Ireland Wolfhounds have won the inaugural Rugby League Celtic Nations Cup following a 28-22 win over Wales Dragonhearts in Colwyn Bay on Saturday.
A 19-point win would have given Wales the title but, instead, they’ll pick up the wooden spoon following their 18-16 loss in Scotland a fortnight ago.
The Wolfhounds had never won the previous Four Nations tournament (that also included England), competed for 12 years between 2002 and 2013, so this victory will ensure that Irish eyes are smiling as the current crop create a piece of history.
The ‘A’ sides from both countries fought out a tremendous battle with Wales dominating early proceedings.
But with Ireland rendering Wales scoreless for the middle 40 minutes of the encounter, the Welsh were 16 points down with 15 minutes left on the clock and had been left with far too much to do.
Former South Wales Scorpions centre, Bradley Hill, now with Welsh Conference runners up Aber Valley Wolves, gave Wales a third minute lead with Paul Emanuelli converting before Brad Hargreaves’ unconverted opener for Ireland brought the score back to 6-4.
An Aled Davies try in the corner on 21 minutes extended Wales’ lead to 10-4 but the hosts would only hold that advantage for a further nine minutes.
Mikey Russell was next over for Ireland with Curtis Stewart following suit two minutes before the break. Casey Dunne converted both to give the Wolfhounds a 16-10 lead at the break.
Mark Kenny’s unconverted effort on 53 minutes extended the lead further before Gareth Gill scored in the first set after kick off to put the game out of Wales’ reach. Dunne goaled to make the score 26-10.
Then came Wales’ comeback. A strong run and try from Geraint Clarke on 65 minutes was immediately followed by John Ketland scoring in the corner after an excellent team passing move.
Emanuelli converted both and Wales were just four points down and while the title looked out of reach, a win wasn’t beyond them.
But the Irish defence stood firm and despite the passionate Welsh crowd cheering their team on, it was the newly crowned champions who had the final say as Dunne added a penalty just before the hooter to launch the celebrations.
This game was the first of three matches against Ireland for various Wales sides in the north this year.
On Sunday October 19 in Wrexham, the two sides meet at under 18 level while the Racecourse will host the full Wales v Ireland European Championship match on Sunday November 2.
WALES: Lee Goddard, John Ketland, Mike Hurley, Daryl Carter, Aled Davies, Callum Bennett, Paul Emmaunelli, Geraint Clarke, Ryan Bates, Scott Britton, Bradley Hill, Chris True, Gareth Way.
Subs: Rob Andrews, Lee Harben Jones, Nathan Hawkins, Anthony Tilley
Tries: Hill (3), Davies (21), Clarke (65), Ketland (68)
Goals: Emanuelli 3/4
IRELAND: Casey Dunne, Columba Kelly, Callum Mulkeen, Brad Hargreaves, Mark Kenny, Nick Finlay, Adam Cox, Gareth Gill, Mikey Russell, Matty Hadden, Matty Cahoon, Chris Hall, Wayne Kelly.
Subs: Matt Bailey, Sean Rees, Curtis Stewart, Andrew Keating.
Tries: Hargreaves (14), Russell (30), Stewart (38), Kenny (53), Gill (57)
Goals: Dunne 4/6
Referee: Liam Moore