The Cork Admirals took a firm grip on top of the IAFL 1 South with a solid 36-14 win over the West Dublin Rhinos in sunny Dolphin RFC last Sunday. The two teams came into the game as the only remaining undefeated teams in the IAFL 1 Division so somebody's perfect record to date was about to get its first blemish.
The Admirals entered the game without linebacker Chris Allen; who was off on his honeymoon and leading running back Brian McCarthy who was recovering from a knock picked up during the previous outing. On a positive note though it was great to see injured duo of Stephen Hayes and Shane Dennehy back on the sidelines with both showing signs that their recoveries are progressing well.
The Admirals won the toss and deferred putting their defence out first. Harris "The Snackmonster" Monagan kept his great run of form going by getting into the backfield tackling for a big loss on the first play. A flag for intentional grounding pushed the Rhinos into a third and California. Many moons ago, even before the forward pass was legal, it was a regular enough occurrence to punt on third down and that's exactly what the Rhinos attempted. A strong push up the middle from Brian "Leonard" Leonard and Bryan "Bob" O'Brien forced the kick into the back of a Rhinos player. Kieran Murphy was the quickest to react and fought for the ball to claim possession for the Admirals.
For the first time this year the offence couldn't get into gear from the off and a holding penalty was key in stalling the drive. The Ads went for it on fourth and ten from the Rhinos twenty and when quarterback Jimmy Diedrich threw up a hopeful ball it was picked off for his first interception of the year.
The Admirals defence took the pressure off by snaring another turnover on the following drive. Monagan and Berétti both made stops in the backfield before Berétti caught an interception over the middle and finished it with a weaving 25 yard run back for the opening score. The two point try fell incomplete and the scoreboard read 6-0 to the home team.
The defence remained resolute throughout the first half yielding very little to the Rhinos. Four successive drives yielded only two first downs. The Rhinos were finding it hard to get anything going in the air or on the ground. Also promising for the Admirals were the performance of defensive lineman Rob Fitton and rookie linebacker Conor Linehan who both got in on a few stops in the first half in their respective first extended playing time.
The offence found its groove and put two scoring drives back to back. A string of completions by Diedrich got the ball moving and running back Nic Coffi was growing into the game. Two rushing touchdowns of 18 and 70 yards as well as two two point conversions from the rampaging Frenchman put clear daylight between the teams at 22-0.
It was looking like the Admirals were coasting to a healthy halftime lead but one play was to change the complexion of the half. A punt on the following Admirals drive was returned for a touchdown by the Rhinos. A short, high kick resulted in most of the Admirals coverage beating the ball down the field. When the hop took the ball back towards the line of scrimmage and a couple of Admirals players allowed it to keep rolling the Rhinos were quick to exploit the error and ran the ball back unopposed. A frustrating score to give away considering how well the defence had played in the first half. The Rhinos ran in the two point try and the half time whistle killed the following Admirals drive which left the score at 22-8 with both teams knowing that the next score would have a massive bearing on the game.
The Admirals had no intention of giving up the lead however or of allowing the Rhinos any further back into the game. The first drive after the restart was much smoother from the Admirals offence. The Rhinos were loading up against the run so Diedrich picked apart the secondary with completions to Nic Coffi, Cillian McGillycuddy and Paul O'Driscoll. The drive was topped off when "Tall Paul" grabbed his sixth touchdown of the year in the end zone from six yards out. The two point try fell incomplete to leave the score at 28-8.
The Admirals defence continued to disrupt the Rhinos intentions resulting in a difficult half for the Rhinos on offence. To their credit they still played hard and got their reward when the Rhinos running back broke a tackle on the line and scampered down the middle of the field for a huge gain just getting tackled shy of the goal line by Rob Fitton, a fantastic effort by the defensive lineman to chase down the play and save the touchdown. A few plays later though the Rhinos were in for their second score on a quarterback sneak and a ray of hope was there with the score at 28-14.
The Admirals ground out a large portion of the third quarter on an eighteen play drive mixing pass and run. Admirals running backs were dropping like flies and both Jason Dowling and Nic Coffi left the game injured. Stuart Donaldson and Romain Berétti picked up the slack and had some good carries picking up a pair of first downs each. The Ads couldn't punch the ball in though and the drive stalled at fourth and goal from the five.
The Admirals defence was still in a stingy mood however and with time now in the fourth quarter the Rhinos were forced to air it out but to no avail. Despite giving up a pair of first downs for flags after the play the secondary was never in danger of being exposed. The offence then put the game beyond doubt by adding another touchdown strike when Diedrich connected with O'Driscoll again running down the seam for a 23yd score. With the same pair combining for the two point try the score was now 36-14 to the Ads with under five to play.
The following Admirals drive was looking like troubling the scoreboard again but a fumbled exchange five yards out resulted in a turnover. There was still plenty of time for some more drama. The defence was looking for another score and should have had it too when safety Ayo Mumuni picked off a loosely thrown ball over the middle and returned it 25 yards to the house but a flag thrown against an Admirals player for celebrating prior to the ball crossing the line wiped out the score. The offence tried to get one more score but time expired with a second and goal from the one beckoning.
Overall the Admirals will be happy with the result. The score line showed a comfortable win over a tough rival. The offence were able to crank out another 400 yards but left a few scores on the field and turned the ball over twice. The defence was solid and put points on the board but got caught for one big play. Another plus was the playing time for some new players including Eoghan Lynch on the offensive line. Worrying though will be the accumulation of another few injuries to starters in the offensive side of the ball.
So the Admirals move to 5-0 on the season and things will have to go very bad for the team to miss out on the playoffs. Next up is a road trip to Navan RFC to take on the Meath Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were the only team to defeat the Admirals in the regular season last year and will another tough outing as they are well in the race for a playoff spot of their own.