Garryowen survived the final seven minutes down to 14 players as they edged out Dolphin by the narrowest of margins in Sunday’s re-fixed AIB League Division 1A clash at Dooradoyle.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION 1A: Sunday, February 7
GARRYOWEN 13 DOLPHIN 12, Dooradoyle
Scorers: Garryowen: Try: Damien Varley; Con: Conor Murray; Pens: Conor Murray 2
Dolphin: Tries: Paul Hurley, Penalty try; Con: Barry Keeshan
Garryowen stretched their unbeaten run in the AIB League to four matches but they had to do it the hard way, having a player sin-binned, losing their starting hooker and props to injury and staving off a determined second half fightback from high-flying Dolphin.
The injuries to the front row forced uncontested scrums in the closing stages – the set piece was an area of the game that Dolphin dominated in the second half – and robbed of that strength, the Cork side failed to engineer a match-winning score that had looked likely.
The Light Blues welcomed Munster hooker Damien Varley back into their team for a rare start and he made an immediate impact, getting over for the opening try in the second minute.
Full-back Ronan O’Mahony made a searing break to get Garryowen within scoring range and the forwards took it up before Varley found enough space to crash over from close range.
Scrum half Conor Murray added the conversion but Garryowen coach Paul Cunningham was soon turning to his bench. A damaged pectoral muscle unfortunately ended Varley’s afternoon in the eighth minute, and Dave Rowley was introduced in his place.
Dolphin lined out with Munster’s Dave Ryan and Julien Brugnaut in their front row and they also had the province’s James Coughlan anchoring their scrum, but they encountered some scrummaging problems in the first half with referee John Carvill penalising them on several occasions.
Murray took advantage of two penalty offences to kick Garryowen into a 13-0 lead for half-time.
But the Steve Ford-coached Dolphin emerged as a renewed force in the second half, playing like the team that is currently residing in third place in the division.
They built momentum with a well-worked try from winger Paul Hurley, just after the resumption, which went unconverted.
Replacements Christy Condon and Barry Keeshan proved influence as the visitors hit back strongly, with the former adding his strength to an improved scrum and the latter providing a steadying influence at out-half.
Garryowen were in all sorts of trouble as Dolphin pinned them back and with this being their fourth hard slog in the space in as many weeks, the Limerick men were understandably tiring.
An injury to tighthead prop Declan Lavery, who had been having an excellent game, did not help and when Dolphin were awarded a penalty try on the hour mark – with team captain Keeshan tagging on the extras – there was suddenly just a point between these Munster rivals.
It was a battle royale right to the finish, with the likes of Garryowen’s Kevin Hartigan, Ed Mackey and Anthony Kavanagh really putting their bodies on the line.
At 13-12, Dolphin were looking the more likely to score with Keeshan, back after an injury lay-off, directing things behind a hard-working pack.
Garryowen lost replacement Mark Melbourne to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle and Dolphin were left reeling when their scrum advantage was taken away from them on 70 minutes, as loosehead prop Jason Harney was withdrawn by Garryowen due to an injury.
With no available front rowers, winger Lorcan Bourke came on in his place and referee Carvill had no option but to signal for uncontested scrums.
Dolphin still had time to find the match-winning score – especially with injuries taking their toll on Garryowen and robbing them of a player for the final seven minutes.
Keeshan tried his luck with two drop goals but Cunningham’s heroic charges managed to hold out for a potentially season-defining win.
The gutsy victory has moved Garryowen up one place to sixth in the Division 1A standings and with another game in hand, they will be eyeing mid-table at least.
However, revenge will most certainly be on the cards on Saturday week when these teams meet again at Musgrave Park. Another cracker is on the cards.
GARRYOWEN: Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Hanley, Conan Doyle (capt), Kevin Hartigan, Alan Gaughan; Willie Staunton, Conor Murray; Jason Harney, Damien Varley, Declan Lavery, Frank McKenna, Ed Mackey, Conor Hartigan, Anthony Kavanagh, David Sherry.
Replacements used: Dave Rowley for Varley (8 mins), Mark Melbourne for C Hartigan (47), Rory Brosnan for Lavery (54), Aaron McCloskey for Sherry (58), Lorcan Bourke for Harney (70).
DOLPHIN: Niall O’Driscoll; Rory Kenneally, Cian Bohane, Eric Moloney, Paul Hurley; Cormac O’Flynn, Sam Cronin; Dave Ryan, Ronan O’Neill, Julien Brugnaut, Chris Rowe, Kyle O’Dwyer, Fraser Stone, Barry O’Mahony, James Coughlan.
Replacements used: Christy Condon for Brugnaut (54 mins), Barry Keeshan for O’Flynn (57), George Finn for Stone (66)..
Referee: John Carvill (IRFU)