Old Crescent triumph in war of attrition

Old Crescent 14

The rutted and ploughed state of what had been a good firm pitch beforehand was testimony afterwards to what had been a massive effort by two teams locked in an old-style Limerick war of attrition but played in the best of Limerick sporting tradition.

“Was it good to watch?” Old Crescent player/coach Matt T’Pau asked, grimacing through the pain of a battered rib-cage. Yes, he was assured.

“But it was physical, bruising, wasn’t it? We used a lot of our bench, and that’s an indication. Thomond have come a long way.

"They’re always tough opponents, but in the last 20 minutes there, it could have gone either way. We need a couple of weeks to get ourselves right after that one.”

They know each other so well, these two, cross-town foes, all their attributes, all their qualities, encapsulated in those two back-row warriors, Ger Earls and David Bowles, dead-heated for man-of-the-match.

Thomond are the ground-hogs, the bruisers, the aging, experienced side grinding out results by keeping things slow and tight, creating penalty and drop-goal opportunities for their laser-booted out-half Aidan O’Halloran, while Old Crescent are that bit flash, attacking options across the width of the field (though once again, they failed to utilise fully the undoubted attacking qualities of international Mike Mullins).

Interesting then to watch open-side Earls and No 8 Bowles get entangled on umpteen occasions, several times the last two up after being the first two down to another breakdown, exchanging the occasional grin and pleasantry even as the action crashed around them.

“We know each other for years, I’m well used to him”, reckoned Crescent’s Bowles. “A bit of banter on the field, but it’s all good craic.”

Local teams, big attendance, local craic, a pity it wasn’t a local referee also, because Ulster’s Charlie Beverland never got into the spirit of things, never got into the flow, and the sound of his pet whistle was the only constant in this game.

It didn’t help that both sides constantly sought the refuge of touch in both halves, though in contrast to the reputation they brought with them, the visitors did try to run the ball on many occasions, but the whistle was a real intrusion.

“I thought the referee was very quick on the whistle,” said Earls. “You work hard to get up the field, then find yourself penalised, pushed back down again.

"nd it worked both ways. They were getting it as well, being penalised for petty things. I don’t want to offer it as an excuse, but it’s frustrating when the referee isn’t consistent.”

T’Pau agreed: “I think the tackle ball situation was frustrating for both sides, varying interpretations of the rules. He was very quick on the whistle, wasn’t even allowing much of an advantage.”

Thomond seemed to suffer more. Playing into the hill and breeze, they had defended well through the first half, line breached just twice.

The first was in the 26th minute after blind-side John Sheehan had been harshly sin-binned, Crescent winger Daithi Fitzgerald finding the inevitable gap after a long series of attacking phases; the second, the one that really hurt, five minutes into injury time, line-out and maul, Bowles handing to centre Michael Brodie a metre from the line.

“I thought we’d be able for 14 points in the second half, but every time we got down into their half we seemed to concede a penalty, or a knock-on, or something,” said Marty Ryan, Thomond joint coach with Earls.

“We needed to spend a bit more time down there, got nine good points (from the boot of O’Halloran), but we were never going to win this one without getting the try. And it wasn’t easy to get a try out there.”

Thomond picked up a bonus point for staying within seven points, remain in third place, just four points behind Old Crescent, who in turn keep the pressure on leaders Dolphin, a further two points the difference there.

“Our middle name is ‘battle’, no matter what happens,” Earls promised, with Bowles pledging more of the same. “It’s going to go down to the wire.

"All hard games from now on, all cup finals, we just hope we can keep it going, keep the pressure on, and that Dolphin slip up.”

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox