Ardee RFC’s topsy turvy campaign received its latest highlight under the Friday night lights at Townparks, as they overcame a resilient Dundalk side to win 22-17 and reach the Jenkinson Cup Final.
Following on from their Provincial Towns Seconds Cup exit two weeks ago, Ardee looked to keep alive their hopes of silverware this season as they faced local opposition in the form of Dundalk RFC. Despite being separated by just 20km, the two sides meeting has become a rarity over recent seasons.
In similar fashion to their ill-fated cup clash with Balbriggan two weeks ago, Ardee shot out of the blocks, immediately putting their opponents on the back foot. A swift attack saw Conor Reilly almost break through, before Conor Hennessey had a try pulled back for an infringement. This fast pace was a sign of things to come.
Just moments after Hennessey thought he’d scored, he did just that. A huge hit from Conor Reilly rattled Dundalk before an attempted clearance from the visitors was pounced upon by Shane Lennon to give Ardee possession.
Ardee’s hooker Ciaran McCormack worked the ball well before finding full back Conor Hennessey, who downed the ball in the corner to score his second try in as many games. Ben O’Brien’s difficult conversion attempt sailed left of the posts, but Ardee led 5-0 after 17 minutes.
The home side didn’t let up and were soon on the attack again following the kick off. More good play from Ciaran McCormack along with Ben O’Brien managed to feed the ball inside to Cathal Bradley. Outnumbered by opposition players, Bradley spotted a gap and darted through to extend Ardee’s lead.
O’Brien was left with a more manageable position for the conversion attempt which he duly slotted between the posts. Ardee were 12-0 up with Dundalk offering little to threaten the home side.
There was no time for Ardee’s supporters to take their eyes off the game. On the half hour mark Dundalk lost possession by Ardee’s try line. From there Ardee launched a ruthless counter attack down the wing, with Conor Reilly at the heart of it. Reilly and Bradley combined well as they passed the half way line.
Joe Austin joined the attack sharply before the ball was once again fed to Ardee’s centre Cathal Bradley who, in a move resembling his first, accelerated and weaved between Dundalk’s defence before scoring underneath the posts. It was a great team try, having been under pressure at the far end of the pitch just moments before.
After Ben O’Brien converted his second kick of the game, Ardee’s lead was extended to 19-0 with just under 10 minutes remaining in an action packed opening half.
Ardee were in control, but those in attendance could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu as Dundalk managed to force over a try just three minutes later. The conversion attempt was missed but at 19-5 supporters and coaches were calling for calm heads after losing from a 21-0 lead in their last outing.
Shane Lennon was proving vital at both ends. A crucial tackle prevented Dundalk from breaking away just before the half and he almost scored early in the second as he chased down a kick from Ben O’Brien. His pace was causing Dundalk problems.
The game drifted into a lull for a period, with the two sides fighting for possession in the middle of the pitch. Dundalk missed a long range penalty attempt that was caught and almost punished by the pacey Lennon who played O’Brien through before he stopped just before the try line.
Keith Halpenny, playing his first match after suspension, combined well with Cathal Bradley to gain good yards before he was forced off briefly with an injury.
As the game drifted towards the final 20 minutes, Ardee’s Kevin McKeown was yellow carded just moments after coming on. Deep in Ardee territory, Dundalk took full advantage as they ran in to score and convert their second try of the game.
The game was now within one score (19-12) and following substitute Aaron Keely’s recovery of a loose ball, Ardee’s Cathal Bradley eventually broke through towards the posts before being brought down by a high tackle. O’Brien kicked the resulting penalty through the posts to extend Ardee’s lead to 10 with just 8 minutes left.
Despite their late pressure, time was running out for Dundalk and although they caught Ardee sleeping to score their third try, it wasn’t enough to take the victory from the Townparks men, who held out for a 22-17 win.
Ardee will now contest two finals in two weeks having secured their Jenkinson Cup Final place by beating Dundalk. Ronan O’Brien Jr’s men were already guaranteed a McGee Cup Final spot, where they will face familiar foes North Meath as they look to end the season on a high with some sought-after silverware.