ALL IRELAND LEAGUE DIV 1B – OLD WESLEY 19 UCC 22
Old Wesley suffered the heartbreak of another narrow defeat, which has been a feature of the season to date, when going down on a scoreline of 22-19 in an entertaining game in Donnybrook last Saturday against the lively students from Leeside.
UCC started the better and gained an early foothold, with strong ball-carrying no.8 Ryan Murphy prominent, and the end result was the concession of a penalty by Wesley, which no.10 James Taylor duly converted. Both sides moved the ball through the hands at every available opportunity with play swinging from end to end. After 25 minutes, Wesley finally broke the deadlock which their excellent play deserved, when Conor Barry scored an excellent try after a strong run, to which young full-back, Josh Miller, duly added the points – 7-3 to Old Wesley. The students came storming back and, after a period of sustained possession and territory, they finally translated this into a try on 38 minutes to regain the lead, with James Taylor being out of tune with his conversion attempt on this occasion. This try resulted from a barnstorming run by Cian Barry and, after a rolling maul, John Hodnett crashed over – HALF TIME – Old Wesley 7 UCC 8.
With the match evenly poised at half time, it was imperative that Wesley started the second half well, but the loss of influential captain, Darren Horan, through injury, was a severe handicap. However, after both sides had chances, UCC scored a try on 55 minutes, when poor defensive alignment by Wesley led to Paul Kiernan (son of former international, Michael Kiernan) scoring far out. Taylor added the points to extend the UCC lead to 15-7. Soon after, things looked very grim for the homesters when UCC scrum half, John Poland crashed over after a period of dominance. With Taylor again adding the points, the lead was now 22-7 and Wesley were facing a very serious situation with 20 minutes remaining. To their eternal credit, Wesley proceeded to put together a wonderfully sustained last quarter, going against the trends of the season to date, which went within a hairsbreath of pulling the game out of the fire.
With former UCC scrum half, Charlie O’Regan, pulling the strings on his home Wesley debut, the home side took over completely and, after great work by the pack, Craig Telford, who had a solid game throughout, crashed over after a rolling maul. The conversion was missed to leave the scoreline 12-22 with 18 minutes remaining. With the students visibly tiring, Wesley stormed back and, after further sustained pressure from the pack, Kieran Murphy grounded for a vital try, converted by Miller, to reduce the margin to 3 points. All the momentum in the closing minutes was now with Wesley, with the visitors hanging on grimly. Wesley had a kickable penalty to draw the match in the final minutes but chose, probably correctly, to chase the fourth try, which would have brought their points tally to 5 (from 1). Unfortunately, try as they might, Wesley couldn’t breach the spirited College defence and the final whistle blew with Wesley within a few metres of the try-line.
Despite the disappointing defeat, there was a huge encouragement in the best last quarter display of the season by Wesley, and if they can carry this momentum directly into the start of the vital next home match v Old Belvedere on Saturday 5th March, there is a great chance of landing an important victory in this derby encounter. The upshot of the weekend, with UL Bohemian and Ballymena both winning, is that Wesley are now 9th in the division, with each of the remaining 4 matches being critical to survival prospects but, with a bit of luck, this good team should be able to deliver the desired victories.
OLD WESLEY SCORERS – Conor Barry, try; Craig Telford, try; Kieran Murphy, try; Josh Miller 2 cons
TEAM; Josh Miller, Eoghan O’Reilly, James O’Donovan, David Poff, Thomas O’Callaghan, Adam Kennedy, Charlie O’Regan, Cronan Gleeson, Craig Telford, James Burton, JJ O’Dea, Kieran Murphy, Conor Barry, Stephen Boyle, Darren Horan (capt.). Replacements – Conor Maguire, David Henshaw, Johnny O’Sullivan, Paul Harte, Rory Stynes