The restructured Division 1A of the AIB League got off to a dramatic start on Friday night as Willie Staunton’s 88th-minute drop goal steered Garryowen to a 12-10 win over champions Shannon under the Dooradoyle floodlights.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Friday, October 2
GARRYOWEN 12 SHANNON 10, Dooradoyle
Scorers: Garryowen: Pens: Conor Murray 3; Drop: Willie Staunton
Shannon: Try: David Quinlan; Con: Tadhg Bennett; Pen: Tadhg Bennett
Garryowen out-half Willie Staunton, a younger brother of Ireland international Jeremy Staunton, coolly stroked his kick over in deepest injury-time to decide a typically hard-fought Limerick derby.
Neither side could dominate in a lacklustre first half which saw quite a lot of aimless kicking. But Garryowen scrum half Conor Murray was on target with a tenth minute penalty attempt, a kick which gave them a 3-0 interval lead.
In crisp and cold conditions, Shannon handed Munster’s Felix Jones a debut on the right wing but his forays were largely curtailed.
Out-half Tadhg Bennett twice sent up early cross-field kicks for Jones but each time the attack broke down.
Shannon took their time to settle and losing influential lock Fergal Walsh to injury did not help, along with flanker Eoghan Grace’s sin-binning in the 25th minute.
But Garryowen failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage and the Colm Tucker-coached visitors drew strength from that.
Bennett, a hero from last season’s successful league campaign, cancelled out Murray’s second penalty success with one of his own.
The kick came after the Shannon forwards had battered away at the Garryowen line, only to be held up on a couple of occasions. Defence was on top for the most part, until tired legs gave way in the closing stages and space opened up.
Murray was able to boot Garryowen into a 9-3 lead as time ticked away. However, the Parish side kept up the pressure and they were rewarded late on when experienced number 8 David Quinlan piled over the whitewash on the end of a forward drive.
Having missed three earlier penalty attempt, Bennett did brilliantly to convert the try from the touchline, securing a one-point advantage for the visitors who were so eager to get their title defence off to a winning start.
However, Garryowen provided the game’s final twist. Staunton’s last-gasp drop goal swung it back in the home side’s favour and produced roars of delight from most of the 2,000-plus crowd.
Gutsy Garryowen just shaded it in a pulsating finish which has certainly whetted appetites for more Friday night AIB League.
Garryowen were thrilled with their success for which they can thank their forwards and none played better than Frank McKenna, who pinched a few of the Shannon lineouts, and he was well helped by Jason Harney, who was making his first appearance as prop at this level, Conor Hartigan and former captain Paul Neville.
Shannon tried to overuse possession in both halves and will be wounded that the bragging rights rest with Garryowen. The champions had their chances and the penalty misses by Bennett proved crucial at the death.
Speaking after the game, Garryowen coach Paul Cunningham said: “Shannon played very well in the second half, put us under a lot of pressure and we defended extremely well.
“They worked enormously hard to score (their try), Tadhg Bennett put over a fine conversion, in fairness, and we showed a lot of patience to come back, work very hard over a number of phases and just kept on inching closer and closer.
“Willie hit it right in the middle and it was a great ball to win it.
“It was a great finish to the first game under lights. Hopefully that will help bring this Division 1A alive and maybe people will focus on it a bit, give it a bit of PR and press coverage.
“Obviously the big game of the weekend is Leinster v Munster, but Friday night there’s nothing else going on. So hopefully there’ll be more games like this on Friday nights to encourage this league and people to support this league because it’s worth supporting.”
GARRYOWEN: Lorcan Bourke; Ronan O’Mahony, Conan Doyle (capt), Kevin Hartigan, Ian Hanly; Willie Staunton, Conor Murray; Jason Harney, Michael Sherry, Declan Lavery, Donal Sheehan, Frank McKenna, Paul Neville, Conor Hartigan, David Sherry.
Replacements used: Diarmaid McCarthy for Hartigan (70 mins), Aaron McCloskey for Sheehan (79).
SHANNON: David O’Donovan; Felix Jones, Marcus O’Driscoll, Mossie Lawlor (capt), Stephen Kelly; Tadhg Bennett, Fiach O’Loughlin; Les Hogan, Batt Duggan, Kevin Griffin, Padraic O’Brien, Fergal Walsh, John O’Connor, Eoghan Grace, David Quinlan.
Replacments used: Paul Loughnane for Walsh (15 mins), John Clogan for M O’Driscoll, Frankie McNamara for O’Loughlin (both 68).
Referee: Paul Haycock (IRFU)