The Cork Admirals hit the road for the final time in the regular season last Sunday, travelling to Navan RFC to take on the Meath Bulldogs. The Admirals came out on top but were pushed all the way by a well drilled Bulldogs outfit who led for much of the game. A strong third and fourth quarter was the difference. The Admirals put three scoring drives back to back to back which saw the Ads take the lead and then turn the screw pulling away to finish victors on a scoreline of 30-13.
The game was played in sweltering weather conditions. The sun was splitting the stones and the air was thick and heavy with humidity, water bottles were flowing faster than a cheetah and the coolers of ice were melting faster than the polar ice caps. The defence took the field first and veteran cornerback John “Sul” O’Sullivan was able to stay cool in the heat grabbing a fantastic interception by wrestling a deep ball from the arms of a Bulldogs receiver.
Another long road trip was the catalyst for a poor start from the offence and good field position went a begging after an unsuccessful attempt on fourth down. The Bulldogs then put together a drive of their own and a pair of first downs put them in the red zone. The drive stalled but the Bulldogs had a trick up their sleeve. Instead of attempting a thirty yard kick they executed a fake field goal to perfection and caught the Admirals napping; scoring a touchdown in the process. The resulting PAT sailed wide and the score was 6-0 to the Bulldogs.
The offence continued to struggle and a punt and an interception ended the next two drives before they could get going. The Bulldogs were in the ascendency at this point and put together a long drive which gave them a great opportunity with a first and goal from the seven yard line. The defence stiffened up at the right time though. Safety Ayo Mumuni, who was having a huge game, made a fantastic play on second down to save a score, getting off a pair of blockers to make a tackle for loss when a touchdown looked likely. A sack on third down from defensive end Kieran Murphy pushed the Bulldogs back even further. When the Bulldogs went for it on fourth and goal from the fifteen cornerback John O’Sullivan was on hand again to grab his second pick of the day and finally kill off the drive.
This turnover sparked the team into life and the offence clicked into gear and put together an eleven play, seventy yard drive to get the team on the scoreboard. Quarterback Jimmy Diedrich connected with running back Brian McCarthy for eighteen yards, then wide receiver Cillian McGillyCuddy for another twenty. Tight end “Tall” Paul O’Driscoll got in on the action for a twenty yard catch before Diedrich again found him running down the seam for a twenty three yard score. The same duo combined for a successful two point try to leave the score at the half 8-6 to the Admirals.
The halftime break came as a welcome respite for both teams. The conditions were taking their toll and both sets of players were feeling the pressure from the elements and the opposition alike.
The Bulldogs enjoyed much the better of the opening half but a well executed drive before the half left the Admirals enjoying an unlikely lead. The Admirals received the kickoff to start the second half. A fumble on the first play from scrimmage handed the ball to the Bulldogs in great a position and they made no mistake. A few plays later they were in and after a successful kick the score was 13-8 Bulldogs.
The teams traded punts on the following drives and the tension around the game was beginning to grow. Barry “Baz” Rafferty was now in the game for the Admirals and he started to have some success running the football. With the third quarter coming to a close the Admirals managed to put a drive together. O’Driscoll had another big catch and run. Rafferty dragged a defender along with him for another first down. McGillycuddy showed great concentration and hands down on the goal line and another big catch left the Admirals knocking on the door. Diedrich got the ball in the end zone finally, diving over the line to beat the tackler. The two point pass attempt was broken up and the Admirals held a slender 14-13 advantage.
The game took a big turn on the following kickoff. The ball was allowed to hop by the Bulldogs and the Admirals were on it like a flash. Rookie wideout Andrew Lyons dived in and knocked the ball away from the Bulldogs player before he could secure it and linebacker Romain Beretti gobbled up possession for the Admirals. The Admirals bench signalled their approval after a great hustle play by the two players.
The offence smelled blood and went straight to work. Rafferty picked up a first down on a swing pass from Diedrich and was just stopped short inside the ten. A couple of plays later Diedrich smuggled the ball into the end zone behind Rob Hennessey and Séan Tynan on a QB sneak. Rafferty ran in the crucial two point try and the Admirals were now two scores ahead at 22-13.
The Bulldogs were now under pressure on all sides and the defence upped the ante by driving the Bulldogs back. Defensive lineman Rob Fitton who was prominent all day made a strong tackle in the backfield to halt one drive and Romain Beretti had a sack on third down to make sure another went nowhere. A defence that had been under pressure in the first half tightened up immensely after the second score and only a pair of first downs were given up in the second half.
The offence wanted another score and on their following possession they increased the lead. Rafferty bulldozed another first down and O’Driscoll picked up another huge chunk to take him well over a hundred on the day. McGillycuddy made another spectacular circus catch just short of the goal line and Rafferty walked it into the endzone behind a big push from the offensive line. When Rafferty added another two points to cap off an impressive debut at running back the scoreline read 30-13 and the Admirals had a healthy cushion.
Both teams failed to add to their tallies in the remaining minutes of the fourth quarter. The Admirals had a few more highlights though. Andrew Lyons got in on the action on offence and had a solid catch in traffic, holding onto the ball after a big hit on a bang bang play. At the end of the drive McGillycuddy pinned the Bulldogs back inside the ten on a fantastically placed punt. The clock ran out with the Admirals driving again but it was safe to say everyone was glad to hear the final whistle.
With the win the Admirals move to 6-0 for the season. That also brings to a close the away games on the team’s schedule with just two home games remaining against the Louth Mavericks and the Waterford Wolves. The Admirals are now also guaranteed the number one seed in the IAFL 1 South and a home semi final on July 17th. There is a lot of work to be done between now and then however and next Sunday sees the visit of the in form Louth Mavericks. Kickoff is at 2pm in Carrigaline RFC.