A League of their own - 1987 to 1991

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A League of their own - 1987 to 1991

by dom_pedro on Sat Oct 15, 2005 9:47 pm

Written by Steve Smith back in the Rivals network days ...

1987 - 1991

The brave new world we approach at the Jetski is the 14th season of league rugby in England. For the Irish, it's been quite a rollercoaster ride - down once, up twice and almost down twice more but for relegation play-off wins.

We've spent seven years in the top division and another six in division two. Our highest point in the ride? Well, the statistical damn lies allow you to take your pick. Was it the seventh place achieved by the 92/93 team of Geoghegan and Staples or the seventh by the 98/99 side of O'Shea/Venter vintage? What about our biggest dipper? That dubious honour belongs to the Irish team of 87/88 who meandered to a lowly eighth in a ten-team division two in the first season of the leagues. But let's be fair, these boys probably topped the Guinness-drinking league table in those far-off amateur days!

We'll start at the bottom (of the glass) with Mike Gibson's 87/88 team, which with its quality players like No8 Brian Spillane, centre Brendan Mullin and full-back Hugo NacNeil either injured or mostly unavailable due to other commitments, earned four wins and a draw in their 11 games. It's an indication of how lackadaisical things were that in a bid to up the work-rate of the forwards, we recruited the one and only Neil Francis for season 88/89. To be fair, the legendary second row slacker was part of a team that made a determined bid for promotion glory, galvanised by emerging stars like winger Simon Geoghegan, who scored 19 tries that season in all games, and full-back Jim Staples.

After five wins and two draws, the 11-game programme came down to the last game of the season at home against Blackheath where a win would have sent us up. Despite Irish establishing a 21-point lead at half-time, an injury time drop-goal from the Blackheath fly-half condemned us to a one-point defeat, sixth place in division two and a harsh early lesson that the leagues would prove a cruel mistress.

Season 3 in 89-90 proved a little less dramatic but confirmed that Irish were knocking on the door of the top-flight with six league wins out of eleven. It all fell into place for 90-91 when a potent back line of scrum-half Rob Saunders, centre Dave Curtis, Geoghegan and Staples tore defences apart. Nine wins and a draw (in the final game with Richmond) out of 12 clinched second place and promotion. Messageboard veterans today still recall the steady boot of out-half Brian Mullen dropping the goal that secured the Richmond draw as one of their all-time highlights.

An equally proud moment for Irish supporters came in that season's Five Nations, when the fantastic four of Saunders, Curtis, Geoghegan and Staples were all capped within a game of each other, going on to hold their places for the 91 World Cup and that Aussie quarter-final classic.
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