KILKENNY continued on their winning way in the Provincial Towns Cup, the glamour event of junior rugby in Ireland, with a good away win over Gorey.
The ’Cup is without doubt one of the toughest and keenly contested competitions in Irish rugby. As cup matches go, this was the mother of all battles at the Wexford venue.
Played in superb weather conditions, Kilkenny and opponents Gorey thrilled the huge crowd which gathered in Clonattin to witness an epic battle between two evenly matched and massively motivated squads.
Gorey had beaten Division 1B side, Clondalkin in the first round and were confident of causing an upset on Sunday. The visitors, however, had other plans and on arrival in Gorey, it was evident that Kilkenny were not going to give in easily.
The play was even during the opening 20 minutes with both sides testing each others strengths and weaknesses. Finally Kilkenny’s rocket-man, Killian Everard, touched down following a superb chip over the heads of the Gorey defence by out-half, Denis Hogan.
Everard raced ahead and skilfully picked-up the ball. He fended off the attentions of two defenders to get the touch down just right of the posts. Hogan attempted the conversion but he did not connect properly with the ball and it sailed to the left and wide.
Gorey regrouped and attacked strongly. The Kilkenny defensive line remained solid and repeatedly denied the hosts the opportunity to score. Resulting from the immense pressure put on them by Gorey, Kilkenny gave away a number of penalties.
On 35 minutes a player was caught offside at the ruck, giving the Gorey full-back, Clinton Furney, the chance to narrow the gap. This he did with ease. It was game-on from this moment on.
The pressure was on everyone. The huge crowd urged on their favourites as the battle waged. Tempers began to flare and on 38 minutes a Gorey player was sent to the sin bin for throwing a punch at an opponent. The half ended with Kilkenny narrowly ahead, 5-3.
The second half action began with real intensity. With only a few minutes played, tempers frayed and the game had to be stopped temporarily as players on both sides got involved in a scuffle. The referee eventually took control of the situation, separated the teams and banished all supporters to the stand.
The game restarted and both teams were fired up more than ever. Gorey again attacked but Kilkenny had a good command on the game at this stage, and they kept their composure.
Moments later Kilkenny were dealt a hard blow when a player received a yellow card for retaliating. Kilkenny coach Pat McDonald made a few tactical changes and brought on the formidable Joey Manuel to strengthen the back-line.
Kilkenny, now playing with seven forwards, were in danger of giving away penalties but they kept their discipline and held out. McDonald switched Alan Pembroke to the wing and when back at full strength they steadied nicely.
Ronan O’Donoghue came on for giant lock, Gerry Clarke, who had given his all throughout. O’Donoghue added an extra dimension to the Kilkenny attack and harassed the Gorey back row at every opportunity.
Kilkenny were given opportunities to increase the lead in the 9th and 18th minutes through penalties. Unfortunately Hogan was not on the mark. Likewise his opposition kicker Furney missed an opportunity to take the lead for Gorey three minutes into the second half.
With the final whistle approaching, Gorey found new energy and they put Kilkenny under immense pressure. The visitors held out for what was as good a cup win as they have scored in years.
This was a fabulous team effort from Kilkenny. The players proved again they are a force to be reckoned with when they really apply themselves.
Mick Hannigan was without doubt the star of the show. His work rate was inspiring. He was closely followed by captain Philly Ryan, who again displayed excellent leadership qualities, which has proved such a valuable asset to the team. Alan Pembroke was also played splendidly in attacking runs and he showed defensive strength.
Kilkenny take a well earned break now. Their next game is on March 11 against Portarlington in the Leinster League in Foulkstown (3pm).
Rest and recouperate
The break will give Kilkenny the opportunity to rest and recouperate before they meet Newbridge in the quarter-final of the ’Cup in Newbridge on March 18. Newbridge played Naas in the second round game on Sunday and won comprehensively, 39-0.
This will be a hard contest. Newbridge currently occupy fourth place in Division 1A of the League. With Kilkenny in fine form at the moment, Newbridge will have it all to do. Kilkenny are progressing nicely, but as the old saying goes, anything can happen in the cup.
Kilkenny Seconds, who narrowly beat Balbriggan 12-10 in the J2 Towns Cup, take on Enniscorthy on March 25 in Foulkstown in their second round battle. This will also be a tough encounter, but going on recent form, Kilkenny have a great chance of progressing.
The Seconds play Waterpark on Sunday in a friendly in Waterpark (3pm). Their next encounter is against Portarlington in the Leinster League on March 11 in Foulkstown, where they are hoping to retain the Leinster crown.
Kilkenny 1sts - Alan O’Donovan, Ben O’Connor, Philly Walsh, Alan Pembroke, Killian Everard, Denis Hogan, Robby Walsh, Philly Ryan (C), Alan McIntyre, Ray Pembroke, Gerry Clarke, Brendan McIntyre, Gavin McCarthy, Brian Nolan, Mick Hannigan. Subs - Eddie Brennan, Emmet Lynch, Ronan O’Donoghue, Joey Manuel, Rod Hogan.