AIL Promotion Semi-Final – Old Wesley 20 Naas 17
Old Wesley won a tension packed All Ireland League Division 1B play off encounter against Naas at Energia Park, Donnybrook on Sunday last. The final scoreline of 20-17, after extra time, amply emphasised how little there has been between these two excellent sides, representing two clubs who have a great rivalry, allied to tremendous mutual respect.
In front of one of the largest crowds seen in Donnybrook for many years, Old Wesley opened brightly and, with their pack dominant, had the visitors on the back foot in the early exchanges. The scrums and line outs were functioning very well and from a penalty to the corner after 10 minutes, a well rehearsed move, with decoy runners, saw speedy winger, Tommy O’Callaghan crash over halfway out, with full back, Rory Stynes, adding the points- Old Wesley 7-0 . Straight from the kick off Naas established a foothold in the Wesley half and went through some dangerous phases before, with a penalty advantage, out half Peter Hastie executed a superb cross-kick for full back, Peter Osborne, to touch down; and he duly added the points to level matters at 7 all.
Wesley were still in control up front, with JJ O’Dea, Cronan Gleeson and Paul Derham making rampaging runs, but the Naas defence was superb. Eventually, the Wesley pressure told on 27 minutes when hooker Ben Burns crashed over after a great run by captain, Paul Harte, for Stynes to again add the points – Old Wesley led 14-7. To emphasise how little there is between these two fine sides, Naas immediately fought back with their back row of Ryan Casey, Will O’Brien and James Connolly being particularly influential, but half time came with Wesley deservedly leading 14-7.
In the second half, the trend continued with both sides throwing the proverbial “kitchen sink“ at one another, with the Naas pack gaining parity in the exchanges enabling them to win some good primary possession. But the Wesley defence held firm and they lifted the siege on 51 minutes with a great run by Tom Kiersey (making a welcome return from injury), continued on by Charlie O’Regan, whose clever chip almost resulted in a try in the corner.
Naas responded with an excellent back movement that was only foiled by a brilliant smother tackle by O’Callaghan. On 65 minutes, Naas narrowed the gap when Wesley conceded a scrum penalty and Osborne (surely one of the best place kickers in club rugby) duly slotted the kick to make the scoreline 14-10 to Wesley. Wesley responded by camping on the Naas line. The visitors’ defence again held firm but conceded a penalty which replacement, Josh Miller, knocked over with ease – Old Wesley 17 Naas 10 after 69 minutes.
As both sides emptied their benches, we were set for a pulsating last 10 minutes – Wesley replacements, Mark Rowley and Darren Horan raised the already high tempo a further few notches, with some bone-crunching tackles and carries. This Naas side, however, does not lie down and on 75 minutes they split the Wesley defence and Osborne crossed far out and, inevitably and unerringly, he converted himself to leave the scoreline tied at 17-17, leaving both sets of supporters on the edge of their seats and nerves. In normal time, Wesley had one last chance to win the match but Kiersey’s drop goal attempt was blocked down and the match entered extra time (2 periods of 10 minutes).
With both sides showing Herculean stamina and commitment, after excellent play by O’Dea and Lachlan Anderson, Naas conceded a penalty on the 10 metre line. Miller showed commendable composure and skill to land the difficult kick for what would, ultimately, prove to be the winning score – Old Wesley 20 Naas 17. Wesley had much the better of the extra time period, with their greater familiarity with the pitch conditions, perhaps proving crucial. They were unlucky not to score a try near the end from a forward drive led by O’Dea but the final whistle blew with both sides exhausted from their wonderful exploits in a very sporting encounter, with Wesley finally prevailing when it mattered most against opponents who have held the upper hand over the past few years.
Wesley now travel down to Cork to play UCC in the Mardyke next Saturday (kick off 2.30pm), with the prize for the winners being promotion to All Ireland League Division 1A. This will be the most important match for Old Wesley in many years.
Old Wesley Team: Rory Stynes, Tommy O’Callaghan, Alan Gaughan, David Poff, Paul Harte, Tom Kiersey, Charlie O’Regan, Conor Maguire, Ben Burns, Cronan Gleeson, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann, Conor Barry, Josh Pim, Paul Derham. Replacements: Craig Telford, Ciaran McHugh, Mark Rowley, Darren Horan, Josh Miller, Alan Jeffares, Lachlan Anderson
Old Wesley scorers: Tries- Tommy O’Callaghan and Ben Burns, Conversions – Rory Stynes (2), Penalties – Josh Miller (2)
The Old Wesley Senior squad and coaches would like to wish Johne Murphy all the best on his retirement from rugby. He has been an outstanding adversary over the past number of seasons when playing for Naas and always a gentleman off the field. All the best, Old Wesley players and coaches.