Rebel gang of four steers Belvedere home
A COUPLE of reactions to the full-time whistle provided a telling insight into what went before. Neil Francis, the most celebrated of four ex-Blackrock men in the Old Belvedere pack, leaped as high as if he were taking another line-out. Meantime, Barry Murphy was first to console his place-kicking counterpart Alan McGowan.
It was a nice gesture by Murphy, who perhaps understood better than anyone what McGowan was suffering. With the last kick of the match, McGowan had missed his seventh kick and Blackrock's eighth of the match from the 22 metre line. Long since forgotten, but underlining the trickiness of kicking into that blustery wind, were two Murphy misses from an equally favourable range in the first-half.
So Old Belvedere completed the metamorphosis from 60-minute team to 80-minute team at Anglesea Road, and with it came their first Division One points of the season. That it came against Blackrock was by no means co-incidental, for the presence of that ex-Blackrock quartet was always liable to sustain a fiercely committed effort.
"About time," was the initial response from the Belvedere manager Eoin Deering. "We rode our luck," he admitted, "but it was important that we had a bit of luck because too many times in the past it fell away from us in the last minute."
Deering maintained that his team were deserved winners". Yet many of the abiding highlights of an error-strewn, obtrusively officiated, yet increasingly absorbing contest came courtesy of Blackrock. Though off-colour on the day, some of their off-the-cuff running into the second-half win was stirring stuff.
However, Belvedere lay up in a line, with their `four-up' defence and just kept making their tackles. Thus, when it came to it, Deering conceded that the virtues which won it for Belvedere were ultimately more prosaic. "We dug deep. The boys put their heart and soul on the line. They kept putting in big hits. It was a team performance. We train as a team, we play as a team, and we lose or win as a team.
"We wanted nothing but the ball, and were focussed for 80 minutes. If it was 90, it would have been 90." What of Belvedere's 60-minute reputation then, which had even their staunchest supporters expecting the worst until the fat lady had started singing?
"That's history," responded Deering. "These guys could not go into Christmas with 0-3 and Rock was a big one. We like to beat Rock.
We've a lot of Rock guys in the team. It was special for Franno. He wanted that very badly."
All the more so as the festive Blackrock contingent in a reasonably strong crowd of 1,000-1,500 chided Francis remorselessly from early on. "They did us a favour," admitted Deering. Understandably buoyed by it all, he bravely predicted: "Relegation will not be an issue for this team."
Without Paddy Gavin, Belvedere didn't have anything like the same potency behind the pack, though Willie Norse played resourcefully and with no little skill, his deft first-half chip enabling the impressive Peter McKenna to poach an opportunist try. Up front, the outstanding Kevin Spicer added to the ex-Rock spice, and ultimately McKenna's touchline conversion to Spicer's support try from Norse's blind side break, the only successful kick out of 12, made the difference.
From Blackrock's perspective, this was another of those ridiculous, largely self-induced mid-season defeats that forever undermines their league challenges. Only they know whether over-confidence was a factor in them taking the guts of an hour to build up a head of steam.
"We just didn't get any patterns going," said their slightly perplexed coach Tony Smeeth. "We didn't kick well with the wind in the first-half. In fact, Belvo had a big part of the territorial advantage in the first-half."
As he pointed out, Blackrock won plenty of ruck ball, but it was too static and even then the backs often lay too flat. Brian Carey, whose latest knee ligament tear is liable to keep him out of the international squad's sojourn to Portugal, David Lynagh, Emmet Farrell, the lightening quick Aiden Guinan and Paul O'Brien all had their moments, all making some thrilling breaks.
Yet one Farrell try, brilliant though it was, constituted their sole reward for a marvellous second-half rally. It might all have been different had the referee not deemed Lynagh's try-scoring pass to Mike Brewer a fraction forward, even though it was deflected off a Belvedere shoulder, thereby denying them an early 10 or 12 point lead.
Nevertheless, they lost their way thereafter, Belvedere digging deeper to deservedly draw level by the break and then steal ahead.
Some naval contemplation down Stradbrook way would not go amiss. As is their wont, they've let themselves down again.