By Gerry Thornley, Irish Times. Mon, Feb 12, 1996
ON A normal Sunday, the locals say, Creggs is a town in the middle of nowhere going no where. Eight miles’ beyond Roscommon. You could drive into it, see nothing but four dogs dozing on the sidewalks, and keep on driving. Even the pubs’ doors would remain closed until 9 pm. But this was no ordinary Sunday. The pride of the village were hosting the All Blacks.
The Connemara All Blacks came too, unbeaten in 11 matches this season and 92 matches and eight years of regular season combat at Connacht Junior League level. But Creggs, who beat them in a play off four seasons ago, themselves had put together a 10 game winning run since an opening day defeat, so this was the big one., Everything to play for, a Connacht Junior League title and an invitation to the All Ireland League.
Creggs had to win to force a play off. The All Blacks superior points differential (plus 220 to plus 131 being ignored by the Connacht Branch, who know a lucrative play off in the making when they see one). The All Blacks had to at least draw to deny Creggs another tilt at the title and the Connacht Branch that money spinning play off in the Sporting round in Galway Next door to the clubhouse, Bradleys pub put it simply. Do or die at the Green”.
The Green is virtually in the heart of the village, and by 2.30pm there wasn’t much sign of life. A photographer was putting on his, wellies and extricating his cameras from the car boot. The pubs were quiet. But gradually cars started and three mini busses few hundred visitors from Clifden. Come kick off there were over 1,000 present.
Creggs have a good set up, two,, pitches, the main one walled in with,” perimeter advertising, a sure sign of good legwork by the alickadoos. They have their own club house and their own dressing rooms, and they” don’t owe a penny. Their substitutes wore matching designer track suits. The All Blacks wore a job lot collection of bibs, and their two flankers both wore 6.
The All Blacks have comparatively little, although they’re working on it an IRFU grant and planning permission that will ensure dressing rooms are built for, next season. But they’ve spirit aplenty and, of course, a reputation.
Quite how you’d wonder. A well worn, thirty something team, of, hardy hoors with their own variant, on a Pontypool front row who’ve been packing down for a decade or”, more they play it off the cuff. A beefier, taller Creggs pack, average age 27, had three line out jumpers to the All Blacks none. For 20 minutes or more they owned the ball, through their locks, Barry, Kilcommins and Kevin O’Rourke.
Creggs’ Connacht Junior outside half, Ger Dowd, their one true veteran at 35, aimed unerringly for the, slopes toward the corners at the pavilion end and pinned back the All Blacks’ pack. Local knowledge goes a long way. Two early penalties out of three by Dowd gave them a 6-0 platform.
Hitting the rucks hard, recycling it in true 1990s fashion, they monopolised possession. John Malone, struck back for the Blacks’ with a 16th minute penalty, but Dowd, made it 9-3 after 29 minutes. The Blacks played damage limitation rugby till the break. In the teeming rain, the crowd were warming nicely.
Joe Healy, the All Blacks coach told his men to play it fast and loose. Within four minutes of the restart, they ran a couple of tap penalties towards half way, and the ball was popped to their 40 year old hooker Ciaran Canavan, one of those who, when the going gets tough…
The Man of the Match took the pop ball and, surprisingly, chipped ahead, but, more importantly,, chased ahead with gusto. Alongside him were the centres, P J Bourke and James Conroy. Creggs, a good but strictly orthodox side, were all over the place. Bourke intercepted a desperate fly hack to touch and passed inside for, who else, Canavan to crash over the line to make it 9-8. Game on.
Creggs always had an “out” in the kick to touch, and they won the line outs by 21-7 but the unorthodox was gradually wearing down the orthodox. Dowd’s right boot Creggs’ only recourse to points by now, missed with a third drop goal attempt. Desperation, crept into both their play and their supporters.
Bernard Keaney, the Blacks’ much coveted young flanker, was becoming, a tear away for Creggs, to handle, single handedly disrupting about three opponents in turn as handling errors crept into Creggs’ game.
The Blacks were spinning it wide” to their wings, Pat O’Toole and Pat O’Neill, in what was also becoming, a minor little reprise of Scotland versus France. Creggs were soon blowing hard and chances came the All Blacks’ way.
Henry O’Toole was just short, with a penalty from half way Malone was just wide with another ]Henry O’Toole just failed to cling on to Pat O’Toole’s high return pass inside with the line a begging, and then the latter chased his own kick ahead. The Creggs’ full back Kieron Dowd, winning himself a night’s supply of black porter, dived for the ball simultaneously. Padraig Gilmore, a good referee, awarded a 22 drop out, as well as one final touch line penalty for Malone, which was well off target.
Grimly and stubbornly, Creggs hung on to their 9-8 lead for dear life, and a final whistle that was greeted with every gamut of vocal emotion. You’d go a long way to seed better. “In 20 years of Creggs Connemara games, I haven’t seen better,” ventured one contented local.
“On the day we didn’t deserve to accepted Healy generously. Creggs laid a very solid foundation through their line out, and controlled the game well in the first half. A play off on the wider confines of the Sporting round will suit his team, all the more so given a reasonable day.
“The last minutes were pretty rough,” admitted the Creggs coach Frank Brandon, who had died a “thousand deaths in that time. “But until then I thought we were in control”.
Skinning the All Blacks’ scalp was no big deal, he maintained, and he’d have reservations about joining the AIL, but it didn’t look like that. Creggs, no less than the Blacks, want it badly.
So, all good things come to an end and the Blacks’ 92 game run, endeth. They meet again next Sunday at the Sports ground in the play a off. The attendant Connacht Branch secretary, Bobby McGann reckons there’ll be 2,000 at it, and he looked happier than anyone.
Meantime, you couldn’t swing a dog in the clubhouse or the five, pubs. The pride of the village had done their stuff and the All Blacks were good naturedly, licking their wounds. A power failure dimmed no one’s mood. It ain’t over yet.