After 15 minutes of this year’s McGee Cup Final, the travelling Ardee contingent could be forgiven for dreaming of the memorable cup double which lay within grasp. A 10-0 lead gave them hope.
However, it was not to be as North Meath came from behind to run out 19-15 winners over Ardee Rugby Club at The Grange.
The onlookers did witness an Ardee double of sorts, with impressive Ardee winger Jason Monaghan notching two tries in an otherwise disappointing performance from the newly crowned Jenkinson Cup winners. Despite a fast start, the double dream dissapated late on.
Coming a week after their success in Drogheda, Ronan O’Brien Jnr’s charges made the trip to Kells to face North Meath seeking another cup triumph. The cup competitions have proved welcome distraction for the team from Townparks in 2017. Despite finishing in the relegation zone of the Leinster League Div 2B, the Ardee men are carving out a niche as cup specialists.
Whilst league survival is nice, you don’t get silverware for a sixth place finish. As seen in last week’s wild celebrations at Shamrock Lodge, it’s the cup competitions where smaller clubs can enjoy success and create memories that will long long in the minds of players, coaches and supporters.
Coming into the game, O’Brien was forced to make some changes to the XV that lined out against Balbriggan seven days earlier. David Martin, Mikey Kelly and James McSwiney replaced Shane Russell, Stephen Harmon and James Conlon, while expected absentee Cathal Bradley was a surprise inclusion.
It took just three minutes for Ardee to get their first chance to score. Scrum-half Ben O’Brien’s kick sailed wide but he was given a chance just a minute later to make amends from further out. An opportunity he didn’t pass up.
Ardee pressed on from their fast start and Joe Austin tackle on North Meath’s winger eventually forced North Meath to panic and concede a penalty.
Amidst a series of passes in the middle of the field, Keith Halpenny found winger Monaghan who darted through to run in for the game’s opening try. The successful conversion left the game at 10-0.
At this point Ardee were in full command but it didn’t take long for that to change.
The visitors’ lineout was an issue throughout, conceding possession too often. Despite hooker Ciaran MacCormack almost capitalising on a bouncing ball to score, the momentum soon shifted in North Meath’s favour.
The game was marred by frequent unforced penalties and following an Ardee knock on, North Meath piled pressure on the visitors. Great work from James McSwiney and James Daly held off the Meath men momentarily but eventually the pressure proved too much as they scored their opening try. Things were much closer now – 10-7 following the conversion.
Hooker McCormack was replaced on the half hour mark following an injury as the two sides traded possession in the midfield, while a crucial interception from Shane Lennon and good link up between Bradley, Halpenny and Conor Reilly relieved pressure.
The second half began with North Meath in the ascendancy. Ardee’s front row were called upon regularly with Cillian O’Neill taking some bit hits against the solid North Meath pitch.
Harry Callaghan, Kelly and Joe Austin were steadfast in their fight to hold off the opposition, throwing themselves into some huge tackles. There was no doubting which side was on top though. Every time Ardee looked to get forward, mistakes were costing them. The signs looked ominous.
After 10 minutes of the second half Ardee conceded a second try. Following a scrum just metres from Ardee’s line, the Meath men quickly played the ball wide to their number 8 who scored by the corner. The conversion was missed but North Meath had a 12-10 lead.
Ardee desperately tried to regroup, with players encouraging each other on, but the couldn’t muster up the chances needed to threaten their opponents. The introduction of Harmon, Conlon and Kevin McKeown lifted the performance momentarily but Ardee were still struggling to eliminate the errors from their game, with the lineout in particular still proving a problem.
As time ticked on Ardee pushed forward but were caught on the break by North Meath. A great tackle from Conor Reilly briefly saved Ardee but a series of play near identical to their last resulted in a crucial third try for North Meath. A well taken conversion effectively put the game out of reach for Ardee, requiring two scores in just two minutes.
There was still time for a spirited consolation try from Jason Monaghan but it wasn’t enough as the Ardee men fell to a 15-19 defeat.
Ardee fail in their attempt to clinch a cup double, but end the season as Jenkinson Cup winners. Some impressive performances this season from new additions to the side should bring great optimism for the campaign ahead.
ARDEE RFC: David Martin, Ciaran MacCormack, Cillian O’Neill, James Daly, Mikey Kelly, Harry Callaghan, James McSwiney, Joe Austin, Ben O’Brien, Keith Halpenny, Cathal Bradley, Conor Reilly, Jason Monaghan, Conor Hennessey, Shane Lennon.