Nenagh Ormond second row Kevin O’Flaherty makes a carry

Some positives for Ormond despite opening day loss

The return of All-Ireland League rugby to New Ormond Park last Saturday produced an atmosphere of elation amongst both players and supporters.

RUGBY: Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A Round 1

Nenagh Ormond 24

MU Barnhall 32

Report: Thomas Conway in Lisatunny


Player of the Match: Tom McKeown (MU Barnhall)

SCORERS – Nenagh Ormond: Tries: K O’Flaherty, J O’Flaherty, Finn. Conv: McGibney (3). Pens: Fionn McGibney (2)

MU Barnhall: Tries: Sexton, Lacey, Penalty-try, Stokes, Giannetti. Convs: Chester (2). Pen: Chester (1)

The return of All-Ireland League rugby to New Ormond Park last Saturday produced an atmosphere of elation amongst both players and supporters.

From a Nenagh Ormond perspective, that sense of optimism might have been slightly dampened by the end result, but there were plenty of green shoots in the overall performance, which just came up short against a refined Barnhall outfit.

It was always going to be interesting to see how the experience of Leinster’s only Division 2A club would match up against the enthusiasm of a young Nenagh Ormond side. A riveting clash from start to finish, the Kildare club seemed to find that little bit extra when it mattered most, showing a degree of composure to close out the game in a tense and unpredictable finale.

The early moments were not promising for the home side. Barnhall resembled a team with fire and finesse, stupefying their opponents with a high-tempo brand of rugby.

Their opening try arrived just after the one minute mark, a beautiful sweeping move which saw outside-centre Seán Higgins spin a pass out to winger Seán Sexton, the slimmest and slickest of the thirty players on the field. Sexton's footwork was extraordinary, allowing him to weave past the Nenagh backs with a series of side-steps, before surging into space and grounding in the corner. Kicker Adam Chester couldn't quite execute the difficult conversion, but several minutes later he was on the scoresheet, nailing a penalty from slightly outside the 22, just right of the posts.

That flawless introduction from the Kildare side eventually gave way, as a miscued kick drifted straight into touch, resulting in play being brought back for an Ormond line-out. From there, Nenagh worked their way across from left to right, very nearly slipping through on the wing, but allowing the ball to spill into touch. It didn’t end there though, as Nenagh overturned a Barnhall scrum and quickly barrelled their way towards the try-line, Kevin O’Flaherty snaking through a mass of bodies and grounding the ball inside the zone. Fionn McGibney added the extras and suddenly Nenagh seemed to be flying.

Within three minutes, they had scored their second try, Derek Corcoran using his agility to pivot past several Barnhall defenders, before sending skipper John O’Flaherty over near the corner. Again, McGibney did well to slot a not-so-easy conversion, leaving Nenagh with a 14-8 advantage.

Having struggled to contain an abrasive Barnhall pack in the opening stages, the Nenagh forwards had suddenly found their groove, John Hayes now oozing with confidence. The number 8 runs with unstoppable force, like one of those TGV bullet-trains which soar through the French countryside. Rather than carrying passengers, Hayes carries the ball, and he gains ground every time.

The away side sensed that Nenagh were building momentum, so they recalibrated, focused on shifting the play, and in the 21st minute, the plan paid off. A superbly-weighted kick over the top opened up a small channel on the wing, allowing Conor Lacey to cruise over in the corner, reducing the gap to one. Chester’s conversion tailed slightly to the left, limiting the damage.

Barnhall would eventually secure the full seven points, and as it happened, Chester wasn’t even required. Not long after McGibney had pinged another three-pointer, sustained pressure from the Kildare pack crippled the Nenagh scrum in the 33rd minute, with referee Paul Haycock opting to grant Barnhall a penalty-try.

What had been a relatively even first-half should have ended with the sides separated by three, but it was in those crucial moments before the interval that Barnhall arguably won this game. They scrambled across the field inside the Nenagh 22, and eventually, deep into stoppage time, managed to touch down underneath the posts. Chester would make no mistake with this conversion, hammering his side into a 27-17 lead.

The energy expended in those first forty minutes was immense, contributing to a more measured second-half, which produced only two tries. In the 49th minute, Nenagh revived their hopes thanks to a fiery James Finn try in the corner, duly converted by McGibney.

It set-up a tense closing period, full of passion and effort, but the emotion wasn’t enough to break down a superbly organised Barnhall defence. Their structure was rock-solid.

The home side exhausted the energy reserves, but so too did Barnhall, and Maynooth University-affiliated club held firm. It was a spirited and brave performance against a club which has the luxury of a 150,000-plus population to draw on.

The demographics will be more even next Friday evening, when Ormond head to Cashel for another much-anticipated Tipperary derby.

TEAMS - Nenagh Ormond: Peter Coman (7); Patrick Scully (7), James Finn (7), Conor McMahon (7), Derek Corcoran (8); Fionn McGibney (8), Nicky Irwin (7); Padraic Bourke (7), Brendan McAdams (7), Niall O’Gorman (7), John O’Flaherty (7), Kevin O’Flaherty (7), Jack O’Keefe (7), Rob Buckley (7), John Hayes (8).

Reps: Conor Ryan (7) for Bourke (40+1 inj); Conor Muldoon (7) for O’Gorman (HT).

MU Barnhall: Matias Giannetti (7); Sean Sexton (8), Darren Hudson (7), Sean Higgins (8), Conor Lacey (8); Adam Chester (6), Conor Duggan (7); Geoff Brooks (8), Cathal Duff (7), Darragh Bellanova (8); Connor O’Brien (7), Ryan Doyle (7); Paul Nalty (7), Shane Stokes (8), Tom McKeown (8).

Rep: David Dooley (7) for Hudson (38 inj).

Referee: Paul Haycock