THREE drop goals from three different players in the second-half were the all important scores as Tullamore deservedly claimed their second All Ireland Junior Cup title in Dubarry Park on Saturday.
Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup Final
While the final scoreline suggests a close, hard fought, defensive battle, Tullamore were much the better team on the day and should have won by a considerably greater margin.
They dominated in terms of territory and possession over the 80 minutes but despite being camped on the Monivea line for large periods, particularly in the first-half, they didn’t manage to score a try that would have put the game away long before the final whistle.
However the fact that they finished the game in single figures did not bother Tullamore one jot as, lead by captain Aaron Deverell, they proudly marched up the ramp at Dubarry Park to pick up the All Ireland Junior Cup in the midst of their large band of loyal and vocal travelling supporters.
One of the key factors in Tullamore’s win was their dominance in the scrum. The game was littered with knock-ons which lead to numerous scrums. While Tullamore were able to provide an attacking platform from their set pieces, Monivea were invariably going backwards on their own scrum making it very difficult for their half-backs to effectively clear their lines.
Tullamore’s best attacking moves came from the base of their own scrums and on more than one occasion they were unlucky not to convert their intense pressure into further points.
They did cross for what looked a good try after just two minutes when they crossed in the corner but referee Stuart Gaffikin called play back for what could only have been the slightest of knock ons.
That chance came after rampaging runs from Adrian Hanley and Tomas Bennet had drawn in the Monivea cover opening up the space for the backs to have a cut. Tullamore’s ball carrying in the forwards was very effective throughout the game with number eight Hanley very much to the fore in this aspect of the game.
Tullamore lost influential open side wing forward Rob Connor before the game due to illness which lead to a late reshuffling of the pack with the instantly recognisable veteran David Hanlon coming into the second row and Donal Milne switching to number seven.
With a strong wind blowing across the field and with the surface slick courtesy of a downpour of sleet and rain just before kick-off, Tullamore dominated the opening 30 minutes with Monivea only rarely managing to get the ball past the halfway line.
However for all their pressure and territorial advantage, Tullamore failed to score in the opening half and much of the credit for this must go to the excellent Monivea defence who stood firm in the face of wave after wave of Tullamore attack. Tullamore also contrived to waste a number of opportunities which let Monivea off the hook just as it looked as if they were set to buckle under the ever increasing pressure.
After spending the opening ten minutes forcing Monivea back, Tullamore turned began to really turn the screw from the tenth minute on.
Captain Aaron Deverell almost opened the scoring with a drop goal after 11 minutes but his effort drifted just wide. However the referee was playing advantage to Tullamore for an earlier infringement and Deverell kicked to touch close to the Monivea line.
From the lineout Monivea again conceded a penalty as Ivor Deverell was tackled in the air. Again the ball was kicked to touch and from the next line out Tullamore were awarded another penalty as Monivea were offside. With the wind making kicking very difficult, Tullamore again went for the corner but this time Tomas Bennett was held up as he drove for the line. This time Tullamore were awarded a scrum and they drove forward but when the ball was moved right on the short side, Tullamore knocked on briefly giving Monivea a respite.
However it wasn’t long until Tullamore were close to the line again but twice in succession, once after several phases of play, Tullamore knocked on and the chances went a begging
Eventually Monivea managed to move the game away from their goal line and twice their powerful centre Kevin Higgins broke a number of Tullamore tackles and threatened to make a telling break.
With half-time approaching Monivea almost did cut through the Tullamore defence but Colin Draper made a vital ball and all tackle on Eoin Rooney when there was an overlap available for the Galway side.
Monivea almost pinned Tullamore right back on their own line soon after but Ger O’Connor’s kick through just went the into touch and goal and Tullamore were awarded a scrum just outside their 22.
From this scrum they created the best attacking move of the half. Adrian Hanley picked from the pace and drew the Monivea wing forward before passing to scrum-half Richie Hughes. He drew the next man before passing to full-back Brian Geraghty who quickly moved the ball to the halfway line before passing to winger Colin Draper. He sprinted into the Monivea half before passing back inside to Geraghty who, with the Monivea cover coming across, put in a kick in behind. Unfortunately for Tullamore, Coleman Maher got back to cover for Monivea but all he could do was kick the ball to touch close to his own line.
From the resulting line-out, Monivea’s Eoin Rooney was penalised for pulling down the maul and the referee sin binned the number eight. That was the cue for another phase of intense Tullamore pressure but, as was the case in the earlier part of the half, the Spollenstown side could not convert their opportunities and the game remained scoreless up to the half-time.
Within two minutes of the restart, Tullamore finally opened their account. An uncharacteristically wayward pass from Richie Hughes found its way to Colin Draper. Just outside the Monivea 22 and with no other real option, the winger drop kicked the ball straight through the uprights to put Tullamore into a 3-0 lead.
Monivea threatened a quick reply in one of their first sustained attacks of the game but they turned the ball over and Tullamore broke out through full-back Brian Geraghty. They moved the ball to within 10 metres of the Monivea line but the Galway side managed to win back possession. The clearance however went straight to Tullamore and after numerous phases, Richie Hughes passed to Aaron Deverell and the captain doubled the advantage with another drop goal.
Tullamore were now on a drop goal roll and after 11 minutes of the second half, centre David Clavin completed the hat-trick when he neatly slotted the ball over the bar.
Tullamore were in control in terms of territory and possession but they were nearly caught on the counter attack midway through the half when Seamus Fahy broke up the middle. He kicked ahead but he was outrun for the ball by his opposite number Brian Geraghty. Tullamore players arrived in support and the danger was cleared.
Monivea were starting to get a foothold in the game and they were starting to build phases of play but the Tullamore defence was as impervious as Monivea’s had been in the first-half and following one turnover, Brian Geraghty and Rory Deverell broke up the wing and the move ended with Monivea pinned back to within ten metres of their line.
Tullamore had a chance to turn the screw but a penalty for touch from Aaron Deverell was misjudged and it went dead giving Monivea a scrum back which released the pressure.
Monivea were now building some momentum and with eight minutes remaining they opened their account when Ger O’Connor slotted a penalty between the posts after Tullamore’s Kevin Browne was penalised and sin binned.
Despite dominating the vast majority of the game, Tullamore were a nervous side in the closing minutes as the result was still in the balance but their defence was rock solid epitomised by one huge tackle by out-half Aaron Deverell on rampaging Monivea second-row Pat Fitzmaurice.
As the game ticked into added time, Monivea were pinned in their own half and they were making no inroads on the excellent Tullamore first up tacklers.
Tullamore turned over possession with four minutes of added time played and when Damien McNeils knocked on a kick through from Richie Hughes, the final whistle went sparking scenes of celebration for Tullamore players, management and supporters.
Tullamore: 15 Brian Geraghty, 14 Rory Deverell, 13 David Clavin (DG), 12 Tom Gilligan, 11 Colin Draper (DG); 10 Aaron Deverell (DG), 9 Richie Hughes; 8 Adrian Hanley, 7 David Milne, 6 Jason Clancy; 5 Ivor Deverell, 4, David Hanlon; 3 Eddie Brady, 2 Cian Glennon, 1 Tomas Bennett. Replacements: Kevin Browne for Jason Clancy (Blood 32mins reversed 36mins), Paul McNiff for David Hanlon (48mins), Ger Molloy for Tomas Bennet (60mins), Colin Hughes for Colin Draper (62mins), Tomas Bennett for Eddie Brady (68mins), Kevin Browne for Cian Glennon (68mins), Ivor Scully for Tom Gilligan (70mins), Eddie Brady for Jason Clancy (76mins)
Monivea: 15 Seamus Fahy, 14 Coleman Maher, 13 Colm Neary, 12 Kevin Higgins, 11 Ger Divilly, 10 Ger O’Connor (Pen), 9 Darren Blade; 8 Eoin Rooney, 7 Kieran Concarr, 6 Martin King; 5 Willie Parker, 4 Pat Fitzmaurice; 3 Ronan Coughlan, 2 Bernie Ryan, 1 Ger Fitzmaurice. Replacements: John Culkin for Ger Divilly (28mins), Brian Murphy for Willie Parker (HT), Damien McNeils for Martin King (45mins), Ger Divilly for Colm Neary (51mins), Cathal Divilly for Ger Fitzmaurice (Blood 54mins reversed 58mins), Martin King for Kieran Concarr (64mins), Jason Connolly for Bernie Ryan (64mins), Cathal Divilly for Ger Fitzmaurice (80mins)
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin