Ashbourne are All Ireland Junior Cup Champions
In a truly epic game, Ashbourne emerged champions of Ireland with a thrilling 22 points to 20 win over defending champions Enniscorthy. It was game that had Ashbourne fans biting their nails up to the final whistle and in reality such was the game it could have gone either way. In the end Ashbourne produced some disciplined and controlled rugby to see them into wild celebrations.
What a game! It ebbed and flowed for 80 minutes with the lead switching a number of times during the game. Played in Donnybrook on a sunny afternoon, both teams entered the arena with great expectations. Ashbourne were the underdogs as Enniscorthy track record in the cup, having won it on two previous occasions, and their superior league form and results over Ashbourne this season, made them clear favourites. But it was Ashbourne who struck first with two penalties taken by captain Gavin Kennedy in the first 15 minutes. This reflected the trend in the game with an early yellow card also been given to Enniscorthy.
But Enniscorthy is a quality side and soon struck back in the 18th minute. After a kick deep into the Ashbourne 22, which evaded O’Meara, Enniscorthy took a long ball to the tail of the lineout and they charged up towards the posts. Some frantic Ashbourne defense repelled Enniscorthy for a short time until on one their props so gap over the middle of the ruck to touch down for a converted try.
Kennedy and Crotty’s kicking was finding excellent field position for Ashbourne while Rooney and Hurley were excellent in the lineout and around the field. Mahon still has gas in the tank and driving the side forward along with irrepressible McCaghy and his fellow front row union props of Alan Wall and Behan. But it was Jake Wall who was really shining in the pack with some excellent carrying. The backs through Martin and O’Brien moved the ball when possible while reliable Colreavy was always available for work.
Ashbourne struck next with a great try started from deep in their own half. O’Meara field a deep kick and advanced. He found Casey Dunne coming on his right at full pace and the flyer from Duleek broke through into the Enniscorthy half. He continued his run, evading tackles until just outside the 22 when he off loaded to James Rooney on the left touchline. Rooney showed great pace and strength to got in, in the corner with an Enniscorthy winger on his back. Dunne took a big hit in the offload but recovered and Kennedy was off with the conversion. Ashbourne were now leading 11 points to 7 but not for long. A fine try by the Enniscorthy winger against the run of play saw them take 12 points to 11 lead into the break.
Jack O’Brien at 19 was probably the youngest player on the field but he played with an old head. Not long after the break a double tackle by O’Brien saved a certain try but not for long. As Enniscorthy retained possession and they eventually got in the left corner and stretched the lead to 17 points to 11.
Ashbourne retook the lead with 8 points in the next 10 minutes. Jake Wall barged his way over the line after good work from replacement Roche (on for Behan). Kennedy’s conversion came of the upright, while he was successful with another penalty. Dunne also missed a difficult long-range effort. Sherrard replaced O’Meara, while Deevy replaced Mahon. With a lead of 19 points to 17 it was still anybody’s!
In the 64th minute Enniscorthy stuck again when Jake Wall was adjudged offside at a ruck and Enniscorthy were in front by the slender margin of 20 points to 19. Enniscorthy had an excellent chance to seal the match when their 10 slotted a beautifully weighted kick into the corner, but O’Brien again showing great maturity ran shoulder to shoulder with the winger and got to the ball first and carried it over his line. The pack then won the scrum against the head and cleared the line. Deevy’s introduction had lifted the team and was also attracting a lot of attention from Enniscorthy. His ball carrying has been excellent all season.
The all-important score came from man of the match Gavin Kennedy when he coolly struck a 30-meter penalty when Enniscorthy infringed at scrum time. This put Ashbourne 22 points to 20 ahead, a lead that was to remain to the final whistle. Enniscorthy was not helped with the loss of a player to the bin, but Ashbourne saw out the game in a very Munsteresque fashion with controlled, disciplined, ball retention. When the referee gave the signal Kennedy kicked the ball to touch and the celebrations erupted which could still be going on!
Team: Dermot Colreavy, Mitchell O’Meara, Adam Martin, Jack O’Brien, Casey Dunne, Donal Crotty, Gavin Kennedy (Capt.), Jake Wall, James Rooney, Conor Hurley, Jeff Mahon, Sean Kent, Mark Behan, James McCaghy, Alan Wall
Subs: Danny Norton, Simon Deevy, Frank Keegan, Ciaran Roche, Adam Sherrard, Matt Connolly and Kelan Toolan.
Scorers: Tries – James Rooney x 1, Jake Wall X 1,
Penalties: Gavin Kennedy x 4