McGrath; S. Madigan, D. Murphy, J. Coughlan.

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