As season openers go it couldn’t have gone much worse for DCU. Nine tries and over fifty points conceded, not to mention a few injuries to go along with it. When you’re playing a quality Athlone IT side and are already missing some key names it certainly doesn’t help your cause when a few able bodies go down.
The early stages didn’t give much of an indication of the mauling that was to come. Sure, there was an early try conceded to Athlone winger Ian Costigan following a mistimed jump out of the defensive line, but DCU had some good possession early on. No 8 Isaac Porter carried powerfully all day and the score line getting out of hand only seemed to make him more determined to get on the ball and run at the Athlone rearguard and he combined well with tighthead prop Andrew Keating in launching an attack from deep in their own half. Unfortunately that was almost the sum total of DCU’s attack in the first half.
For Athlone had a great No 8 of their own. Aidan Connaughton had his way with the DCU defence all game and glided past three tacklers for his side’s second try of the game. Another Athlone player who ran the show was the aptly named Caolan Blade whose attack was every bit as sharp as his name. His small stature merely masked a level of power that caught DCU off guard.
After Keating was sent to the bin for a late hit, Blade was on hand to burrow over from close range following a driving maul from his pack. On an occasion where DCU did get down into an attacking position a blindside overlap was overlooked and the chance was gone.
This was new DCU coach Phil de Barra’s first game in charge with a side that had a lot of new faces and that showed in defence. Athlone’s Blade had a steady stream of forwards coming of both shoulders and they often made large inroads which needed the attention of two DCU defenders to stop. The extra space was exploited ruthlessly as Athlone tagged on three more tries before the interval to hold a thirty four point lead.
And while that was far from what de Barra had hoped for before the match his side did respond after the break. The introduction of Colm Coffey to the backline added depth to the attack which had been missing and he often showed good feet and hands to gain ground. But it was the switch of Cormac O’Leary to ten that really ignited the DCU attack. His flat attack of the gainline encouraged teammates to do the same and the angles of running vastly improved. The improved effort eventually yielded a try for winger Shane McGrath.
Unfortunately the renewed spark didn’t produce anymore tries and it was left to Athlone’s Connaughton to grab two of his side’s three second half tries to complete his hat trick. It wasn’t a good way to open the season but an improved second half display may have unearthed some potential combinations in the backline and with a few big names yet to return, there is still some cause for optimism for DCU rugby yet.
Image Credit: Fiona Hughes