HALIFAX Irish may be preparing for life in Division One of the Pennine League after a season of top flight toil culminated in relegation, but they remain the undisputed kings of the Fee Cup.
Saturday’s four-tries-to-one victory over Siddal in the Halifax League’s showpiece game at Old Brodleians was Irish’s fifth in six seasons, a remarkable strike rate in anyone’s language.
“It’s been such a tough year and to finish so well bodes well for next season,” said Irish coach Anthony Irvine.
“We didn’t do what we wanted to in the first half, but we stepped it up in the second, played behind our forwards and Chris Holroyd’s kicking game, and got the rewards.”
In the end, this contest hinged on a behind-the-line gaffe from Siddal’s veteran back rower Ian Crawshaw.
The Chevinedge side, playing down the Woodhead slope and with the wind at their backs, were leading 8-4 with less than 25 minutes remaining when prop Jack Holmes and hooker Andy Fox ripped Irish open down the middle.
Crawshaw loomed in support, took Fox’s pass and raced behind the posts before breaking the cardinal rule of try scoring: Put the ball down before you celebrate.
The loose forward tarried a split second too long, allowing Irish’s Alex Muff, the winners’ best player on the day, to produce a miracle save, punching the ball from his grasp .
To compound Crawshaw’s agony, Irish promptly marched downfield and prop Nick Cassell powered over underneath the posts, Chris Holroyd’s conversion giving them a 10-8 lead that, in all honesty, should have been a 14-4 deficit.
“That changed the game,” said Irvine.
Irish’s lead was only two points, but it was decisive. The holders fired up, Siddal suddenly looked broken.
Holroyd, who missed last year’s final with a long-term knee injury, then set up loose forward Chris Muxlow with 13 minutes to go, before hooker Paul O’Byrne plundered a typical try with four minutes remaining, Holroyd converting both to seal the win.
Earlier, neither side had imposed themselves during a first half that was memorable only for an almost complete lack of incident.
Fox gave Siddal a 14th-minute lead with a penalty, but after that neither side really threatened until Crawshaw made the game’s first line break three minutes before half time.
Irish’s Chris Norman got back to snuff out the danger for a 2-0 interval scoreline, although it took Irish only three minutes of the second half to score the game’s first try, Muff tearing over on the left after Siddal spilled the ball in their own half.
Siddal’s stand off Jason Blackburn scored a typically classy solo try, Fox converting, to regain the lead at 8-4 with half an hour remaining.
And when Holmes’ offload freed Fox, Crawshaw looked a certain scorer. Siddal will want to forget what happened next.
Irish: Moran; Illingworth, Norman, McCarthy, Muff; Holroyd, Heppinstall; Smith, O’Byrne, Cassell, Muxlow, Yarker, Nortcliffe. Subs: Keogh, Tomney, Magee, Pettifor
Siddal: Price; G. Marshall, Newburn, Gaffney, Fenton; Blackburn, D. Marshall; Holmes, Fox, Bentley, Williams, Batley, Crawshaw. Subs: Taylor, Regan, Whiteley, Clegg