RUGBY | Navan break Dundalk U14 hearts to snatch a draw right at the death
Leinster U14 League | Navan 19–19 Dundalk RFC
Despite falling to a narrow defeat against Skerries at the Mill Road nine days earlier, spirits in the Dundalk U14 camp were high as they travelled to Navan on Sunday against arguably the best team they faced last season.
After an intense pre-season, Dundalk are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with at U14 level, however the acid test would be against the mighty Navan — on their home turf.
For the first time this season, coaches Mark and Gerry had almost a full squad to choose from and the boys were chomping at the bit to put their best foot forward.
As they did against Skerries the previous week, Dundalk came flying out of the traps, enjoying the lion’s share of territory with the forwards on fire, putting severe pressure on the Navan backline and forcing plenty of errors.
In attack. the lads showed plenty of flair, running great lines and putting Navan under severe pressure with a few scoring chances almost converted.
The breakthrough came in the 10th minute, scrum half Conall O’Callaghan spotting space in behind the Navan backline and putting a lovely chip in for winger Leo McRuairi to chase which went into touch around the Navan 10 metre line.
From the ensuing line out, lock Joseph Pheifer stole a superb ball — when he really had no right to do so — and made great ground inside the Navan 22.
The ball was recycled and moved quickly to centre Luke Andrews who cut a sumptuous line to cross for the first try. Out half Robert Malone superbly slotted a tricky conversion too make it 7–0.
After a few more narrow misses, and as the clock ticked towards half time, Dundalk conceded a penalty inside their own 22 after Navan had enjoyed a rare period of pressure inside the visitors’ half.
As Dundalk switched off, Navan quickly tapped and went and powered over the line. The conversion made it 7–7 on the scoreboard which was harsh on Dundalk.
There was, however, enough time for the restart. Dundalk won possession and after a few phases the ball made its way to Niall Brennan who crossed for a superb trademark individual try which was converted by Malone to give the Mill Road side a deserved 14–7 half time lead.
Things were a lot more even after the break as Navan came back into the game by upping the intensity.
It was the Mill Road side, though, that enjoyed the better of things and Niall Brennan broke for another fantastic solo try although a very difficult conversion attempt was missed, 19–7 Dundalk.
Navan threw the kitchen sink at Dundalk in the final 10 minutes and the turning point came with about five minutes to go when captain Jamie Rafferty received a yellow card and Dundalk were reduced to 14. The hosts immediately scored a converted try from the ensuing penalty, leaving just five points in the difference.
The numerical disadvantage, together with general lack of structure, left Dundalk rattled and Navan, knowing it was now or never, crossed in the corner to level the score with their final attack in the last play of the game.
An almost impossible conversation, against the tough breeze from near the touchline was missed by the home side, leaving the honours even at full time.
Although Dundalk felt they threw the win away, a draw against Navan — in Navan — is a significant improvement and the boys are improving week by week and will be a match for anybody in Leinster if they can keep learning and working hard.
Next up it’s the small matter of a Louth derby against Boyne in Drogheda at the weekend.
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