Dara Pride & Power Shocks League Champions
If a week is a long time in politics, then it can feel a lot longer in sport...
Over seven tumultuous days, Cill Dara were deducted 12 league points by Leinster Rugby’s Competitions Committee for a clerical error in a player transfer, which was then reduced to minus 6 on appeal.
However, and more cruelly, the late intervention of Roscrea RFC into disciplinary proceedings meant that Leinster Rugby were given little option but to declare Cill Dara’s win over the Tipperary club in the Towns Cup null and void, meaning Cill Dara were also ejected from junior rugby’s oldest competition. It was heartbreaking for the senior squad and their mentors who were having one of the club’s best seasons in years.
Suddenly, from being in a comfortable position in the league, Cill Dara were now hosting the newly crowned and previously unbeaten Division 1A champions, Wanderers, in a must-win encounter. With all matches kicking off at the same time, Cill Dara knew that anything other than a win could mean relegation.
What followed in Beechpark, and in three other rugby grounds around Leinster, made for an afternoon of high drama as four different clubs at some stage occupied the dreaded last place, and certain relegation.
In front of the largest crowd of the season, and with emotions running high, Cill Dara immediately tore into their Dublin visitors. Wanderers' proud unbeaten record meant that they were not likely to submit easily. The competition at the tackle area was fierce with big hits being made by both sides. However, it was Cill Dara who drew first blood. A series of determined drives close to the visitors 22 metre line caused the Wanderers' defenders to stray offside, and the Kildare outhalf, Jack Ryan, slotted the penalty to give Cill Dara an early 3-0 lead in the 11th minute.
The league champions fought back. They have a slick back-line with plenty of pace out wide. Using this speed to good effect, Wanderers brought play into Cill Dara’s half and turned the screw through a series of phases. Cill Dara discipline waned under the pressure. Having just penalised the home team for obstruction, referee Dave Williams adjudged Cill Dara’s centre, Jake Holland, to be guilty of an illegal off-the-ball shoulder charge. Holland was sin-binned in the 25th minute and Wanderers kicked the subsequent penalty to draw level, 3-3.
Down to 14 men (as well as losing their influential outhalf, Jack Ryan, to injury) and with Wanderers now regaining their composure, Cill Dara went through a difficult patch in the game’s second quarter. Wanderers used their numerical advantage well, switching play from one side of the field to the other. A try was inevitable and came in the 32nd minute; Wanderers scoring in the corner and superbly converting it to give them a 10-3 lead. At this stage, results elsewhere meant that Cill Dara would be automatically relegated. It was to be the dark before the dawn.
Momentum swung in Cill Dara’s favour deep in first half injury time. Soon after Holland returned from the sin bin, it was Wanderers’ turn to have a player carded for foul play. This was enough for Dara to have an early advantage in the second half as they attempted to overhaul the seven point deficit. 10-3 to Wanderers at half time.
With only forty minutes to save their season, Cill Dara quickly tested Wanderers’ resolve to commit to a dog-fight. Thumping tackles from the red jerseys left Wanderers players lying prone around the pitch. One tackle in particular by Holland almost cut the visitor’s winger in half. It drew gasps of both admiration and sympathy from the vociferous home crowd. Another boost for Cill Dara momentum.
In the scrums, the Cill Dara front row dominated against their bigger opponents; better technique ruling brute strength. Around the 55th minute, the Kildare pack finally had a chance to lay a marker when a series of scrums on the Wanderers’ 5 metre line led to numerous penalty awards by referee Williams in favour of Cill Dara.
Every advancing shove towards the Dubliners’ line was collapsed and it was no surprise that Williams eventually lost patience and awarded a penalty try. The conversion in front of the post was kicked by Paddy Behan, Ryan's replacement. It was now a tied game, 10-10. Other results in Clondalkin and Enniscorthy were lifting Cill Dara from last place in the league but the Kildare Town club had a point to prove and went for the jugular.
With Damian Broughall rampaging from the base of the scrum and Ger Moore constantly looking to carry the ball into contact, the Dublin team was being stretched. The Cill Dara players must have sensed a weakening of Wanderers’ will. With five minutes remaining, Cill Dara brought play tantalisingly close to the Wanderers’ try line. Roared on by their support, captain Barry Waters, imperious on the day, Holland, Darragh Kennedy and many others in red each tried to get over for that elusive try. However, it was Billy O’Shea who will go into Cill Dara folklore as the man who saved the club. Straining every sinew, O’Shea touched down under the visitor’s post. Behan held his nerve to kick the conversion and Cill Dara led, 17-10, as the game neared its conclusion.
Nerves frayed during eight minutes of injury time but the final whistle brought celebration akin to a cup final win. It was a massive result for Cill Dara. At the end of a season which had held so much promise, this little victory ensures the foundations already in place remain stable. For some, the day will be bitter sweet with the thoughts of what might have been in the Towns Cup but the whole club has been united through this adversity. That is rare and priceless.
Cill Dara RFC Team v Wanderers: 1. Wes Kavanagh, 2. Connie Heavey, 3. Conor McCormack, 4. Billy O'Shea, 5. Shane McNamara, 6. Darragh Kennedy, 7. Cormac Corcoran, 8. Damian Broughall, 9. Barry Waters, 10. Jack Ryan, 11. Tom Cleary, 12. Jake Holland, 13. Miles Medlicott, 14. Paudie Wall, 15. Paddy Ryan. Replacements: Paddy Behan, Ger Moore, Kevin Kennedy, Chris Moore, Conor Malone.