With twenty minutes to go to kick off on Saturday the Cashel dressing room resembled a busy surgeon’s operating list.
With Kevin Leamy, Alan Downey and Emmett Hall, out for some time, they were joined by Ollie McGlinchey, Danny Lambe, Kevin Quinlan and Rory O’Connor from the Queens game.
Michael Hickey was back. Andy Kelleher was a late call up to the bench as was David McCormack. Darren McGrath got his first start in the AIL. Little did we know that things would get worse on the injury front. Highfield had a huge pack and a lively back line. Cashel started better and took the game to Highfield. Pat O’Connor put them ahead after 7 minutes with a penalty. The game was played at a good pace but the lineout was proving difficult for Cashel and they were giving away good possession too easily.
On 22 minutes Pat O’Connor put Cashel 6 points ahead with another penalty. Then disaster struck as Brendan O’Connor had to leave the field with a knee ligament injury. The Highfield backs were getting plenty of possession but Giles Boland and Brian Silke in the centre and Pat O’Connor at full back were putting in some fierce tackles. Michael Cross who replaced Brendan O’Connor was making a nuisance of himself at every breakdown. John Ed O’Connor Sean Walsh and the irrepressible Philly Ryan were playing out of their skin. Ed Leamy was back to his best and in the front row the Stanley twins at prop and hooker and Cian O’Donnell were excellent.
The Cashel scrum was very solid. However on 27 minutes Highfield narrowed the gap to three points with a penalty. Then 3 minutes later disaster struck again as Philly Ryan who was playing so well had to leave the field with a dislocated shoulder, repeating an injury of nine years ago. It looks as if his season is over.
With two of the big men now off the field there were worries in the Cashel camp. Sub hooker David McCormack came on at wing forward and what a game he had. Good defence kept Highfield out as they pounded the Cashel line. The lines were cleared and half time arrived with Cashel ahead by 3 points and facing the breeze in the second half.
Then from the kick off a Cashel player was sin binned for tackling the fielder in the air. But as has happened so many times before the Cashel team began to believe. The forwards upped the tempo, the backs began to run the ball and in the meantime any Highfield player who tried to run was brought down. The pressure told and Pat O’Connor increased the Cashel lead to six points with a penalty. Andy Kelleher came on for Michael Hickey and he, with a point to prove, went on to play a fine role in the final 20 minutes. Then it was as if the shackles were thrown off and Cashel found another gear.
Cian O’Donnell turned over a great ball, Cashel were awarded a scrum, the ball came through the hands to Giles Boland and he made one of his trademark runs to score a wonderful try. He is a powerful runner and has a great ability to beat a defensive line. Pat O’Connor added the conversion. Three minutes later a great sweeping movement involving Conor Quinlan, Silke and Boland resulted in a penalty to Cashel which Pat O’Connor converted.
Cashel continued to pile on the pressure and with four minutes left the forwards kept the ball, went through the phases and David McCormack dived over for a good try which Pat O’Connor converted. Final score Cashel 26 Highfield 3.
This was not a classic contest but it must be said that for Cashel it was a brave performance built on a will to win and a belief that the players who came in were capable of contributing to the team. This result keeps Cashel in 7th position in the league with three games left. They now have a three week break and no doubt physio Thomas Ryan will be busy as he tries to get some of the injured players back on the field for the trip to Galway and the game with title contenders Galwegians.
Cashel: I Stanley, C O’Donnell, H Stanley, S Walsh, P Ryan, E Leamy, J E O’connor, B O’Connor, M Hickey, C Quinlan, D McGrath, B Silke, G Boland, R Mullane, P O’Connor, M Kelly, M Crosse, A Kelleher, D McCormack, J Ryan.