Trinity triumphed over a strong Clontarf side in College Park on Saturday afternoon. A win was a must for Trinity in order to keep their hopes of reaching the playoffs of All Ireland League Division 1A alive. Over the course of the 80 minutes, possession and territory swung back and forth but the home side managed to hold on and grind out a bonus point victory.
Trinity started the day in seventh having lost back-to-back fixtures against Lansdowne. Meanwhile, Clontarf were in third and came into the game full of confidence after two comfortable wins over Young Munster. When the two sides met before Christmas, Trinity secured an important 16-12 victory. It was unlikely that the visitors had forgotten that, being one of only two games they have lost this season and were likely out to settle the score.
The early part of the match was an intense war of attrition with neither team willing to give an inch and some big defensive efforts being made. Clontarf arguably had the better chances in the opening exchanges, as they managed to create an opening out wide only to knock it on metres from the line. It wasn’t until the 20th minute that Trinity managed to break the deadlock. After an energy-sapping onslaught on the Clontarf try-line, Giuseppe Coyne managed to build up a head of steam and crashed over the line to score the first points of the game. Micheál O’Kennedy, making his first start for Trinity this season, had no problem adding the extras, giving Trinity a 7-0 lead.
Clontarf nearly equalised moments later as their hooker Declan Adamson dashed through an opening in the Trinity defence, side-stepping the last man. However, a well-timed covering tackle meant that Trinity managed to get a hand under the ball, holding him up as he crossed the line. Unlike last week against Lansdowne, the Trinity defensive line was strong and well-organised, repelling the many waves of attacks from the visitors as play ebbed and flowed between the try-line and the five-metre-line. But Clontarf were not to be denied and their period of immense pressure paid dividends as Matt Darcy found space out wide to score. With David Joyce making no mistakes from the tee, the teams were back on level terms at 7-7 after half an hour.
It looked for the world like 7-7 would be the score at half time as both sides continued to trade penalties, moving up and down the pitch posing little threat to each other. But the game sparked back into life just before the half-time whistle when Ivan Soroka, the Clontarf prop, was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Max Kearney. Trinity would have hoped to press the advantage of the extra man, but it was Clontarf who took the lead. And a brilliantly worked try it was too. Jack Power managed to make a brilliant offload as he was about to go to ground which was well taken by James McKeown who thundered down the right wing. A simple pass back inside to Adamson and the hooker secured the try he had been denied earlier. With Joyce scoring the conversion again, the half ended 14-7.
The beginning of the second half was reminiscent of the first, with the two teams again happy to build up momentum slowly. A combination of mistakes and initiative meant that the ball changed hands constantly in the opening ten minutes. But the game soon opened up. Trinity levelled things up around the 55th minute as some swift play put Philip Murphy in space, who took his opportunity with aplomb.
Shortly after the restart, Colm Hogan played a clever kick deep into the opposition 22. While it was fielded comfortably enough by Clontarf, the defender was swallowed by a wave of white shirts as Trinity forced a penalty in a promising position. Tony Smeeth’s men were unlucky not to cross straight away as their maul was stopped just short of the line. But another yellow card, this time for Clontarf’s Cormac Daly, meant Trinity had another chance to utilise the extra man. And they made no mistakes this time as Dan Sheehan touched down after another big drive from the pack. O’Kennedy pushed the conversion just wide, leaving the score at 19-14.
But Clontarf were not going to go away without a fight. They dominated possession in the period that followed and when Trinity managed to win back the ball by stealing one of their lineouts, they were penalised for not releasing. Clontarf went to the corner and, when their maul was pulled down by Trinity, the referee had no choice but to give a penalty try. With ten minutes still to play, Clontarf were leading by two points.
Trinity secured possession from the restart and marched confidently downfield. The team’s determination to win the match was evident with every player willing to gain the hard yards. And the home side got their reward as they got a penalty straight in front of the posts. O’Kennedy, who had been excellent all day, split the posts with the kick and gave Trinity a slender 22-21 lead with only minutes to go.
But the drama was far from over. Trinity conceded a penalty inside their 22 which appeared to have sealed their fate but substitute out-half Niall Carson was unable to find the target, instead dragging his kick right and wide of the posts. Trinity then moved like a team possessed as they turned over the ball and surged down the pitch. They were unlucky to be stopped the first time, but they were clinical from the resulting scrum as Max Kearney found the base of the post, securing the all-important bonus point with the final action of the match.
After the Lansdowne match, Colm Hogan said that the team were looking forward to getting back out there and “giving an 80 minute performance”. And the home side delivered on that wish as they were much improved in every area of the pitch. Rowan Osbourne managed the tempo brilliantly and his fast ball meant Trinity were able to keep the Clontarf defence always on their toes. Johnny McKeown and Max Kearney were also superb in the back row, from both an offensive and defensive point of view.
“We were a bit disappointed with how we came back after the break with the defeat against Lansdowne, but we’re delighted with the points we’ve sealed today.” said Kearney, speaking to Trinity News after the match “They were vital to keep us within touching distance of the top 4 and leaves us in a good place before another break in the AIL.”
The result moves Trinity back up to fifth place with their next match at home against University College Cork (UCC) on Saturday February 16 at 2:30pm.