Clinical Bennett denies O’Connell winning return

PAUL O’CONNELL’S return after an eight-month injury lay-off attracted a fine crowd to Thomond Park last night, and they were well rewarded for coming out on a bitterly cold and wet night as Shannon pipped Young Munster by a single point in a highly competitive AIL Division 1A encounter.

The result was a little harsh on O’Connell’s Young Munster side given that they scored the only try of the night, a superb effort finished off by Ray Moloney that brought them to within a point of their rivals with three minutes left on the clock. But Alan Kingsley missed the conversion and was also off target with four penalty attempts, one with the last kick of the game.

Both sides were fully prepared to spread the ball wide and test the tackle in the first half, but defences remained on top so that the only scores were four penalties for Shannon landed by Tadgh Bennett as against three by Kingsley.

Shannon would have been happiest at the break, given that centre Marcus O’Driscoll spent ten minutes in the bin.

The tempo stepped up appreciably in the second half with the arrival of O’Connell for his first appearance in the black and amber since an AIL Division Two game against Buccaneers in January 2008, when he was again returning after a long term injury. He was clearly feeling his way back after a 250-day absence but his reaction afterwards was extremely positive where his recovery from injury was concerned.

However, he did admit that he was “very disappointed for the lads, they are a great bunch that I meet after games, they all pal around and drink together. But they also train hard and I thought they played brilliantly tonight, and I think the crowd got great value from both sides.”

In spite of O’Connell’s best efforts, Shannon stretched their lead with a delightfully-struck Bennett drop goal on 61 minutes. Kingsley’s fourth penalty narrowed the gap to three only for Bennett to strike again on 70 minutes and leave six points between the sides.

However, Munsters’ heart and determination enabled them to open the way for Ray Moloney’s brilliantly taken 77th-minute try, after a superb skip pass by substitute Willie Staunton. Kingsley was unable to add the points from the edge of touch and he also pulled a final effort from 38 metres narrowly left of the uprights with the last kick of the game.

SHANNON: D O’Donovan; R Mullane, M Lawlor, M O’Driscoll, L O’Dea; T Bennett, P Rowley; G McNamara, D Casey, K Griffin, S Duggan, F Walsh capt, D Heffernan, P Butler, D Quinlan.

Replacements: L Hogan for McNamara and C McMahon for Heffernan (both 43), R Guerin for Rowley (57), J Cronin for Casey (78).

YOUNG MUNSTER: R Moloney; A Carroll, M Costello, G Jones, M Doyle; A Kingsley, S Upton; G Flaherty, G Slattery capt, A Cotter, J Moroney, S, O’Neill, L Og Murphy, J O’Neill, B Guilfoyle.

Replacements: P O’Connell for Moroney (h/t), S Hassett for O’Neill (54); W Staunton for Upton (61).

Referee: O Hodges (IRFU).

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