I have to be honest, at this point I really wasn’t expecting much. Perhaps this is from my experience back in early 2000s where having made the ‘voyage’ across the pond on a one way ticket when I was delighted to find out the real beautiful game was being played in this hard core Rugby Union island. Now, having come from Warrington where the game is the No.1 sport and well organised to where the game was in its infancy, my experience of League over in Ireland was bordering on shambolic. It always came down to 20 minutes before kick off ringing around to scratch some players together. So as Finn and I rocked up at Ashbourne Rugby Union club I was pleasantly surprised the final was being played at such a club. Perhaps it was the venue or location or the teams or the free admission or all of these factors that there was such a good turn out of spectators.
Walking around the pitch past the club house and BBQ with Finn to the seated stand I couldn't help having a huge smile on my face seeing the progression of rugby league in Ireland since my twilight playing days on these shores. And the best was yet to come!
It took just minutes before the first break by the Butchers speedy wing but some scramble defence by the Titans did enough to halt his progress, although the damage had been done as the next play unfolded and Butchers Prop Gareth Murray rumbled over With the conversion this made it 6-0 to the rookie year Butchers
The next 10 minutes of play saw some good crash play from both sides but too many simple errors and forced plays from Titans proved to be the undoing of them. Butchers were playing the simpler game and not forcing the plays. They managed to build some pressure and the full back Mark Kenny managed to nip through a gap in the Titans defence to score under the posts. Again the conversion kicked to make it 12-0 to the Butchers.
The next 15 minutes saw some rushed plays again by the Titans with the ball being given over cheaply but with some hard defence this didn't cause any more points being scored. With 5 minutes to go in the first half I could see the Titans composing themselves more with the plays and gaining more control and confidence.
The half time whistle sounded and the two teams grouped together for the talk. 12-0 in favour of the Barnhall Butchers. I managed to get in earshot of the Titans team and was surprised the coach didn’t lose his head with what he had witnessed. Instead he stayed calm and gave some good instructions. In hindsight I figure he knew what his team were capable of with the wealth of experience the Titans had over the Barnhall Butchers. How right he was not to doubt his team.
The half time break for Titans had the same effect as EPO had on Lance Armstrong. The Titans let rip with some big hits and immediately got on the front foot with some great crash balls followed by some good handling. They first broke down the left edge with a try from centre Mike Kelleher, then they stormed down the right with the centre offloading to Billy Noonan to score. With both conversions being kicked this tied the game at 12-12. This was all in the space of 7 minutes of the second half kicking off!! More was to come.
On the very next play after the kick off an impressive Lemeki Vaipulu opened up the Butchers again with some dancing feet and pace to give Luke Malone a run in under the sticks. Again the conversion was hit home to bring the scores to 18-12 to the Titans. With the half time team talk still fresh in the ears, the Titans didn’t stop there as Cronan Gleeson went over. 24-12. All this within 15 minutes of the second half. At this point I couldn’t see the Butchers coming back. The Titans seemed to be firmly butchering the Butchers with 24 unanswered points.
However, the Titans seemed to take the foot off the gas a little after making some changes from the bench and with the wind behind the Butchers they found themselves in the Titans 20 zone. Offensively the next play was one of the highlights for me. Nearing the end of the set, Ben McCarthy put a delicate grubber through the defensive line and regained the ball to score what for me was a decisive turning point of this a twisting game. This left a difficult conversion 10 metres in from the right edge. It was duly dispatched to get the Butchers back in the game.
The next few sets brought the Butchers back down the pitch but in a ‘Red Mist’ moment of frustration Butchers player Diarmuid Carr was seen to stamp. Out came a yellow and off went Carr. The Butchers then stepped up to the plate and rallied while they were down to 12 men. No advantage in points was seen during the sin bin period to the credit of the Butchers.
With 10 minutes to go Mikey Russell opened up the Titans defence and scored a great try from 30m out. The kick was another tough one but it was posted through the sticks with ease. 24-24 was the score with 8 minutes left on the clock. At this point I did wonder what the plan was for a draw? Would it be a replay as seems so common in the fast game of Gaelic games or would they go the NRL way of Golden point? However, I will never know what the plan was as Barnhall seemed to draw on their Union skills of getting in the right spot and slotting over a drop goal with 2 minutes left to play. Titans did have one last chance to pull it out of the bag on the very last play when the Butchers spilled the ball but the Titans couldn’t capitalise. The whistle blew and the cheers went up for the Barnhall Butchers in their rookie top flight year.
Barnhall Butchers 25 Treaty City Titans 24.
I have to admit I didn’t expect to witness such an event. It had it all, an end to end game full of biff, entertainment and a nail biting finish. Combine the game with the venue of Ashbourne Rugby Club, the spectators, the atmosphere and I have to say well done Rugby League Ireland! You WILL see me again supporting my local and now adopted team of Barnhall Butchers (its cheaper than flying back to Warrington). It even whetted my appetite to get the boots back on and (calm down wifie I’m not going back playing) get my refereeing certificates in place and keep my hand in the real beautiful game of Rugby League.
p.s. Hats off to the rugby league for selecting the female touch judge, we really are leagues ahead in this great game.
Barnhall Butchers: Mark Kenny, Liam Grimes, Dewi Harrison, Conor Harding, Diarmuid Carr, Ben McCarthy, Simon Gillespie, Gareth Murray, Mikey Russell, TJ Renihan, Mark Ivers, Ben Harrison, Tom McKeown Interchange: Martin Furey, Matt Crehan, Sam Hall, Dave Ferguson, Padraig Beatty, Colm Mulkerrin
Treaty City Titans: Sean Hogan, Mike Kelleher, Lemeki Vaipulu, Mike O'Neill, Brendan Guilfoyle, Eoin Ryan, Mark O'Neill, Luke Malone, Ben Rowley, Aaron McCloskey, Tevita Toia, Cronan Gleeson, Interchange: Donnacha O'Grady, Tadhg McCloskey, Joe Reid, Ger Burke, Ronan Hogan, Billy Noonan, Cian Leahy
Match Officials: Steve Hogan (Referee), Jason Craughwell, Fiona McConn (Touch Judges) Paul Baxter (4th Official)
Niall Cantrell Man of the Match Award: Tom McKeown (Barnhall Butchers)
Half Time: Barnhall Butchers 12-0 Treaty City Titans
Full Time: Barnhall Butchers 25-24 Treaty City Titans