Round 4 of the Bank of Ireland Shane Horgan Cup took place at Ashbourne RFC on Wednesday, 14th February.
South-East 22 North-East 21
The first match saw an undefeated South-East Area face the North-East Area who had two wins from their first three games.
The North-East were fired up from the off with a fine break up the centre, leading to a try from Aitzol King who dotted down and converted to put his side 7-0 up.
The blistering pace continued from the restart. The South-East Area pulled off a slick training ground move to level the game. Outside centre Ciaran Leonard carried up the centre of the pitch and passed to Jamie Cooper who finished well and added the conversion.
The South-East went ahead when Jack Hanlon went racing up the sideline off turnover ball, breaking a tackle to give himself a free run to the line to make it 12-7.
The North-East piled on the pressure and were almost in after a handling error was hacked through to the South-East in-goal area but full-back Ben Crotty reached it first to prevent a certain try.
The North-East grasped the momentum in the second half and were rewarded with a try from their captain, Harry O’Neill, with King slotting the conversion to put the North-East back in front.
The momentum of the contest continued to swing back-and-forth, with South-East’s Jack Hanlon breaking up the centre to score under the posts. Jamie O’Keeffe was on hand to add the conversion to take the score to 19-14 for the South-East.
The North-East were relentless in their effort, however, and were rewarded when a scrum just outside the South-East 22 led to a break which allowed Killian Stuart to score in the corner. The wind was swirling for King’s conversion but the strike was perfect and the ball sailed between the posts to put the North-East back in front, 21-19.
The South-East response was immediate. They moved into the North-East 22 from the restart, with a momentary lapse giving them a penalty and a chance to win the game which Jamie Cooper gladly accepted to maintain his team’s unbeaten record.
Billy Phelan of the North-East Area said after the game: “What we’ve asked of the boys, since screenings and initially getting together, is to play a heads-up game and today was a great example of that. We lost by a point today, and the guys are pretty devastated but we will work to get their heads up again.
“It was great to see everything we’ve worked with them visible on the pitch, they kept the ball in hand and stuck to what we’ve worked on. This was our last game, so we’ll regroup and for the boys the next step is there. We’ll give them areas to work on as they go back to their clubs. They will need to put their hands up, the next step is 17s and only a certain percentage will make it so they’ll need to work hard over the next few months to progress to the next stage.”
North Midlands 7 Midlands 0
Game two saw the North Midlands Area take on the Midlands Area. The North Midlands were yet to win a game in their Shane Horgan campaign, the Midlands were undefeated. Kick-off was 1pm and the conditions had worsened, the wind was driving sleet and rain across the pitch. The teams were having to contest with the weather as much as the opposition leading to a much tighter affair with one converted try the difference between the teams.
The North Midlands Area were dogged in the first half, and their sustained pressure was rewarded with a try for Shane O’Loughlin who ably converted his own effort. The remainder of the first half saw the teams battling with neither gaining the upperhand.
The North Midlands were able to repel the Midlands in the second half as they withstood phase after phase with the game finishing 7-0 in favour of the North Midlands Area.
Speaking after the game, John Bagnall of the North Midlands Area said: “We’ve had these guys for two years now from U15s for monthly sessions. The first year is introducing them to the concept of the game and the broader picture and, gradually, as we progress, we whittle them down to the 30 lads we have here.
“They are working very hard and putting the effort in. This year we took the emphasis off the player pathway and focussed more on the Area, the pride and honour of representing the Area, and the guys have really taken ownership of that, and the responsibility of that. It is about developing leadership at this level, guys taking responsibility for the game, and we saw that today. Before the game we said whatever happens today, when you come back into the dressing room you have to be able to say you’ve done your best. It wasn’t about the result, it was about the effort they put in for each other.”
The fifth and final round of the Shane Horgan Cup will take place in Enniscorthy on Wednesday, 4th April.