A thrilling finish for the two Kildare Division 2B sides to the first game of the All Ireland League season kept the all eyes glued to the pitch til the final whistle, writes Henry Bauress.
NUIM Barnhall: 19
Naas came out narrowly on top with a great performance having been 19-9 behind ten minutes into the second half.
But even they had to wait till the last kick of the game to know if they would have winners points.
NUIM Barnhall, having led for most of the match, did not help their cause when No.5, Conor McDermott was sent off for a spear tackle with around twelve minutes left on the clock.
Naas were only five point behind at that stage and defended well. But in the final minutes, Barnhall’s weakened pack did very well to push forward into the Naas half to try and give outhalf, Simon Gillespie an attempt at a match saving drop goal.
It was a relatively good kick given the distance and the pressure but it went wide. It was the last kick of the match and the home side had to watch Naas arms raise to the skies.
What ever the result of that final flurry it was a match that neither side deserved to loose but from Naas’s point of view, it was their second victory over the Parsonstown club in a month when they inflicted NUIM Barnhall’s only loss in four games in the Leinster Shield warm up series.
Naas started the game well and while the sides were quite well matched, Naas looked the most dangerous when they were at their attacking best in the year.
While running other skills are vital so too is kicking and this was not the best day for Simon Gillespie.
The home side might have taken in the lead in the second minute but kicker Gillespie’s penalty, was wide to the left.
Naas were buoyant mood in the early stages as they ran at the home defence and there were particularly good forays for winger , Rob Campbell, and centre, Darragh O’Shea, in the ninth and tenth minutes respectively.
Michael Brown responded with a great running effort for NUIM Barnhall in the 13 minute and only good Naas defence kept the visitors out of trouble.
A drop goal attempt by Gillespie in the 14 minute did not give the scoreboard minders any work to do. Gillespie was particularly unlucky when he hit the post with his penalty kick taken from far out on the right wing in the 16 minute.
The first score came in the 18 minute when Naas full back, David Ahern, kicked a penalty.
NUIM Barnhall equalized three minutes later, when Gillespie’s drop goal was off mark but his side were awarded a penalty which he converted.
Ahern had a long penalty shot wide in the 22 minute but Naas looked dangerous following a great break by Ahern and winger , Johnny Delaney in the 26 minute.
Gillespie put his side 6-3 ahead with a great penalty kick in the 32 minute and he added to Barnhall’s half time tally of 9-3 with a third penalty in the 42 minute.
A drop goal by the same player made it 12-3 in the 43 minute but Ahern replied with two penalties in the 45th and 49 minute to narrow the gap to 12-9.
The home side broke the ice in the 50 minute when a great break by winger, Eamon Daly, led to No.6, Tom McKeown finding the gap for a try near the left corner. Gillespie did well with the conversion to give Barnhall a 19-9 lead.
Barnhall looked the more confident side for the next ten minute but in the 61 minute, an important Naas try by winger, Rob Campbell, following good work by Paul Monahan, levelled things again.
Ahern missed the conversion but the five point margain was never something Naas looked incapable of closing.
They were not impeded by the sending off of McDermott in the 68 minute and in the 77 minute, home fears were realised when Bryce broke through for a try to make it 19-19 each. Ahern converted for a two point lead but Naas had to hold their collective nerves as they watched Gillespie’s last gasp drop goal go wide.
Great entertainment, especially at the e5 admission fee, on a beautiful day.
NUIM Barnhall (1-15):
Jim Nolan, Gareth Murray, Ray Dufficy, John Campbell, Conor McDermott, Tom McKeown, Cormac Dunne, Barry Dunne (capt), Rob Holt, Simon Gillespie, Rob McGrath, Pietar Morton, Michael Brown, Eamon Daly, Kevin Conroy. Subs (16-20): Dan Jennings, Robert Tiernan, Sam Condon, Farrell McManus.
Conor Finan, Niall Carson, Andrew Shirley, Gary Rowan, Steve Kinneavy, Daragh Kiely, Andrew Kearney, Paul Monahan, Sam Sutton (capt), Peter Osbourn, Johnny Delaney, Henry Bryce, Daragh O’Shea, Rob Campbell, David Ahern. Subs (16-20): Jock Tolan, Jason Harney, David Benn, Justin Monahan, Diarmuid Carr.