Victory from the match they have in hand could propel them into fifth place, eight points behind leaders St Mary’s.
But based on this display they might find that a bridge too far. Comfortable 19-3 leaders at half time, they allowed Dolphin to dominate the second 40 minutes but nervously, they held on for a one-score win.
“I’m obviously delighted with the win,” said a relieved Garryowen coach Paul Cunningham afterwards.
“We had all the work done in the first half but we conceded a try at the start of the second which changed the momentum and we struggled for the rest of the game.
“We were always going to be in difficulty after that. They’re a lovely side that play great rugby, no surprise in what they do. They scored a couple of penalty tries against Young Munster the previous week so you would expect them to be difficult opponents.”
Although they traded places upwards with their nearest rivals Dolphin as a result of this win, Garryowen still have much to do as St Mary’s College, Clontarf and Young Munster force the pace.
But Cunningham remains cautiously optimistic: “I thought we did brilliantly in the first half and it takes a bit of the heat off.
“We’re only half way through this league so you don’t know what will happen down the line. We’ve got to look at the top as well as the bottom. We’ve got to be careful. We’re stuck in the middle at the moment, half way through and we will see where things take us.”
Garryowen showed potential in that opening half, with Declan Cusack firing over four penalties and converting a try from prop forward Peter O’Shea, while Dolphin had to rely on a single penalty from Barry Keeshan. It was a fair reflection given the lively performance from Paul Neville, Mark Melbourne and Frank McKenna in that opening spell.
It wasn’t to last however. The Dolphin pack took over and the backs, particularly Eric Moloney, Cian Bohane and Eamonn Mills showed creativity in their attempts to narrow the gap.
Dolphin pounced within seconds of the restart when their man of the match John Quill got a try from a block down and Keeshan converted.
Keeshan came close with two long range penalties but the light blues still found themselves under the cosh, more so than ever when the outhalf cut the gap to six points. It made for a very nervous finale for the home side.
But Dolphin could not breach the defence again and had to be satisfied with a losing bonus point.
It was some consolation to their coach Steve Ford, who agonised over missed opportunities.
“I could have screamed at some of the [refereeing] decisions in the opening spell but, look, they took their chances and I suppose the try before half time was the killer,” he said.
“I would have been quite happy to go in at 3-12 with the wind and slope in the second half but we gave them the all-important score before half time which made the difference.
“Yeah, we got back into the game quickly but we also missed a few pots at goal and that was important too. At this level, it’s all about taking chances and we left a few behind us.”
GARRYOWEN: L Burke, A O’Loughlin, C Hircock, C Doyle (capt), I Hanley, D Cusack, F Lawlor; JP Cooney, D Rowley, P O’Shea, M Melbourne, F McKenna, P Neville, D Sherry, C Hartigan.
Replacements: JM Griffin for Rowley, P Lavery for O’Shea (both 45), L Vai Pulu for McKenna (49), K O’Gorman for Hartigan (56).
DOLPHIN: E Mills, C Bohane, E Moloney (capt), K Lynch, C Nolan, B Keeshan, C Bannon; J Cronin, J Cleary, C Condon, R O’Herlihy, C Rowe, D O’Callaghan, R Murphy, J Quill.
Replacements: H Fleming for Nolan (inj. 41), K O’Dwyer for O’Callaghan, G Duffy for Cronin (both 66).
Referee: M Patton (IRFU).