Inishowen find themselves immersed in what that famous raconteur and master of verbosity Sir Alex Ferguson calls “Squeaky Bum Time”, the stage of the season where he who holds his nerve the best will walk away with the spoils. In Inishowen’s case this refers to both a league campaign and progression to the finals of the Butler Shield competition. In the league they have a nose tip in front, but are hotly pursued by both Armoy and Strabane, and in the shield competition, were playing the PSNI in the semi final on Saturday last.
If prior to the game, one were to consult the form books to try and ascertain the likely winner, PSNI’s poor league showing might have tempted a prediction of an Inishowen win, but when silverware and finals are taken into account, all normal rules go out of the window and the ties are usually decided on who wants it the most on the day.
From the start of the game, it was PSNI who indicated that they had a large appetite for victory, and were able to put Inishowen under pressure from the word go. Using a combination of good solid attacking running, and the clever use of the wind assisted boot, they were able to put the peninsula men under the cosh.
The PSNI pack gave their counterparts all that they could handle during this time, displaying good technique and tactical awareness at the breakdown, testing the Inishowen defence with the ball, and nullifying any attempt from the Inishowen forwards to muscle their way out of their own half. Trying to brush past the PSNI defence left an Inishowen player isolated and forced to hold onto the ball on the ground. The resulting penalty opened the scoring account 3-0 in favour of the visitors.
With route one being unproductive and a stiff breeze removing the kicking option, it was down to the backline to try and break out of Inishowens own half. This led to good territory being won, using impressive pace, well timed passes and clever angles, the backs started to unpick the PSNI defence and cause them some anxiety.
Whilst higher anxiety levels for their opponents might be a positive thing, a more negative aspect of Inishowens game was their inability to fashion more structure to their attack. Ground won by strike runners was all too easily surrendered because the usual patterns of play were ignored, forwards guilty at times of watching and willing these runs to be successful without putting in the hard slog to be in the right place for the next phase to happen.
With that said, it was a beautiful ad hoc display of skill from Anthony Cantwell at number 8 that got Inishowen onto the score sheet. Lose play saw him jinking in midfield, probing for space, before taking an arching run out to the sideline. Here, he beat the winger and with a grubber kick past the last vestiges of the defence, putting himself and comrade Colm Sweeney into pole position for a foot race to be the first to ground the ball over the try line. The sheer joy of the attempt brought tears to the eyes of this scribe and so was unable with any great clarity, to see which of them actually succeeded in grounding the ball. But one of them definitely did. The conversion was missed by Mark Glasha leaving the half time scores at 5-3 to Inishowen.
Half time brought a different tempo to proceedings, and altered the little nuances of the game thus far. In the first half, the Inishowen front row of Harkin, Bushman and Kelly were able to pressure their opponents scrum, stealing 2 or 3 against the head. In the second half, PSNI changed tactics and were able to secure each of their own subsequent scrummages. Whilst this might have had little effect on the statistics of possession etc, it stopped Inishowen of becoming overly bullish and confident in their abilities and forced them to put their efforts into nullifying the PSNI threat in other situations around the park.
One area that this was evident was the impressive defensive performance, with the wind denying PSNI their hitherto productive kicking game; they showed willing to run the ball from almost anywhere when in possession. This was met by a similar willing by Inishowen to deny them any territory with solid tackling and defensive structure evident throughout the second half. Indeed, it was this appetite that provided the opportunity for the second Inishowen try.
A turnover ball, deep in their own territory was spread wide and fast, leaving Paul Cassidy and /or Conor Mulkearns with a three quarter pitch sprint to the try line, harried all the way by the desperate defence they showed good determination and pace to score under the posts. Mark Glasha made no error this time and was able to convert to put Inishowen 12 points to three ahead.
The final period of the game saw Inishowen forced to employ their defensive structures time and time again, with the PSNI showing no abatement in their desire to reach the final, they probed relentlessly at the Inishowen defence looking for chinks, and at times finding them, with Brian Harkin and Neil Gillespie each forced to deny certain scores on two separate occasions in spectacular fashion.
With the clock slowly ticking down, the final minutes were spent camped on the Inishowen try line, PSNI showing great presence, recycling the ball at each failed attempt for countless phases of play, but each one equally repelled by the defence. With time now up, the final act of the game saw a short dive from the base of a ruck finally cross the Inishowen whitewash, which when converted brought the scores to 12-10, a good indication of the close nature of the encounter.
Turnip of the match could go to no other than vice captain Colm Sweeney, whose frantic 22 metre line clearance kick ended 5 feet behind the point he kicked it from, and whose attempt at a quick tap penalty and a bash through the cover defence was akin to a gnat flying full pelt into the buttocks of a water buffalo.
With Inishowen now through to the final of the shield, and still with must win games in the league to clinch that title, it isn’t a question of if the bums are squeaky – they are squeaking at such a pitch that only bats and greyhounds can hear them.
INTOUCH REQUEST – CHECK THIS OUT – THUNDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ireland Ladies Rugby I XV Are playing England this weekend and need as much support as they can get – please watch the clip below and feel free to share it, they are on the verge of a great VICTORY & with Ulster representation!