A relentlessy sunny day in Castleknock College played host to the West Dublin Rhinos home season opener versus the Cork Admirals. These two sides last met in the 2010 IAFL playoffs when the Rhinos travelled to Cork and pulled out an upset victory in a game separated by just one score. This time Cork were on the road but they had their eyes set on revenge.
The Rhinos took to the field with good field position early in the game after a squib kick by Cork on the opening kick off was collected by Alex McGuirk on the Rhinos front line. The Rhinos offense immediately started to move the ball methodically both through the air and on the ground, tight end Ross Carrick and running back Sean Power helped move the chains a number of times before an untimely fumble halted the drive just as the Rhinos had neared the red zone.
The Admirals came out on offense throwing the ball, but the Rhinos defense stood firm, forcing the Admirals to punt the ball back to the Rhinos offense for another drive. The Rhinos again moved the ball well both on the ground through Sean Power and through the air with quarterback Stephen Macken connecting with all of his receivers on the day. However this drive ended with an interception from the Cork Admirals. The Rhinos defense however again forced Cork to punt the ball back to the Rhinos, with linebacker Brent Trull making a number of key tackles as he did through all four quarters. The Rhinos again moved the ball and the chains against Corks defense only for another drive to end with a turnover, the second fumble of the day.
The Rhinos got the ball back again thanks to another stellar performance of the defense, this time the Rhinos made it count. Stephen Macken wound up and launched a pass towards the Cork sideline where wide receiver Kieran Brady managed to haul in a spectacular catch while surrounded by Cork Admirals, this 30+ yard gain put the Rhinos in the red zone and ready to punch the ball into the endzone. Full back Paul O’Toole took a handoff and ploughed his way up the middle of the Cork defense right up to the goal line. With running back Sean Power temporarily out of the game with a knee injury back up running back Robert Pops took a handoff from Stephen Macken and plunged into the endzone for the go ahead score. 6-0 Rhinos. The extra point attempt took a deflection from the hands of a Cork lineman and sailed harmlessly wide of the posts.
Half time came and went with the Rhinos still on top 6-0. The Rhinos defense holding firm for the entire first half continued that trend in the second half, linebacker Brent Trull stopped Corks wide receivers from gaining any yards after the catch on a number of occasions while defensive backs John Keegan and Dan Breslin helped to break up a number of would be completions. Cork had started to find their footing in the second half completing a number of passes throughout the 3rd and 4th quarters, putting up a challenge to the Rhinos defense who had been solid all game.
The 3rd quarter saw the Rhinos continue to move the ball, tight end Ross Carrick pulled in a short completion from Stephen Macken and turned it into a first down dragging two Cork Admirals with him. Alex McQuirk also managed to snag a high pass from QB Macken, jumping at full stretch to bring it down. But the Cork Admirals defense stiffened when the Rhinos got close to the endzone and would not allow the Rhinos back in for another score on the day. The Admirals offense was held at bay until the final drive of the 4th quarter.
Going into the 4th quarter and only one score separating both sides, it was as tense as could be. None of the spectators were leaving early in this game. Punts were exchanged early in the 4th with Rhinos punter Stephen Mooney pinning the Admirals on their own 2 yard line, leading to Cork having to punt from their own endzone giving the Rhinos good field postion to put together another solid drive stringing together a number of first downs and taking the ball into the Cork red zone again. The Admirals defense stepped up though, forcing the Rhinos to make a choice on 4th down. The Rhinos went for it and the Admirals forced an incompletion from the Rhinos to give them the ball back with less than 2 minutes remaining. Cork had burned up all their time outs in stopping the Rhinos last drive and had to turn to a hurry up offense.
The Admirals stuck to what they did best on the day, passing the ball. Admirals QB David Lomasney connected with a number of different receivers leading his side into Rhinos territory, completion after completion. The chain crew could not keep up with the rate at which the Admirals were picking up first downs, but the clock was still ticking. On 2nd & 10 just inside the home sides half, the Admirals QB lofted a perfectly thrown pass to the back of the endzone where it was caught by an Admirals wide receiver for what looked to be the game tying score only for it to be called back due to a penalty for an ineligible receiver down the field. Now 3rd & long, an incomplete pass put the Admirals on 4th & long with less than 30 seconds to go in the game, a real nail biter. A completion to another Cork wide receiver would be Corks last play of the game as it was short of the first down marker. The Rhinos took a knee to finish the game the victors 6-0.
Just as in their last encounter, the Rhinos and Admirals clashed in a close contest with only a single score separating the sides. The Rhinos move to 1-0 in the IAFL now with their next game against the Dublin Rebels at home again in Castleknock College 2pm, April 10th. Hope to see you there.
A welcome addition back to the Rhinos sidelines today was Coach Derek Ward, joining Coach Andrews and Coach Lawless in spurring on their players to win the game.