Despite a slow start, Tullamore Phoenix opened their first season in the IAFL South with a 19-0 win over the Dublin Dragons on Sunday.
Opting to receive the opening kickoff, Tullamore benefited from great work by its kick return team, especially Cian Minnock, to secure excellent field position.
However, the offence failed to take advantage and good work by the Dragons’ defence saw them gain possession of the ball just two plays later. The Dragon’s were unable to do anything with the possession though and on their next drive, Phoenix marched the ball 70 yards to get within eight yards of the Dubliner’s endzone.
Once again though, simple mistakes cost Tullamore and they fumbled the ball on third and goal, bringing an end to the first quarter.
Taking the ball at the start of the second quarter, the Dragons were once again unable to score but their ability to convert on third down meant they were chewing up a considerable portion of the clock.
In a rush to put points on the board before halftime, Phoenix began to throw the ball more and, despite reaching the redzone for the second time in just four possessions, they were unable to convert on fourth down meaning the game remained scoreless at halftime.
The third quarter went much the same way as the second with the Dragons eating up huge chunks of game time while still failing to score. Indeed, a full 40 minutes elapsed between Tullamore’s last offensive possession of the first half and first possession of the second, including the 15 minute half time break.
However, far from being rusty, Phoenix took to the field with a new determination and, thanks in part to the hard yards of running back Darren Byrne and a couple of excellent catches by rookie tight end Aaron Fennally, they worked their way into the redzone once more.
This time, Phoenix weren’t to be denied. After taking advantage of a pass interference penalty on first and goal, Finbarr Glynn continued his scoring streak from last season, taking the ball in from three yards for the game’s opening score.
Now chasing the game, the Dragons had little choice but to throw the ball and the Phoenix defence took advantage with Rory O’Keeffe (74 yards) and Steve McElligott (26 yards) returning interceptions for touchdowns on the next two Dragons’ possessions to make the score 19-0.
Speaking after the game, Phoenix Head Coach John Judge said: “I’ll never be disappointed with a win but I thought there were a number of areas where we could have been better today. They’ll have to be improved on if we’re to compete with the Rhinos in Dublin next week.
“That said, there were a lot of guys out there playing their very first game and I think everyone on the team will be a better player for the experience.”