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Hard fought win keeps Portlaoise Women in the hunt near summit of Leinster rugby Division 3 league

Portlaoise's Aoibheann Egan drives at the heart of the Longford defence during the Women's Leinster League Division 3 game in Togher on Sunday Photo: Denis Byrne

Portlaoise 8 Longford 5 
Leinster Women’s Rugby League Division 3

Portlaoise Women welcomed Longford Women to Togher on Sunday for a fixture, the result of which, might well decide who is going to be in position to challenge Naas at the top of the table come the end of the season.

They are now up to third place in the table and sit just five points behind New Ross who are second – with a game in hand.

Longford travelled with a strong squad and they certainly brought their A game on a blustery, damp yet bright Togher.

Longford kicked off with a strong wind behind them and went on the attack immediately. The muscular Longford pack looked for contact and sought to dominate their smaller opponents and with strident vocal support from the sideline they took the game to Portlaoise in the first ten minutes.

This Portlaoise team however have shown their resilience over the last few weeks and they stuck gamely to their task and 15 minutes in they started to achieve dominance at the breakdown.

They gradually worked their way up the pitch and, following several strong drives by the Portlaoise forwards, the Palmer girls and Aoibhean Egan drove into the Longford 22.

The continuous pressure forced Longford to offend at the breakdown which resulted in the referee awarding a penalty to Portlaoise close to the posts. Commeth the hour, commeth the woman and scrum half Jenny Keegan stepped up and slotted the penalty to give Portlaoise a 3-0 lead 20 minutes into what was to become a real arm wrestle.

Longford restarted and play ebbed and flowed between the two 10 metre lines for the next ten minutes as both packs took each other on while both back lines tried to break free without success due to strong tackling and aggressive forward play from both sides.

On the half hour mark Longford won a penalty at the breakdown which they elected to kick to the corner from which they established a good attacking position five metres from the Portlaoise line.

Despite Rebecca Mullen’s best efforts at the front of the line out, Longford managed to win possession and, after several strong forward drives, they forced their way over the Portlaoise line to make it a 3-5 going into half time.

The Portlaoise women reorganised at half time and from the restart they established a position in the Longford half which they maintained throughout the remainder of the game.

They mixed the game up well for the next 20 minutes as they tried to break down the Longford defence through robust forward play allied to some flowing back line moves.

The Longford defence proved resilient with strong tackling in open play allied to aggressive tackling and rucking in the contact area.

While Longford struggled to move play from inside their 22-metre area, they were beginning to frustrate the Portlaoise women with their resolute defence and spirited play resulting in the home side conceding penalties in the face of this resolute defence.

Portlaoise however possess a never say die spirit so they kept pushing forward until eventually, having failed to cross the whitewash with yet another drive, they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts.

In such a close game conventional thinking would have been to kick your points and secure a one point lead going into the last quarter. But the Portlaoise ladies decided that they wanted to score the seven points so they ran the penalty from short range.

Several storming drives followed which were met by equally robust tackling from a brave and stoic Longford defence. The Portlaoise wave kept coming and they eventually crossed the line only for the referee to call it ‘held up’ much to the Portlaoise girls dismay with 10 minutes remaining on the clock.

From the ensuing goal line drop out Longford briefly gained a foothold in the Portlaoise half but strong running and astute kicking, from several penalties conceded by Longford, soon saw the Longford girls back in their own 22 desperately defending their narrow two point lead.

With time running out Portlaoise started to panic and they narrowed their game and started to take Longford on around the side of the ruck where their defence was strongest. Time after time the Portlaoise forwards picked and drove into the heart of the Longford defence only to be repulsed.

Then just as defeat seemed inevitable, up stepped out half and club captain Amy O’Callaghan to break down the right hand side of a ruck. As usual she was met with a bone jarring tackle but this time her twin sister Lyn was on hand and she latched onto her sister who drove her over the try line for the decisive score.

On a day for the forwards Rebecca Mullen was outstanding and she was ably supported by all the forwards who stuck to their task manfully on a really tough day.

The five front row forwards used on the day gradually achieved ascendency over a powerful Longford front five through real hard work and no little skill.

They were supported in this by second rows Catherine Delaney and Aoibhean Egan with superb rucking and cleaning and with aggressive carries close to the ruck.

The back row was outstanding with Emma Smith producing yet another excellent performance while Aly Holmes showed all her experience leading the way into every contact.

The player of the game was, without doubt, the irascible Becca Mullen who dominated the lineout, made several crunching tackles and carried the ball with aplomb.

In the backs Jenny Keegan kept the pack moving forward and moved the ball out to Amy O’Callaghan when the time was right.

The out half was always a running threat and she brought centres Patrycia Harrisam and Sandra Keegan into the game at the right time.

The centres ran and tackled well while neither wingers or fullback Lyn O’Callaghan got any real opportunity to shine in attack on a wet and difficult day.

PORTLAOISE SQUAD: Y. Palmer, R. Palmer, S. Gleeson, C. Delaney, A. Egan, E. Smith, R. Mullen, A. Holmes, J. Keegan, A. O’Callaghan, R. Palmer, P. Harrisam, S. Keegan, D. McGrath, L. O’Callaghan, J. Mullen, A. Hearns, N. Rowland, A. O’Sullivan


Jack Kavanagh wins this line out for Portlaoise during their Leinster League meeting with North Kildare in Togher Photo: Denis Byrne

Portlaoise 17 North Kildare 29
Leinster League Division 2A

Portlaoise may have lost on Sunday to North Kildare but of more concern was the well-being of player Simon Williams.

The wing-forward picked up an injury midway through the second half and play was suspended for close to an hour after an ambulance had to be called and the player treated.

Everyone in the club wishes Simon a speedy recovery.
As for the game itself, it was always going to be a difficult assignment for Portlaoise who went into it missing several players. In the pack alone they were without Ryan McEvoy, Eoin Keenan and team captain Ross Cooper.

That said, Portlaoise must have wondered how this game got away from them. After conceding a try in the fifth minute, they went on to totally dominate the possession stakes in the first half despite playing into the stiff wind.

Most of this half was played deep inside North Kildare territory but the best the home side had to show for all their possession was an injury time try just before the break.

In contrast, North Kildare made four or five forays inside the Portlaoise 22 and came away with three first half tries. Most of the damage was caused by missed first time tackles that allowed the visitors get in behind the Portlaoise defence.

Portlaoise had a golden opportunity to open their account with 23 minutes on the clock after a great break by Martin Phelan.

From a ruck close to the North Kildare line a Portlaoise picked but ran into one of his own players giving North Kildare a relieving penalty.

North Kildare might well have scored their second try three minutes later only to be denied by a magnificent steal by Simon Williams.

They would add a penalty on the half hour mark and run in a brace of tries, both conceded by poor tacking, to go into the break leading 24-5.

The Portlaoise try on 42 minutes was a wonderful score. Full back Phelan ran on to a North Kildare clearance and went on a dazzling run before popping a pass to wing forward John Rogers.

He made more ground before throwing out a ;long pass to Niall Keenan who ran in for the try.

The home side threw themselves a lifeline 16 minutes into the second half. From a scrum ten metres from the North Kildare line the moved the ball left.

Replacement Joe O’Toole and Jack Reddin combined before sending James Rogers on a slicing run through the visitors’ defence.

A quick delivery from the ensuing ruck sent Martin Phelan over in the corner. Reddin’s magnificent conversion from the touch line brought the score to 12-24.

North Kildare scored another try before play had to be halted because on William’s injury.

Ironically, Portlaoise played their best rugby on the resumption of play almost an hour later. They moved the ball with intent and for the first time on the day their back line began to make inroads into the North Kildare defence.

They were rewarded when Sean Mullin danced his way past a few would-be tacklers to cross the line.

But that was as good as it would get for Portlaoise who must travel to Wexford next Sunday to play the game which was postponed a couple of weeks ago.

PORTLAOISE; Martin Phelan; Jamie Holohan, Philip O’Brien, Sean Mullin, Brian Dunne; Niall Keenan, Jack Reddin; Brian Flannery, Chris Cahill, Cameron Stewart; Jack Kavanagh, Eoghan Brennan; Simon Williams, John Rogers, Mark Sherlock.
Replacements: Eanna Delaney, Shane Reilly, Michael Rigney, Tadgh Mullen, Jay Buggy. Joe O’Toole

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