Munsters’ challenge for the title remains very much alive after an absorbing Limerick derby that saw Shannon finish with two players in the bin and still stuck very close to the bottom of the table.
It was also a good night for Munster as Felix Jones played his first competitive game in almost six months at full-back for Shannon and completed the 80 minutes. Johne Murphy and Ian Keatley made their first appearances in the competition for Munsters and also came through unscathed.
It was a game that could only do the world of good for the image of the All-Ireland League with total commitment throughout from both sides. Munsters prevailed because they had by far the stronger forward pack and were also imbued with the kind of spirit so essential if they were to turn over such a 17-point deficit.
A highly entertaining opening half was significant for two cracking Shannon tries. The first came on 22 minutes when Tadgh Bennett placed a perfect cross kick in the path of the excellent Paddy Butler who made the best use of a favourable bounce to gather and race over between the posts without a finger being laid on him. The second arrived in the 32nd minute when Shannon turned over possession around halfway before launching a superb attack down the right wing, Luke O’Dea making the crucial incision before sending Richie Mullane over.
Bennett converted both scores and also landed a couple of penalties that helped to push the home side 20 points to 3 in front and seemingly out of range as the half time whistle loomed. However, Munsters haven’t been one of the league’s outstanding teams all season without good reason. They swarmed into the attack, Shannon prop Kevin Griffin infringed in a desperate attempt to keep them at bay, was sent to the sin bin for his troubles and from the resultant scrum, referee Olly Hodges had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try that Willie Staunton (who had earlier landed a penalty) converted.
The second half opened with Munsters totally dominating the forward exchanges. A couple of penalties by Staunton narrowed the gap to 20-16 on the hour by which stage the front-row of Alan Cotter, Ger Slattery and Hugh McGrath had the Shannon set piece in all sorts of trouble. Player coach Stephen Keogh was the secondShannon player dispatched to the bin with seven minutes still to play and a few moments later substitute centre John Clogan was also yellow carded.
The inevitable happened from the resultant line-out as Munsters mauled their way over the line, the try credited to hooker Ger Slattery. Staunton converted and incredibly Young Munster’s challenge for a second title was still very much alive and kicking.
SHANNON: F Jones; L O’Dea, R Mullane, M Lawlor (capt), S McNamara; T Bennett, R Guerin; L Hogan, J Deegan, K. Griffin, S Keogh, F Walsh, P Butler, J Murphy, D Quinlan.
Replacements: G McNamara for Murphy 37; J Clogan for Lawler 47; D Heffernan for Walsh 56; Walsh for Quinlan 76.
YOUNG MUNSTER: R Moloney; J Murphy, A Burke, I Keatley, M Doyle; W Staunton, M Prendergast; A Cotter, G Slattery, H McGrath, D Gallagher, S O’Neill (capt), L Og Murphy, J O’Neill, N Melbourne.
Replacements: J Molony for Shane O’Neill 66; G Flaherty for McGrath 73; McGrath for Cotter 77.
Referee: O Hodges (IRFU).