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Stunning Fightback Not Enough For Ireland Club Side

Stunning Fightback Not Enough For Ireland Club Side

Shannon duo Mike Essex and Stephen Kelly (2) and Galwegians flyer John Cleary all touched down in the second half as the Ireland Club XV fell narrowly short of a memorable comeback win over England Counties on Friday.

INTERNATIONAL MATCH: Friday, February 26

ENGLAND COUNTIES 29 IRELAND CLUB XV 25, Stourton Park, Stourbridge RFC

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Scorers: England Counties: Tries: David Howells, Luke Baldwin, Frankie Neale 2; Cons: Sam Ulph 3; Pen: Sam Ulph
Ireland Club XV: Tries: Mike Essex, Stephen Kelly 2, John Cleary; Con: Barry Keeshan; Pen: Barry Keeshan

Ireland’s AIB League aces fell frustratingly short at Stourton Park, despite a scintillating second half display which produced four unanswered tries.

Lightning quick winger Stephen Kelly produced two scorching finishes on his club international debut, and there were also touchdowns for Mike Essex and John Cleary, but David O’Mahony’s side had unfortunately left themselves with too much to do after a poor first half.

During the opening period, England Counties’ dangerous backs exploited some poor tactical kicking to rack up four tries of their own, and build a commanding 26-3 half-time advantage.

The precise place-kicking of Esher’s record breaking winger Sam Ulph, who conquered a gusty wind to land four of his five shots at goal, proved to be the key factor in an entertaining contest.

The Ireland Club side could scarcely have got off to a worse start, with England gifted 14 points in the opening five minutes.

First, a missed touch put O’Mahony’s charges under pressure, and after some good phase play, London Scottish winger David Howells broke two tackles to cross in the corner.

Worse followed for the Irish, as the restart failed to go ten, and after England Counties turned the scrum, Blackheath scrum half Luke Baldwin broke a weak tackle to scorch through from 60 metres out and score in same corner.

Dolphin out-half Barry Keeshan reduced the arrears with an eighth minute penalty, before a glorious chance was missed, when Shannon wide man Kelly knocked on after breaking the English defensive line.

Ireland paid the price five minutes later when a fine break from Ulph, and more slick English handling put full-back Frankie Neale over in the corner to open up a 19-3 lead.

After Dolphin flanker Barry O’Mahony was recalled by the referee Andrew McMenemy following a marginal forward pass, Neale ran in his second try of the game, this time converted by Ulph, to give England Counties a 26-3 lead at the break.

Suitably fired up by their coach’s half-time words, Ireland chalked up their first score on 47 minutes when a well-worked forward drive off a lineout saw Shannon hooker Essex force his way over.

The tide looked to be turning and Ireland ran in a second try seven minutes later, when Kelly hacked on a loose ball on halfway, and won the foot race to score beneath the posts.

More pressure followed as the English were pinned in their own half, and some quick hands along the backs resulted in Galwegians winger Cleary diving over in the corner.

An Ulph penalty did little to calm English nerves, as Kelly immediately crossed for his second score of the game – skipper Sam Cronin’s pass timed to perfection – as Ireland edged to within four points.

But time ran out on them, after Kelly was narrowly denied a hat-trick by England replacement Steve Parsons’ timely intervention, when the Limerick Gaelic footballer chipped to within a few metres of the line.

The result may not have gone their way and they were certainly left ruing that nightmare, but this was a good outing for O’Mahony’s squad and there were a number of players who impressed on the night.

Richie Leyden and Barry O’Mahony, who unfortunately went off with a dislocated elbow, were industrious throughout, while Cronin led by example and try scorer Kelly showed his finishing class when given some time and space.

Much to look forward to when Ireland take on Scotland’s club elite at Donnybrook on Friday, March 19 (kick-off 7pm).

ENGLAND COUNTIES: Frankie Neale (London Scottish); Sam Ulph (Esher), Jack Harrison (Tynedale), Seb Jewell (Esher), David Howells (London Scottish); James Brown (London Scottish), Luke Baldwin (Blackheath); John Williams (Tynedale), Joe Graham (Tynedale), Sam Heard (Redruth), Matt Owen (Macclesfield), Tom Bason (Blackheath) (capt), Dan Legge (Cambridge), Darren Fox (Cambridge), Tom Powell (Cambridge).

Replacements used: Matt Riley (Sedgley Park) for Jewell (58 mins), Steve Parsons (Harrogate) for Parsons, Matt Hall (Blaydon) for Graham, Tom Warren (Esher) for Heard (all 66).Not used: Ben Harris (Huddersfield), Alex Nash (Rugby Lions), Tom Richardson (Stourbridge).

IRELAND CLUB XV: Daragh O’Shea (Clontarf); John Cleary (Galwegians), Eric Moloney (Dolphin), Evan Ryan (Cork Constitution), Stephen Kelly (Shannon); Barry Keeshan (Dolphin), Sam Cronin (Dolphin) (capt); Martin Gately (Cork Constitution), Mike Essex (Shannon), Simon Shawe (Ballymena), Paul Huntly (Blackrock College), Fergal Walsh (Shannon), Richie Leyden (Old Belvedere), Barry O’Mahony (Dolphin), Frank Cogan (Cork Constitution).

Replacements used: Hugh Hogan (St. Mary’s College) for Cogan (61 mins), Simon Crawford (Clontarf) for Huntly (65), Aaron Dundon (Clontarf) for O’Mahony (78). Not used: Christy Condon (Dolphin), Cathal Sheridan (UL Bohemians), Darragh Fitzpatrick (Blackrock College), Sean Scanlon (UCC).

Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)