The Cork Admirals travelled to Mullingar RFC on Sunday last to take on the Westmeath Minotaurs in an IAFL 1 clash. The wind and the rain from previous games were nowhere to be seen as both teams were treated to the baking sunshine of a hot Sunday afternoon. The Admirals entered the game on a rich run of form recording three solid wins to start the season while the Minotaurs had split two close games with the Waterford Wolves. Everything was to play for.
Wins and losses went right out the window in the first quarter as the Minotaurs came to play and took the game right to the Admirals by marching up the field and scoring on their first drive. It looked like the Admirals had stopped the drive but a couple of sacks were wiped out by facemask penalties much to the defence's frustration. A couple of fruitful outside runs got the Minotaurs in scoring position. Again the Admirals looked like they had stuffed the drive after linebacker Romain Beréti knocked the Minoutaurs back five yards on a second and goal from the seven but a well thrown fade to the back corner of the end zone from 12 yards was reeled in to give Westmeath the lead. The extra point sailed wide of the target to leave the score at 6-0.
So for the first time all season the Admirals offence took the field while trailing on the scoreboard. They continued to move the ball well on the ground however a string of penalties made a long field even longer and despite racking up a number of first downs the drive petered out and the Admirals turned the ball over on downs.
The Admirals defence was beginning to tighten up after a switch in formation and the Minotaurs struggled to get the chains moving. The Admirals D Line of Cathal "soup" Buckley, Bryan "Bob" O'Brien, Brian Leonard and Kieran Murphy started to take control on the line of scrimmage. A sack by Buckley put an end to one drive and couple of balls were knocked loose but none recovered. Two successive drives resulted in three and outs and it looked like the defence was getting on top.
The offence meanwhile continued to move the ball but couldn't get into the end zone. Running back Brian McCarthy continued his early season form cranking out the yards and moving the chains but more flags than a UN convention were not helping the Admirals at this point. Another pair of Admirals drives petered out despite gaining positive yards and midway through the second quarter the Admirals were forced to punt on their own 35. A fumbled snap gave the Minotaurs great field position which they took advantage of making no mistake on the short field. A series of runs finished with the Minotaurs punching it in from a short distance. A well executed kick left the score at 13-0 to the Minotaurs and it looked like the Admirals might be in a bit of trouble.
The following Admirals drive needed to produce something and it did. Full back Jason Dowling, McCarty, and quarterback Jimmy Diedrich all carried the ball for positive yards. A few passes were hauled in by wide receivers Kieran Kiely and Cillian McGillicuddy. Tight end Paul O'Driscoll had a nice catch and run over the middle. The drive was capped off when Diedrich found McGillycuddy in the end zone from two yards for the score. The two point try was unsuccessful and the score at the half was 13-6.
The Admirals were back in the game and would receive the ball to start the second half. Cillian McGillycuddy was back to return and had another big run back in the return game setting up good field position about the halfway. Catches by McGillycuddy and Ben Jenkins got the Admirals in scoring range and the drive was finished off when Diedrich found O'Driscoll in the end zone. The two point conversion was unsuccessful again when a pass was well defended by the Minotaurs who now held a slender 13-12 advantage.
Momentum was now squarely with the Cork team. After a quick three and out and a thirty yard return by McGillycuddy, who switched the field beautifully, the offence was back on the field looking for the go ahead score but that was to prove elusive. Following another well balanced drive the Admirals moved close to the Weatmeath end. A combination of miscues and good red zone defence kept the admirals out however and again a gilt edge chance went a begging with the clock ticking into the fourth quarter.
The Admirals defence were well in control now and they stepped it up again. When Bob O'Brien ripped a ball loose and scooped it up for the first turnover of the game the Admirals were knocking on the door. But the Admirals still couldn't muster that go ahead score. Time was now the enemy and pair of Minotaurs first downs wore the clock down even more. A phenomenal punt on fourth down pinned the Admirals deep, way back at their own five yard line with 3:58 on the clock. It was now or never and eighty five yards in between.
The Admirals didn't panic and stayed true to the offensive game plan. Brian McCarthy had a fifteen yard run off tackle and a horsecollar penalty at the end of the play gave the Admirals some breathing room. A scramble by Diedrich got a couple of yards before Jason Dowling rumbled up the middle for ten more. McGillycuddy had a catch tip toeing the sideline for another gain. Dowling got a few more up the middle and Diedrich got the yard for a first and more on a quarterback sneak. An illegal motion penalty on first down negated a big play by O'Driscoll up the middle and threatened to derail the drive. Brian McCarty went back in after an injury on the horsecollar and got five more. The sun was belting and the Admirals timeouts to preserve the clock were welcome water breaks for both sides. Diedrich and McGillycuddy got the Admirals in touching distance following a fantastic twenty five yard catch by McGillycuddy on a deep throw down the Admirals sideline. A last gasp tackle kept him from going in and that set up a first and goal from the five with under two minutes on the clock. Dowling had two tough carries inside and was only kept out by inches on second down. The Admirals called their final timeout with one minute on the clock and two downs left to get that all elusive go ahead score. The sneak that worked for a first down earlier in the drive was to work again and center Rob Hennessy made enough room for Diedrich to dive over the line for the touchdown. The two point conversion finally worked and Diedrich found Paul O'Driscoll on the attempt to leave the score 20-13 with 58 seconds on the clock, more than enough time for some more drama.
Knowing that only a converted touchdown would do anything for the Minotaurs the Admirals kicked off deep and an excellent effort on the return forced Admirals kicker Nic McSweeney into a touchdown saving tackle on the sideline thirty yards from the Admirals end zone. Westmeath tried to air it out to get the score and got half the distance they needed on third down. On a first and ten from the Ads fifteen linebacker and defensive captain Harris "Snacks" Monagan had the Westmeath tight end in coverage. He read the play perfectly by diving in front of the Minotaurs player while the ball was in the air and showed great hands to snare the football. With only seconds left in the clock the Admirals were in victory formation to see out the win. Final score Cork Admirals 20 Westmeath Minotaurs 13.
A heartbreaking loss for the Minotaurs no doubt who provided by far and away the strongest challenge to the Admirals this season. Cork will look back and try to figure out how four hundred yards of offence and over twenty first downs only yielded twenty points. Miscues on special teams, penalties and some errors in the red zone will all have to be ironed out this week as another tough test awaits next Sunday May 15th when the undefeated West Dublin Rhinos come to Dolphin RFC.