29 Mar 2018
Following on from their recent victory in the Leinster League final, the Birr U14 boys were back on the road again last Thursday evening when they traveled to Tullamore to take on the home side in the semi-final of the Midland League.
Having finished fourth in the Midland League, Birr were drawn away in this semi-final to premier side Tullamore. When these sides met back in September in the opening round of the Midland League, the home side Tullamore were easywinners by 38 points to 5. These sides also met recently in the quarter final of the cup in Birr where Tullamore prevailed on a score line of 35 points to 24. Based on past performance this was always going to be a difficult game for Birr as Tullamore had also qualified for the Leinster League Premier final after beating Wicklow in the semi-final away last Saturday.
The game kicked off with Birr lining out with four changes to the side which had overcome Mullingar in the Leinster final, the most notable being the introduction of Gearoid Dooley, son of All Ireland winner Billy Dooley, starting his first game at loose head prop. Tullamore were out of the blocks quickly and immediately looked to get their fast backs on the front foot as they probed for early weaknesses in the Birr defense. However the bright start for Tullamore was short lived as the Birr forwards took control of matters up front and began to dominate their opposition pack. Tight head prop Aran Corcoran and open side wing forward Cathal King were to the forefront as they constantly broke the first line of defense with huge carries. They were ably assisted by hooker Brody Larkin and second rows Colin Kelly and Danny Walsh who also carried to great effect. The game was now being played in a heavy downpour of icy rain which did not deter the Birr boys from their task as they continued to take the game to Tullamore. The breakthrough for Birr came in the 10th minute when the Birr backs opened up outside the Tullamore 22 and centres Darragh Guinan and Darragh McNamara combined beautifully to send winger Cathal Robinson on his way for what appeared to be a certain try. However a superb cover tackle saved the day for Tullamore as the Birr winger was tackled into touch. From the ensuing lineout Cathal King was first to react to a Tullamore tap down as he snaffled the ball and ran in from 10 metres to score a great try. Darragh McNamara slotted the conversion and Birr were deservedly ahead by 7 points to nil.
From the kick off Birr went back on the offensive and continued to control matters. Despite the difficult handling conditions the Birr backline were superb both in defence and attack. The midfield partnership of Darragh Guinan and Darragh McNamara was causing the Tullamore defence all sorts of problems and halfbacks, Eoin Burke and Ben Miller were controlling the game ensuring that both backs and forwards had plenty of go forward ball. It was all one way traffic and another great break from Birr number 8 Patrick Bergin took play just inside the Tullamore 22. The pack quickly followed up in support and a blind side break by the backs saw Cathal Robinson brought down close to the Tullamore line. Unfortunately there was a knock on by a Birr forward and the opportunity to increase the lead was missed. However the reprieve was only of a temporary nature as Birr were immediately back on the offensive and with 17 minutes on the clock were awarded an attacking scrum on the right side and 15 meters in from touch just inside the Tullamore 22. In a move straight off the training field Patrick Bergin popped a ball from the base of the scrum to scrum half Eoin Burke who attacked wide, drawing in the last defender before putting winger Cathal Robinson in for another Birr try in the corner.The conversion was wide but crucially Birr had a 12 point lead in atrocious conditions. In the remaining 8 minutes to half-time Tullamore upped their efforts and tried to narrow the gap before the break but the Birr defence was determined and unwavering in keeping them at bay.
Half-time: Tullamore 0 Birr 12
The first 10 minutes of the second half continued in the same vein as the first half had ended with Tullamore applying pressure on the Birr defence. They were however pinned deeply in their own half and were finding it difficult to cross the Birr halfway line. With the aid of a slight breeze they tried the aerial option but the Birr back three of Cian Nolan, CathalRobinson and Darragh Tierney dealt capably with the threat. In fact Tierney broke Tullamore hearts as he consistently counter attacked making huge inroads in the Tullamoredefence. Having weathered the initial Tullamore attempts to reduce the deficit Birr now upped the tempo of the game. The introduction of fresh legs in the shape of Simon Feehan and Rian Carroll for Danny Walsh and Gearoid Dooley, both of whom had fine games, made an immediate impact. The Birr forwards led by their hard working captain Paddy McGuickanwere making big gains with some telling pick and go drives. They were now dominating possession and territory, piling up phases and forcing Tullamore to concede penalties. Their work at the breakdown was ferocious and time after time they drove the bigger Tullamore pack backwards. This forward dominance of the Birr pack gave the backs a platform to put further pressure on a beleaguered Tullamore defence with centre Darragh Guinan continuously pegging them back with long raking kicks into the corners. With 5 minutes to go the pressure finally told on Tullamore when they were stripped of possession just in front of their own posts and in the blink of an eye the ball was put through three pairs of hands and was finished off with Cian Nolan crashing over in the left corner for a super try. This was the clincher for Birr and although the Tullamore number 8 did score a great individual try in the last minute, it was too little, too late to make a difference and Birr were in the Midland Final for the second year in a row.
Final Score: Tullamore 7 Birr 17
Birr Team: Gearoid Dooley, Brody Larkin, Aran Corcoran, Danny Walsh, Colin Kelly, Paddy McGuickan, Cathal King, Patrick Bergin, Eoin Burke, Ben Miller, Cathal Robinson, Darragh Guinan, DarraghMcNamara, Cian Nolan, Darragh Tierney, Peter King, Ronan Minnock, Shane Maher, Sean Murphy, Keith Maher, Rian Carroll, Daire Temple, Ailbe Watkins, Simon Feehan