All-Ireland League participants have been suffering a financial crisis long before the current economic meltdown, but last night the share price at one club rose.
Shannon’s decision to play a home AIB League fixture against city rivals Garryowen under lights at Thomond Park last night proved an inspired one, with more than 4,000 turning up to the revamped stadium.
It was Shannon’s biggest crowd in years; it may have been the biggest AIB League crowd — barring finals — in a decade, and the occasion was marked by a match of real intensity that produced plenty of excitement.
That excitement heightened in the final quarter, when Shannon threatened to win it and lose it before coming back from the brink to deny the Light Blues their first win of the campaign.
In the end, Garryowen had to settle for the draw and a couple of much-needed points to kick-start their challenge after two successive defeats.
Shannon didn’t get to enjoy the bragging rights alongside the financial bonanza they reaped, but one feels they won’t be too unhappy with the outcome of a match that could have gone either way.
Prompted by the sizeable crowd, the two sides played with passion and urgency in the opening minutes, although each had to be satisfied with three points for their efforts; Tadgh Bennett kicking Shannon into the lead and Conor Kilroy equalising after a menacing run from Ciaran O’Boyle forced Shannon into conceding the penalty at a ruck.
The sides continued to slug it out with Bennett and Kilroy exchanging penalties once again, before Shannon stepped into the danger zone when John Clogan was sent to the sin-bin for killing possession at a ruck.
But while Garryowen cranked up the pressure with that extra man, they were unable to make possession and position pay, as Shannon fought a brave rearguard action in the few minutes before half-time.
Indeed in the early moments of the second half they won a line-out and surging forward in droves, the Shannon pack en-bloc did the hard work before Mike Essex disengaged from a maul and hurtled towards the Garryowen line. He was stopped, but Fiach O’Loughlin picked up and darted through a slight gap for the opening, unconverted, try to make it 11-6.
Shannon did everything but push home that advantage, and then conceded a penalty against the run of play. Kilroy knocked it over from 45 metres before adding another from even further out to give his side the lead for the first time after 62 minutes.
The lead lasted mere seconds as Shannon hit back immediately with Bennett’s third penalty, awarded for a deliberate knock-on.
The closing minutes were full of fast, furious, action and mistakes in abundance as Garryowen threw caution to the wind before they fashioned a 77th minute try out of nothing.
Much of the work was done by forwards Paul Neville and Conor Hartigan but when the ball was swept wide, Kilroy came into the line to send wing Lorcan Burke over in the corner for a 17-14 lead.
But Shannon fought back from the brink to manufacture a penalty chance for Bennett, the out-half delivering from close range.
Garryowen survived a very short nervous patch at the end to secure a draw that was probably the best result after an enjoyable night’s entertainment.
A Finn; R Mullane, A Thompson, J Clogan, S Kelly; T Bennett, F O’Loughlin (capt); G McNamara, M Essex, T Buckley; P O’Brien, F Walsh; J O’Connor, D Quinlan, E Grace.
Replacements: E McLoughlin for O’Connor, K Griffin for McNamara (both 78).
C Kilroy; L Bourke, K Lewis, C Doyle, Ciaran O’Boyle; A Kingsley, Cillian O’Boyle; R Brosnan, M Sherry, D Lavery; M Melbourne, F McKenna; P Neville (capt), D Sherry, C Hartigan.
Replacements: K Buckley for M Sherry, A Kavanagh for Hartigan (both 60).
D Keane (IRFU)