Wednesday 17 January 2018

Wexford wonders triumph

High drama as gripping derby decided by late, late try

The Wexford team receiving the Leinster Cup with captain Ben McGuinness raising the trophy
The Wexford team receiving the Leinster Cup with captain Ben McGuinness raising the trophy

Drama, yellow cards, a dramatic late comeback and seven tries give a flavour of one of the most entertaining and pulsating Leinster youth finals to be witnessed in Donnybrook stadium in years. Hot favourites Gorey were shocked by a never-say-die Wexford team in a win that rivals Leicester City's Premiership win on the same day.

Wanderers 22 Gorey 17

No one could have predicted the script in this Premier Cup final. Remarkably, it was a Leinster final being contested by two Wexford teams.

Wexford were attempting only their second-ever win in the blue riband Under-15 championship and their first since 1985, while Gorey have never had their name on the trophy.

Wexford choose to play against the wind and started brightly. In fact, for the first eight minutes of this contest Wexford played deep inside the Gorey '22.

Phase after phase of attack failed to yield a score though, and a loose ball in midfield saw Gorey able to hack the ball downfield and now it was their turn to lay siege on the Wexford line.

For some time, however, Wexford proved as resolute as their opponents and great work at the breakdown saw them earn relieving turnovers and penalties. Eventually on 14 minutes Gorey did break through in the far left corner and stuck first blood, with the difficult conversion narrowly missing the posts so the score was 5-0 to Gorey.

Growing in confidence, Gorey now put Wexford under immense pressure and their number 8, Robert Murphy, powered over next for a converted try to stretch their lead to twelve.

Murphy's influence was immense and, with Mark Boyle proving hard to contain in the centre, Gorey were now dominating field position. While Wexford made them work hard in this increasingly bruising encounter, the inevitable third try came five minutes before the half-time break to make it 17-0 to Gorey.

Wexford responded with grit as centre Josh O'Connor started to break the line. Gorey were being stretched more and more and finally Wexford earned a penalty close to the Gorey line.

Murphy again was Gorey's saviour, with a thumping tackle driving his opposite number into touch. With the opportunity seemingly gone, Wexford got their hands on the line-out with a steal from James Dixon, and with their back row fired up the ball was recycled to Josh O'Connor who finally broke the Gorey defence on the stroke of half-time to keep Wexford hopes alive (17-5 to Gorey).

However, no one could have predicted what was to unfold in the second-half. Every so often we are treated to something special as sport fans. It's what makes us love sport, be it hurling or rugby, and the next 35 minutes of rugby will remain in the memory of those who were lucky enough to be in Donnybrook Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon.

Gorey started the second-half with huge intensity and dominated territory, pounding the Wexford defence repeatedly. But try as they did, a mighty effort from Wanderers kept Gorey out.

Turnovers inches from their line saved Wexford and, despite relieving kicks downfield from fly-half Stafford, Gorey were back in their opponents' '22 again and again.

A score from Gorey now would have surely sealed the game but prop Seán Kelly, who was growing more into the game, and the entire Wexford back row of McGuinness, Kelly and Pielow, frustrated every attack.

Something had to give and frustration boiled over with an off-the-ball incident. The resulting scuffle saw Gorey receive two yellow cards and Wanderers one.

The game was bristling with intensity now and 13-man Gorey fought even harder. Despite the one-man advantage, Wexford were camped in their own '22 for the duration of the sin-binnings.

With twelve minutes left on the clock, the score remained 17-5 to Gorey. Both number 8s at that point were forced to retire, having both given immense effort.

Despite Gorey's best efforts, they could not get the crucial score to finish this contest. The sheer intensity from both sides just had to give.

Finally, Wanderers got some territory and made a stunning breakout. Wexford centre O'Connor, showing his class and blistering pace, scored a try to open the game up as a contest, and when Stafford nailed the conversion it was a one-score game.

Within three minutes Wexford went on the attack again. This game was fizzing now and finally space was opening up.

Varying their game smartly, Wanderers moved the ball to Seán Roche on the left wing and he raced around his man, kicked ahead, beat the full-back and re-gathered possession for a spectacular score. Incredibly it was now 17-17 and Wexford had a kick to take the lead.

The conversion was struck well but the drama was not over at it shook the left upright and dropped wide.

Gorey were the team looking drained at this stage, and with three minutes remaining they needed to hold the score to a draw to win the title on the basis of the first try scored rule in the event of the teams ending deadlocked.

However, Josh O'Connor had the final say at the death with his hat-trick to give Wexford the lead. Gorey did have time to kick-off but yet again a turnover at the breakdown resulted in a penalty to Wexford.

I couldn't see which of the Wexford forwards came up with the ball, but it looked like all eight of them. Scrum-half Fenlon booted the ball into row Z and Wexford were crowned champions.

Gorey were left to rue what might have been but it was Wexford's day and thoroughly deserved. Ben McGuinness, the Wexford captain, in his acceptance speech congratulated Gorey and said he hopes this is the beginning of a great rivalry.

So say all of us Ben. More of the same please.

Wanderers: Seán Kelly, Louis Richard, Carlos Sasaran, Ross Butler, James Dixon, Jakub Tarnawski, Luke Walsh, Adam Kelly, Leon Cleary, Ben McGuinness (capt.), Conor Kelly, David Harte, Adam Peilow, Maurice Logue, Samuel Molyneux, Shane McGuinness, Seán Roche, Rúairí Fenlon, Michael Harney, Thomas Whelan, Hugh Maguire, Conor Stafford, Feidhlim Roche, Paul Deeny, Josh O'Connor, Eoin Foley.

Wexford People

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