The Friendlies – Season 4: Episode 2 – the one with the Limerick
How can I leave the town that brings me down
That has no jobs
Is blessed by god
And makes me cry
…And those for whom I really care and you
Thin Lizzy – Dublin
Sunday morning was something else…
Yesterday was the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final – the Irish answer to our FA Cup Final.
The venue was Croke Park, just north of Dublin city centre, perhaps a 10 minute walk at most.
And about 4 minutes from where we were staying.
I have to say, Sue and I were oblivious to this until we left the hotel yesterday to take a stroll and enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee before leaving for the airport for a lunchtime flight.
9.00 am and the pubs were already open and teeming with life, as were the chippies, cafés and restaurants…I’ve not seen anything quite like it.
The streets were awash with green and maroon, the respective colours of the two teams involved, with street sellers offering the usual proliferation of scarves and hats that you’d find at any big sporting event
Limerick (green) and Galway (maroon).
It was an incredible sight. It was all very good-natured as you’d expect at that time in the morning, although even seven hours before the game was due to start, there was a fair amount of drinking going on.
There was also plenty of light-hearted banter as supporters from one team or the other, settled for the morning in and outside any of the many pubs in the area, noisily greeted supporters of the other team as they walked by.
The touts were out and about in force and by the time we left for the airport at 11.00 am, the atmosphere was already building nicely.
Lovely point by Limerick's Kyle Hayes! pic.twitter.com/M1n0oHKteB
— The GAA (@officialgaa) August 19, 2018
(A clip of Limerick scoring from yesterday’s final – it will be interesting to see just what the crowd was.
Big, I guess).
Which is all in rather stark contrast to the crowd at the Energia Park Stadium at Donnybrook on Saturday.
If there were 200 there I’d be surprised.
Rather less, probably.
And to celebrate Cov’s win, and to honour Limerick’s involvement in yesterday’s All-Ireland Final, I’ve written a short poem…
…a limerick, of course:
The noise from the stand wasn’t loud,
Against Leinster, Cov never were cowed.
Imagine our glee
Finding the entrance was free
‘Though the players outnumbered the crowd.
That’s what happens when you have to wait for an hour in the airport…
Apologies for those expecting something rather better.
So then, first off, there was no charge to watch the game.
And it was all the better for that.
All morning folk had been wandering in and out of the stadium – there were two Leinster games scheduled to take place before Coventry’s and when we got to the ground, just after 12.30, Leinster U17s were taking apart Munster in front of a decent crowd, three or four times the size of that which watched the Cov game.
Before that, a Leinster youth side was due to play a Canadian touring side but the visitors had pulled out because they’d apparently double-booked themselves.
And against Munster, too.
We watched the first half of the U17 game (and it was a pretty intense 35 minutes) and then Sue dragged me into the clubhouse (!) where we had a long chat with the chap behind the bar. He talked a bit about the ground (the pitch is owned by Leinster and isn’t used by the community at all really as there are so many junior sides playing there in the week). He also mentioned how an under-strength ‘full’ Leinster side had been taken apart by Newcastle Falcons the night before and that the crowd had been stand 5 or 6 deep to watch it…
He thought Cov were playing Leinster U20s, as did two ‘scouts’ in the main stand who had come to see some of the Leinster side against Cov.
However, this wasn’t actually the case.
There seems to be some confusion eslewhere as to just who it was we played, but according to both Leinster’s data analyst/coach and Rowland Winter, we played a mix of Academy and U20s…
Rowland Winter kindly came across and chatted away during the warm-up, explaining that in addition to a number of U20s 5 or 6 of the side had played in Leinster’s first pre-season game against Montauban and that there would be several of the squad involved in Leinster’s opening game against Cardiff in September – this was something the Leinster coach also mentioned immediately after the game when we spoke to him.
And whilst the home side definitely looked young, there were also one or two older faces in it, something which Sue spotted well before I did!
The other thing worth bearing in mind is that on Saturday we were down to probably our 4/5th choice locks, with another on the bench (Betteridge) who had only ever played one senior game before, and that was midweek for the Nighthawks. As it happens, all three played really well and the set pieces worked well all afternoon, other than one lost lineout that coincided with a series of replacements coming on, including one of the hookers.
As I understand it, Voss is back this week (a pre-agreed arrangement with Leicester) and there’s a new lock also joining us on loan – 6ft 10 I think – so that should bolster the squad, given that Oram is still a couple of weeks off full training and the full extent of Dacres’ knee injury isn’t yet know. The club is awaiting the results of a scan this week (or he’s to have a scan…one or t’other – sorry!).
The players had flown over on the Friday, although from what I gather four to a room and no air conditioning made for an uncomfortable night.
But the players were clearly up for the challenge and whilst RW was confident, he suggested that it would be a tough game and that probably a significant difference would be in the quality of the two benches. He read it right…
Coventry’s changes, though many in number, if anything seemed to strengthen the side; hardly surprising when you look at the quality that was keeping the bench warm:
16. Nilsen, 17. Tolmie, 18. Titchard-Jones, 19. Beech, 20. Betteridge, 21. Hutchinson, 22. Makaafi, 23. Povoas, 24. White, 25. Maisey, 26. J Bulumakau, 27. Knox, 28. Fenner, 29. Stevens, 30. Bitirim
Leinster made far fewer changes, but those they did make seemed to make little difference and other than for one 10 minute period, Cov looked the far stronger side in the second half.
It wasn’t a great performance though and at times Coventry struggled to do the basics, with a few too many missed tackles and poor handling on occasions putting us under far too much unnecessary pressure.
However, credit should also be given to Leinster here.
They might have lacked some of the size and physical presence of one or two of the Coventry side, but their speed, especially at the breakdown, made life difficult for us at times and Cov’s starting back row, which included two previous Championship Dream-Teamers, certainly didn’t have it all their own way by any means.
Whilst I’m sure there are one or two stars in the making in the Leinster side we played on Saturday, their real strength was that they played really well as a team.
Collectively, in the first half in particular, they chased and harried us and when they made a break, they often had several players in support. Their defensive line was solid and always up quickly and we made a number of unforced errors which gave Leinster momentum in that opening 40 minutes.
David Halaifonua had a quieter game out wide on Saturday, not seeing much of the ball really. He missed a couple of important tackles, one of which led to a Leinster score, although he tracked back well for the other and ran down his man.
Stokes looked sharp, but it wasn’t until the second half that the gaps began to appear and once again Tony Fenner and Tim Bitirim profited. Fenner looks in good shape and if he is injury free and can remain so, I reckon he’ll play quite a part this season either starting or from the bench. Bitirim, too, is doing himself no harm at all and is going to prove to be a real asset in the future, I’m sure.
Our scrum was very solid again. We were penalised a couple of times and had the ignominy of being shunted back on one occasion, although that was the loose-head was replaced and happened just the once, after which normal order was restored. Cov’s scrum won numerous penalties during the game as you’d probably expect against a less experience front row, but it took a while to break Leinster down…
We did score from a kick to the corner, followed by a catch and drive, but there were two, probably three, other attempts which proved unsuccessful, with Leinster frustratingly denying Cov’s rolling-maul effectively. Cov’s line-out appeared to function despite all the changes and what was probably a makeshift starting pair of Jubb and Gray (given the players who are unavailable) put in a very good shift.
There were a couple of obvious injuries – Darren Dawidiuk seemed to get a knock to the arm which meant an early departure for him and Olly Povoas looked very disappointed when he had to come off having stood out when he got on a few minutes prior to the injury. Povoas has suffered a bad run of injuries in the last couple of seasons, fingers crossed that this isn’t one that means he’s out of action again for a while – he showed what a great prospect he is when he had a decent run towards the end of RW’s first season at Cov.
Cov held their defensive line well for the most part, although the kicking perhaps wasn’t as accurate as it will need to be when the Championship starts for real and I thought we looked a little slow tracking back when Leinster turned us a few times.
Kessel and Sharp were effective, although as you’d expect from Pete White, he seemed to up the tempo a little when he came on.
I don’t think we’ve seen enough from Jake Sharp as yet to be confident that he’ll start ahead of Will Maisey or Tony Fenner, although TF is going to be such a useful player to have on the bench as he can play at 10, 12, 13 or 15. Neither Will Maisey or Jake Sharp have been entirely consistent with the boot either and we missed another three conversions (I think) yesterday, although a couple of them were from wide out).
Will’s strike rate was good again last season at 69%, but down on the season before (77%) – we might need a repeat of that again this season if games are that much tighter, as will almost certainly be the case.
We also seemed to over-complicate things a little at times, with one or two moves not quite coming off because of poor passing or handling, partly a result of Leinster’s ability to hit us quickly. Inevitably, different combinations of players will cause a little uncertainty – a lack of familiarity as much as anything I suppose – but with only one more game before Jersey, there isn’t that long to tighten things up still further.
Occasionally, we tried to run from fairly deep in our own half, showing good intent as is Nick Walshe’s and RW’s way. That’s fine if it comes off, but when it doesn’t, it does allow the opposition to put the pressure back on us,but it only takes a couple of poor tackles and the lines is broken and suddenly we’re in trouble.
Defensively we were again good at pinning Leinster in their own half, even 22 at times, as we did against Moseley last week and territorially we had the best of both halves, even despite going into half time 12-10 down.
That said, it was a really good run out for the squad. On top of which was the Saturday night bonding..!
Would the coaches be happy with the result?
Yes, of course they would.
And the performance?
Probably less so.
The coaches didn’t look overly happy post-game. Rowland Winter stood back and let Nick Walshe do a lot of the post-match huddle talking, I’m sure the game will have answered some questions that were still outstanding, as well as raising a few more; the selection for the game against Wasps will be really interesting.
However, Rowland Winter has never liked to give too much away and whatever the starting line-up next Saturday, I’m pretty sure there will be a good few differences between it and the one against Jersey.
A few red herrings here and there is never a bad thing.
And the final score at Croke Park yesterday?
…which apparently means Limerick won, although how on earth you work that out is beyond me…
It ends 45 years of pain, according to RTE.
It’s coming home then, I guess.
It was a great three days in Dublin – if there’s a friendlier city then I’ve yet to visit.
No one could do enough to help.
It’s not without it’s problems and there were far more rough sleepers and those down on their luck than when we last visited, but everyone smiled and no-one moaned about their lot.
How can I leave the town that brings me down
That has no jobs
Is blessed by god
And makes me cry
Happy to return there next pre-season!