THE pace, skill and opportunism of winger Stephen Kelly and the quality of a pack who used the atrocious conditions to their advantage were crucial factors as Shannon qualified for another AIB League final at Coonagh on Saturday.
For the second successive week, Kelly, the Newcastle West native who has shone for the Limerick footballers, struck for a decisive score . He ran in two splendid tries against Dolphin seven days previously that earned Shannon a bonus point and a home semi-final and this time he notched the game’s only try.
“That guy is on fire and deserves to go to the next level,” enthused Shannon coach Geoff Moylan. “Someone needs to nurture Stephen because he has everything. He’s been outstanding week after week after week. He’s on to everything. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s eager, he’s a fantastic player. He’s got everything”.
Garryowen had the first use of the fierce wind and were in front within 90 seconds with a penalty by Conor Kilroy. Almost from the kick-off, however, Shannon worked a pre-planned move to perfection as Kelly came in off his wing and sprinted through a midfield gap to touch down behind the posts for Tadgh Bennett to convert.
Garryowen looked dangerous as they sought to bring speedy wings Lorcan Bourke and Ronan O’Mahony into the action. Only a couple of superb cover tackles prevented each of them finishing off some sparkling attacks, leaving Garryowen to rely on two more penalties and a drop goal by the excellent Kilroy to regain the lead after 25 minutes.
Torrential rain then hit Coonagh and it signalled a complete transformation in the proceedings. With Munster’s Donncha Ryan exerting an ever greater influence, especially in the line-out, and the front-row axis of Killian O’Neill, Mike Essex and Kevin Griffin winning the scrummaging duel, the Shannon pack gained control.
The Shannon forwards and scrum-half Frankie McNamara adapted superbly to the treacherous underfoot conditions. They forced six penalties within range of the Garryowen posts and Bennett knocked over three to leave little doubt about the outcome. Garryowen attempted to run whatever meagre possession came their way, handling errors were inevitable, loose balls were booted downfield and twice Kelly led the chase for the touch down behind the opposition line. Each time, the ideally positioned referee George Clancy ruled against him but in the final analysis it made no difference.
“In conditions like that, it’s difficult to eke out a score and in fairness the Garryowen defence was magnificent but once we got ahead, we were always going to win,” reasoned Shannon captain David Quinlan. “Donncha Ryan is a superb player who is very close to the Munster team. When he comes back to us, he does the same thing as he does for Munster — he plays his heart out and he was a big plus for us today. It’s good to be back in a final. Clontarf beat us 8-6 already this year at Thomond Park and it’s going to be a very tough game”.
And, of course, David kept the last word for his first cousin, Alan Quinlan, the new Irish Lion. “Alan has had a lot of bad breaks throughout his career and it’s nice to see something go his way,” he said. “He has deserved it.”
SHANNON: D. O’Donovan; R. Mullane, F. McLoughlin, J. Clogan, S. Kelly; T. Bennett, F. McNamara; K. O’Neill, M. Essex, K. Griffin, P. O’Brien, F. Walsh, D. Ryan, E. Grace, D. Quinlan (c).
Replacement: L. Hogan for O’Neill (52).
GARRYOWEN: C. Kilroy; L. Bourke, K. Lewis, C. Doyle, R. O’Mahony; W. Staunton, G. Hurley; R. Brosnan, M. Sherry, D. Lavery, E. Macket, F. McKenna, P. Neville capt, C. Hartigan, D. Sherry.
Replacements: J. O’Sullivan for Hartigan (48); N. Melbourne for D. Sherry (62); C. Murray, A. Burke and D. McCarthy for Hurley, Staunton and Bourke (73).
Referee: G. Clancy (MAR).
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