Shannon break thin blue line

 

The banter, acerbic observation and volume of support that would have been an integral part of many a previous meeting between these two was missing and because of it, this Limerick derby at Thomond Park lacked a raw edge.

Enjoyment was a matter of perspective: for Garryowen's supporters this season's AIB League Division One opener was a frustrating exercise. Comprehensively outplayed for large slices of the match, the visitors rarely managed the continuity and precision that would have put their hosts under serious pressure.

When they did manage to create scoring opportunities, notably in the first half, poor choice of options cost them a couple of tries. They were also forced to commit too many players to winning ruck ball and lacked the aggression, save the outstanding Paul Neville, to make the hard yards.

There was much to admire, however, in Shannon's performance. The amalgam of youth and experience - they could afford to leave John Hayes and Mick Galwey on the bench, initially - bore out an understanding that belied the opening match of club rugby's premier competition. Even the late withdrawal of Anthony Foley did not affect the balance of the side.

The backrow of Redmond Collins, David Quinlan and Alan Quinlan once again gelled seamlessly, but arguably their outstanding player was second row Brian Buckley, a nuisance on the Garryowen throw and a force with or without the ball.

A rampaging performance by right wing John O'Neill invariably gave the Shannon pack a target going forward. O'Neill relentlessly crossed the thin blue line, swatting aside tacklers who insisted on going high, time and again proving a big gain line breaker for the home side.

Credit too to Shannon's new coach, former player Conor McDermott. The team was extremely well drilled and organised, far more so than could be reasonably be expected at this juncture.

Garryowen coach Andy Earl will acknowledge that the performance bore all the hallmarks of first game syndrome. The team must generate quicker ball, be more precise at set pieces and play their rugby behind the scrum closer to the gain line. He needs look no further than Saturday's opponents for inspiration.

Scoring sequence: 3 mins: Keane penalty, 0-3; 14: Thompson penalty, 3-3; 28: David Quinlan penalty, 8-3; 45: Thompson penalty, 11-3. Half-time: 11-3. 53: Thompson penalty, 14-3; 67: Buckley try, Thompson conversion, 21-3.

Shannon: J Lacey; J O'Neill, N McNamara, J Davis, Jason Hayes; A Thompson (capt), P Stringer; M Horan, F Roche, G McNamara; B Buckley, J Langford; R Collins, D Quinlan, A Quinlan. Replacements: John Hayes for Horan 43 mins; M Galwey for Collins 54 mins; M Lawlor for Davis 54 mins; C McMahon for O'Neill 68 mins; C Tucker for Roche 70 mins.

Garryowen: D Crotty; S Mackay, K Keane, J Brooks, K Hartigan; J Staunton, T Tierney (capt); J Giltenane, P Humphreys, R Laffan; S Leahy, F Costelloe; C Varley, P Neville, D Wallace. Replacements: K Culhane for Varley 20 mins; N Hartigan for Giltenane 62 mins; D Heaton for Hartigan 70 mins; O Kelly for Leahy 70 mins.

Referee: D Tyndall (IRFU).