Mon12Monivea opened their senior qualification tournament the way they mean to finish: victorious and merciless.

The 29-20 four-try bonus-point scoreline flattered neither the County Galway hosts nor visiting Richmond, and was an honest account of a match which entertained the 350 sideline at Castlegrounds.Mon1

Monivea, Connacht Junior League winners by a country mile some weeks from the competition’s close met Richmond – the pick of Munster’s second tier, on Saturday in glorious conditions. Beaten on a mucky pitch by the physically-imposing Tullamore in the All-Ireland Junior Cup, the Monivea backs relished the chance to cut loose on firm green ground, and on several occasions did so with enthusiasm.

Bizarrely, such freedom was not nearly as frequent as it could have been, the Monivea forwards seemingly reluctant to part with possession. Had they, the score would have likely pushed them two tries clear by half-time, and another midway through the restart.

Mon10Instead, Monivea went to the break three points clear 17-14 up.

Richmond opened the scoring three minutes in to the second spell with a well-judged penalty, but as was the case in the first half any ascendancy was short-lived. Two promising Monivea backline forays forced Richmond deep into their own territory, and when the halves Darren Blade and Ger O’Connor fired clean quick ball across the face of the posts they found Seamey Fahey only too eager to claim the five pointer, 15m in from the right-hand touch. O’Connor, spot on with the pass, was unable to add the extras with his right.Mon8

Monivea centre Colm Neary ably-backed colleague Kevin Higgins throughout the game but clocked out early with nine minutes on the clock courtesy of a yellow card. The fact Monivea’s forwards had conceded no shortfall throughout to the green and whites meant they weren’t about to let parity slide 22-17 up.

Monivea’s backs had caused a myriad raft of problems for the visitors with a full complement of seven, six was hardly going to make a difference. That said, the final six minutes all got very interesting.

Starting with a kickable penalty right out in front, Richmond sensibly opted for the points to go within two 22-20 down rather than attempt to hammer home a numerical advantage against a backline several cuts above their own. Richmond returned the Monivea kick-off with interest and, as wished for moments ago, desperate Monivea defence earned Richmond another kickable opportunity.

Mon2Ten metres off the spot which had gifted them three just after the halftime break, Richmond’s 10 sprayed it wide. With four on the clock, Monivea climbed back into the driving seat and themselves secured a kickable penalty on the 22m, 15m from the right-hand touch – a doddle for O’Connor on recent form.

The on-field brains trust gathered for a family conference and weighed their options. On one hand was a two-point buffer with two mins on the clock, three-quarters of a pitch to play with and backs with a newfound lease of life; on the other a dead-cert three points with time enough for a solitary restart.Mon5

The penalty would have given Monivea a worthy win (and four table points) but would have allowed Richmond to carry through a bonus point which may have played havoc in the event neither Clogher Valley nor Skerries claimed a clean sweep. A tapped penalty would keep the hosts within 20m of the Richmond goal-line, and a resultant try would deny a possibly-problematic loser’s bonus point, inflate the Monivea aggregate by a potential seven, and gift them an all-important four-try bonus point.

Mon11Blade, O’Connor et alia sided with the pair of proverbials, and gunned for gold.

With no break in play, the two minutes came and went, and the phases piled on. It took some fleet footwork from the ever-dangerous Higgins at 12 (and some lingering Christmas kilograms), to part-breach the Richmond defence. He might have gone down a foot short of the line, but Higgins knew if his arm was even half as long as his memory, cup rugby has longbeen a game of inches.

With an overhand right Jack Demspey would have been proud of, Higgins planted the ball on the chalk for the fairytale four-try finish. O’Connor pushed them beyond the seven-point buffer with the conversion.

MonHigginsSkerries cleaned up Ulstermen Clogher Valley in the other fixture, and if Monivea win their next one, the Dubliners will be baying for Galway blood given Monivea tipped them up back in October in the All-Ireland Junior Cup 9-8 away in Holmpatrick.

Skipper Darren Blade was upbeat after the game, but readily conceded his crowd had made life unnecessarily difficult on Saturday.

“We had a plan, and that plan would have worked. We just didn’t really stick to it.”

He was a little more impressed with the final quarter though.

“It was ballsy of Richmond to take the penalty while they were still five down. That took guts, and it nearly paid off too. But we knew ourselves as well, if we could get down the other end we could score.

“The chat we had when we won the penalty was pretty civil. There were as many arguments for three points as there were for the try. We went for the try. We got it.”

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