All Ireland League – Old Wesley 21 Shannon 24
Old Wesley travelled to Shannon last Saturday, with both sides badly needing the points on offer (for different reasons) and Wesley, not for the first time this season, came out on the wrong side of a narrow scoreline (21-24) after an excellent game, where supporters from both sides agreed afterwards that a draw would have been a fair result, reflecting the trend of the game.
Shannon started the brighter and had Wesley under strong early pressure, culminating after 8 minutes in a penalty by Conor Fitzgerald (3-0 Shannon). Further pressure on the Wesley line forced the concession of another penalty, but on this occasion, Fitzgerald was off the mark. Having kept their try-line intact with some excellent defence during this early onslaught, Wesley then clawed their way back into the contest and strong pressure on Shannon led to their concession of a penalty on 20 minutes which ace goal-kicker, Jack Maybury, duly converted. But immediately on the restart, Wesley conceded another penalty, which Fitzgerald knocked over to give Shannon the lead. The lead was short-lived again, as Maybury levelled for Wesley with a well struck penalty. Further penalties were exchanged to leave the half time score 9-9, with valiant defence from Wesley keeping their line intact on a number of occasions, and a couple of big scrums at important times also helped greatly .
With a Shannon player in the ‘bin’, Wesley looked forward to the second half with great anticipation, but in a disastrous 5 minutes period immediately after the restart, 14 man Shannon scored 2 tries (one converted) by Will Leonard and Darren Gavin to suddenly spring into a 21-9 lead. The Wesley tackling and defence, which was superb for 75 minutes, for some reason malfunctioned during this period with inevitable consequences. To their eternal credit and befitting the excellent spirit in the squad, Wesley dug deep and fought back in the contest, with Cronan Gleeson and JJ O’Dea making major contributions. The comeback began when replacement, Matthew Bursey (who made a big impact on arrival ) intercepted a long Shannon pass on half way to show the Shannon defence a clean pair of heels as he dotted down under the posts for Maybury to add the points (16-21 Shannon). This was a prelude to Wesley’s best period of the match and they threw the kitchen sink at the Shannon defence in search of the crucial next score. But the Shannon defence held firm from the attack of “one off” runners, until the ball was transferred to Tommy O’Callaghan on the wing and he replicated his excellent finishing all season, by breaking through a half tackle to ground far out. With 10 minutes to go and the scores level at 21-21, the conversion from far out was crucial and Wesley’s supporters were convinced that Maybury’s excellent effort was on target until it just drifted wide at the last moment.
The final score of the match came with 5 minutes remaining, when set-piece inaccuracy led to a Shannon penalty which Fitzgerald slotted to give them the lead again. The final 5 minutes were frenetic with Wesley bravely re-doubling their efforts in pursuit of at least a draw, but the final whistle went with Shannon relieved to find the sanctuary of the touchline.
When the dust settles on this performance, Wesley can reflect on the valuable losing bonus point secured away to a top team, which keeps them in 6th place in a very tight bottom half of the division . Many shrewd neutral observers expressed the opinion that this performance by Wesley, if repeated in the remaining matches against Ballynahinch and Ballymena, would give them a great chance of securing victories.
SCORERS: Tries – Matthew Bursey, Tommy O’Callaghan, Penalties – Jack Maybury (3), Conversions- Jack Maybury (1)
TEAM: Rory Stynes (capt), Jack Maybury, James O’Donovan, David Poff, Paul Harte, Josh Miller, Charles O’Regan, Cronan Gleeson, Craig Telford, James Burton, Donnchadh Phelan, Kieran Murphy, JJ O’Dea, Conor Barry, John Fitzgerald. REPLACEMENTS: Ben Burns, David Henshaw, Matthew Bursey, Thomas O’Callaghan, Adam Kennedy.