AIL Division 2A Playoff (Hatrick Park, Magherafelt)
Nenagh Ormond pulled off a very positive result in the first leg of their AIL Division 2A relegation playoff against Rainey Old Boys in Derry last Saturday afternoon. This leaves the tie delicately poised with the second leg set for New Ormond Park next Saturday 30th May (2.30pm)
Playing against a stiff breeze, Nenagh defended stoutly for the first quarter against a big, direct ball carrying Rainey side. The only scoring opportunity in this quarter was a penalty kick for Rainey which their full back McClean struck well but saw the wind pull it to the left and narrowly wide.
On the restart Nenagh had their first meaningful raid into Rainey territory and under pressure a penalty was conceded by the home side. Fionn McGibney stepped up to have a shot from about 30 metres out but into the teeth of the wind and he too saw his effort drift wide
The stalemate continued until scrum-half Nicky Irwin seized the initiative for the visitors on 25 minutes. Willie Coffey punched a hole in the Rainey defence before offloading to set up Irwin for the game’s first try, with Conor McMahon adding the extras.
Buoyed by this score, Nenagh showed intent from the restart. Irwin and Coffey were once again to the fore as the scrum half expertly collected a deft grubber kick from fly-half Derek Corcoran before being hauled down just short of the line. From there Nenagh worked the phases and piled on the pressure to win a scrum 10 metres out. The pack provided a strong platform for John O'Flaherty to pick from the base and feed the marauding Coffey who pounded through the cover to score Nenagh’s second try. McMahon again did the honours from the conversion and at 14-0 up against the wind things looked really good for Nenagh as half time arrived.
With their survival on the line and urged on by the home support, Rainey gained a good stream of possession in the second period and started to exert considerable pressure on the Nenagh defence. Gaining the upper hand at the set-piece, relentless traffic from Rainey eventually told when back row Conor Smyth crossed the whitewash for their first try on 50 minutes. This was converted by McLean who had earlier slotted a penalty for the home side who now trailed by only four points.
At 14- 10 the next score was massive in the context of this game. Again Nicky Irwin was to the fore, breaking from a rare, successful Nenagh lineout to enter the home 22. Taking no chances, Rainey conceded a penalty to kill the move and needing scoreboard pressure captain John O'Flaherty handed the ball to Conor McMahon who struck superbly to push Nenagh to a 17-10 lead on 65 mins. This game was a real humdinger now and for the next 5 mins or so both sides had possession and attacks but neither team could break the defensive line of the opposition with play largely between the 10 metre lines.
Having to put in a massive defensive effort against Rainey’s big ball carriers, fatigue began to show as Nenagh conceded a number of penalties which gave up vital ground to the home side. With the clock ticking down, Nenagh captain John O’Flaherty was penalised and yellow carded for illegally bringing down a Rainey maul five metres out. The dam finally burst with the final whistle approaching as Smyth went over for his second try, once again converted by McLean to bring his side on level terms at 17 points apiece.
All in all a draw was probably a fair reflection of the game on the day. There were excellent performances on both sides. For Nenagh Rob Buckley stood out in defence and Jonathan Hayes had a big impact for his time on the park. In attack Irwin and Coffey were involved in everything good from Nenagh. Much of this game was fought in the trenches, involving the unglamorous work of mauling and defending and the impact of guys like Jake O Kelly, Kevin O Gorman and John O’Flaherty in this aspect was notable. On the Rainey side Con Smyth was a standout player in terms of carrying strength. McCauley at 7 was a thorn in the Nenagh side at lineout time while in attack out half Connolly and outside centre Brown were prominent.
With the overall outcome of this tie still very much in the melting pot, all eyes are now on the second leg in Lisatunny on Saturday afternoon to decide which of these sides retains their division 2A status. The stakes could not be higher.
Scorers: Tries: Nicky Irwin, Willie Coffey
Conversions: Conor McMahon (2)
Penalties: Conor McMahon
Nenagh Ormond: Fionn McGibney, Davy Gleeson, Conor McMahon, Willie Coffey, Peter Coman, Derek Corcoran, Nicky Irwin; Fergal Brislane, Conor Muldoon, Johnny Hayes, Kevin O’Gorman, Jake O’Kelly, Rob Buckley, John O’Flaherty, Evan Murphy.
Subs: Peter O’Connor, Cathal Ryan, Niall O'Gorman, Damien Dunne, James Meagher, James Finn, Kian O’Kelly, Patrick Scully.