Butler Shield Magic: Inishowen RFC I XV 11 v Letterkenny RFC II XV 6: Report

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Lord gives me strength for the Butler Shield (Psalms 28:7)
Inishowen 11 – 6 Letterkenny
Report by Rev. J. Blackman
“……..And so it passed that the Lord became aware of a great anxiety that had visited upon his people, and so spake onto them,
“What evil has beset you, why do you beat your breast and wear the ashes of mourning? “
“Lord!” Cried his people “a great wrongdoing has befallen us and we are in despair, we have met our neighbours in battle and we were smote.”
The Lord asked “Did I not furnish you with all the attributes to slay your enemies – woe betide him that fail to make use of the talents delivered by the Lord”
At this, the people grew scared and beseeched the Lord “Look upon us with mercy oh Lord, for it was not the might of our enemy that rendered us of our league points , but the intervention of a son of Mephistopheles, a cloven hoofed and be-whiskered whistle merchant who has delivered a great injustice on to us”
The Lord asked “what of your mighty warriors, McCrossan, son of Gideon, begat by Eli and Sweeny son of Solomon, begat by Levi? “
At this, there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth and the people of the tribe of the Lord spoke “Lord! McCrossan fell foul of the poisonous tongue of the son of Mephistopheles, and was hauled before the Pharisees where he has been condemned to banishment. In the heat of battle, Sweeny was struck in the man purse and fell sorely wounded”
The Lord grew angry at this news, and appeared as a pillar of smoke to Gillespie, son of Isaac, begat by Hiram as he tended his goats in the wilderness “Gather up the strong and stout hearted, build me an alter of acacia wood or MDF overlaid with bronze, five cubits long and five cubits wide on which you should sacrifice a burnt offering of hot dog sausages, prostrate yourselves before me and I will give unto you the power to smite your enemies, for Lo! You are the most beloved of all of my people and you will lead them”
Gillespie, son of Isaac, begat by Hiram then went forth and gathered around him these men, and they lay prostrate before the Lord, who appeared as a cloud of lightning “Courage and determination will be thy shield against your foe, clean out vigorously at the breakdown, tackle with righteous indignation, run hard and fast and true, and for fecks sake don’t back chat the referee. Now go forth and strike down with furious anger the tribes from Letterkenny 2nd XV who have turned their faces from me, and all watch MTV instead of saying their prayers”
And so, the people of the vale of Inishowen did gird their loins except for Sweeny who rubbed his loins with soothing balm and walked with a limp for many days after.”
Excerpt from the Book of Ezekiel (Old Testament)
Cup competitions have brought many fine days of sport to the faithful followers of Inishowen rugby; they have witnessed the jubilations and euphoria of winning, and the desolation and heartbreak of loosing, and Saturday’s encounter – a clash with near rivals Letterkenny promised to add to the piquancy of the cup tie flavour.
Difficulties for the squad prior to kick off centred around the absence of two stalwarts of the Inishowen pack, flanker Colm Sweeny sustained injury the previous week against City of Derry 3rds, a fixture which also saw second row Matthew McCrossan brought before the disciplinary committee in Belfast for alleged verbal abuse of a referee. In that meeting McCrossan was joined by two other players from different clubs, one charged with head butting an opponent, the other with performing a dangerous and illegal spear tackle. The two players found guilty of causing physical harm were heavily sanctioned with a two week ban apiece; Mr McCrossan received a 6 week ban for his offence, which was then overturned on reflection for a five week ban. I could comment on this, but the voice inside your head speaks more eloquently on this issue than this reporter could ever hope to do.
This upset to the pack was offset to some degree by the return of prop Brian Harkin and flanker Brian McNally to the forwards, to help add a touch of stability to the set piece that had been missing of late.
Inishowen took the fight to a youthful Letterkenny from the kick off, and put some reasonable phases of play together from early on, with the pack looking comfortable with early drives from the ruck. There was a quiet sense of confidence about the home team at this stage, as they probed the visitors defence. Good work in the scrum and lineout were rewarded with good field position from which Mark McLaughlin was able to open the scoring account with a well taken penalty kick.
After the initial positive start, Inishowen started to loose focus to a degree, allowing a very capable and dangerous Letterkenny backline too many attacking chances, this coupled with some very dubious tackling attempts by the home defence gave the visitors good field position, which they used to good effect, forcing Inishowen into giving needless penalties away. With the Letterkenny place kicker showing his impressive prowess, Inishowen’s initial lead was soon whittled away leaving them trailing 6 points to 3.
During this period, it was evident that it was the pressure that Inishowen were putting on themselves that was proving more damaging than anything that the visitors were doing, a sense of panic in a team can spread like bushfire, causing normally sensible players to attempt unrealistic and illogical actions and this was the case for Inishowen. Normal patterns of play were ignored, loose passes thrown about and frustration became evident, all resulting in too much possession for Letterkenny which they used to good advantage putting the Inishowen try line under pressure.
But, cometh the hour, cometh the man, and the man of the hour was James Carr, who repeatedly harried, troubled, dispossessed, held up and frustrated the visitors, belying his 39 years of age and playing like a man half of that. With the recognition that the visitors were being constantly stymied, the curtains of panic and self doubt withdrew to a degree, and there were, once more some more structured attacks completed – one such attack putting Paul Cassidy over for a well deserved try in the corner leaving the home team with a scant 2 point lead at half time.
It was now time to take stock, scrums and lineouts were providing excellent possession which could be used to build the attack and deny Letterkenny of the ball. The breakdown area at the ruck would have to be tightened up, and the Inishowen rhythm method put into practice to allow for a structured and dependable attacking option, and to some degree, this was achieved in the second half. Whilst the tempo of the game was frantic, as could be expected of a derby cup clash, little by little, the visitors attack was being nullified, and Inishowen were gaining territorial advantage as the second half progressed.
Frustration started to become more evident from Letterkenny as the game wore on, and they started to infringe at the ruck to a higher degree, the resulting penalty giving Inishowen frequent lineouts in good territorial positions. Line out thrower Brian Harkin just back from the exclusive Augenlaserzentrum Ophthalmologie Clinic in Lucerne getting experimental laser guided contact lenses fitted; delivered inch perfect ball all afternoon to the catchers, and were unlucky not to drive Letterkenny over their try line but for consistent illegal pulling down of the subsequent maul. This eventually resulted in the sin binning of a Letterkenny flanker, and although the numerical advantage did not result in more points, it did offer Inishowen an opportunity to fully exorcise the self doubt of the first half which manifested itself in a more systematic attacking style of play.
This was rewarded, with a penalty kick, converted by Mark McLaughlin with minutes left to play of normal time. With Letterkenny now needing a converted try to win, they pulled out all the stops in an attempt to break down the Inishowen defence, and although wobbly enough at times, enough was done to close out Letterkenny and deny them a glorious resurrection.
The final whistle was as sweet as a celestial trumpet to the ears of the home team, who must work hard to rediscover their pre-Christmas form for the next few tough weeks ahead of them. John Kelly would have been awarded Turnip of the match for his bewildering attempted clearance kick, but was saved this ignominy by Seamus Hickey was selflessly sacrificed his own reputation by spannering three kicks during the game himself. Here endeth the lesson, go in pieces.

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