Take the Rock Train to Rosbrien

 

On an adjacent seat a mobile phone plays every conceivable ring tune, from The William Tell Overture to Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport. It's 11.45 on Saturday morning and you could be forgiven for wondering where all the fun is on the "Rock Train" to Rosbrien.

In the old days it was a different set-up. A special charter would chug down the South Dublin coast and creak to a halt at Blackrock station. There over 150 Blackrock Rugby Club supporters would be siphoned on board. Wives, fathers, family, friends, players. When they returned in the evening, egress from the train would be more ungainly. Conway's pub in the main street would take the brunt of it. But there was heart. Commitment, too. The club was more than Saturday's results.

Today there are 21 travelling supporters. A hard core of enthusiasts refusing to let a tradition die.

"There is no loyalty to clubs anymore. Players will go where they get the best deal. They'll leave a club like that," says one resigned supporter clicking his fingers. "But do you know who is coming down today. . . Brian O'Driscoll and Emmet Farrell. You've no idea how important that is for the team and the club. . . for the guys to see them on the sideline showing their support."

There are three layers to the "Rock Train". Young school age enthusiasts, plugged into CD players and listening to music that the older group would call noise. There is a stratum of "sensible dads" and then there's the messy middle order. Cards out. Anyone for a Carlsberg?

The mood is anxious. They don't want rain. Blackrock run the ball. They are athletic, young, arrogant. They now have a reputation as being live and dangerous, possibly light. Last year's hairshirt of second division football is forgotten after a blizzard of wins and promotion. Old Crescent will tear into them.

The bus from the station rocks over a stream and a bumpy ride up the gravel lane disgorges the crew. Bog grass is making an effort to encroach on the warm-up pitch. We fan out around the ground and watch the next 89 minutes unfold.

Alan McGowan fritters away a few kicking chances into the wind after catching a flat Crescent defence and skilfully chipping them on the run for Blackrock's first try.

Home full back Brian Begley is lethal from the boot and Blackrock know it but they confine him to three points in the first half. That chapter ends with scrumhalf James Ferris wheeling around the blind side of a breakdown, kicking ahead and diving for the second try.

The script is being re-written and the visitors are 3-20 ahead with the wind in their faces. Nathan Turner is slick at the back. A thinker. So, too, is Old Crescent New Zealander Wayne Munn at outside centre but it is Blackrock winger Paul Noble who uses pace and muscle down the right to hussle a try.

It is 6-27 but far from over. Old Crescent have created momentum while the referee fusses over scrums. No one knows what's happening except Blackrock's Niall Treston and Old Crescent's Des Clohessy. The two front rows have been sin-binned for not doing what they are told.

Old Crescent have now swung the game going into the last 25 minutes. Munn goes over, taking advantage of disarray after a lineout and a thrust from captain and number eight David Bowles. Begley converts and adds a penalty for 16-27 and the game appears within reach.

"We've spent a lot of time on our defensive work," says Blackrock coach Kevin West later, after his side have ridden the storm. "The fact of the game now is that you go without the ball for long periods. Once they have it, it's very hard to get it back. We did gain a bit of unity from that phase. In a perverse way it helped us come together a little. There was tremendous character and everyone was contributing."

The last quarter characterises the match. That is what West is talking about. Old Crescent batter the Blacrock defence across the park. Four times a Limerick body is hurled from three metres out at the Blackrock line and four times it is caught in mid-air and crumpled.

The qualities that Blackrock are not renowned for are now winning them the match. Old Crescent get nothing from their finest 20minute phase and Turner nicks a try for McGowan to convert for 16-34.

It's a tight schedule after the match. One pint and back to the station. The lament for lost days and a train load of travelling fans has softened. Now the mobile phones spread the news. But the hard core are deferential, pleasantly and midly shocked at the bottle of their team. It might be the start of something new.

"Comin' back to Stradbrook?" asks one of the older troopers. "It's going to be animal."

Scoring sequence: 4min: A McGowan try, con 0-7; 18: McGowan pen 0-10; 30: B Begley pen 310; 32: McGowan pen 3-13; 37: J Ferris try, McGowan con 3-20. 43: Begley pen 6-20; 45: P Noble try, McGowan pen 6-27; 49: W Munn try, Begley con 13-27; 51: Begley pen 16-27; 83: N Turner try, McGowan con 16-34; 89: M Bird try, Begley con 23-34.

Old Crescent: B Begley; B Leahy, W Munn, M Brodie, C Doyle; B Treacy, E Reddan; D Clohessy, M Hayes, J Cullinane, B Toland, M Bird, G Shoeman, P Glamuzina, D Bowles (capt.). Replacements; I Bloomer for Toland (6 mins); G Evans for Cullinane (62 mins).

Blackrock: N Turner; P Noble, M Jackson, G Browne, C Kilroy; A McGowan, J Ferris; A McSweeney, S Byrne, I McLoughlin, R Casey, L Cullen (Capt.), T Hogan, R Rogers, J Ryan. Replacements: N Treston for M Loughlin (60 mins), G McEvoy for Byrne (76 mins); R Murphy for Ryan (78 mins). Referee: G Doyle (Ulster).

Yellow cards: Old Crescent - Begley, Clohessy, Hayes. Blackrock - Treston.