Plucky Division Two side Malone gave it their all in Friday's First Trust Ulster Senior Cup final at Ravenhill, but Belfast Harlequins tallied up five tries to run out comfortable 36-9 winners.
FIRST TRUST ULSTER SENIOR CUP FINAL: Friday, April 21
BELFAST HARLEQUINS 36 MALONE 9, Ravenhill
Scorers: Harlequins: Tries: Chris McCarey, Darren Cave, Nopera Stewart, Mark Kettyle, Michael Glancy; Cons: Johnny McClaughlin 4; Pen: McClaughlin
Malone: Pens: Philip Coulter 3
'Quins earned a first piece of silverware for coach Andy Ward as they made up for missing out in last year's Ulster Senior Cup decider. Ballymena beat them twelve months ago as they held on for a 22-20 victory.
On Friday, the result hung in the balance until second half tries from centre Nopera Stewart, full-back Mark Kettyle and replacement centre Michael Glancy saw the Division One regulars pull away.
Malone, who included four former 'Quins players in Rhys Botha, Thomas Horner, Darren Barbour and John Anderson, hit the front thanks to an early penalty from scrum half Philip Coulter. 'Quins, who had David Creighton in at scrum half for his first senior start, replied with the game's first try.
Influential out-half Johnny McClaughlin kicked ahead for Ireland Under-21 centre Darren Cave to race through and touch down to the right of the posts. McClaughlin converted for a 7-3 lead.
Coulter then struck his second penalty but 'Quins made the most of a series of forward drives when captain Jonny Lowe offloaded for back row Chris McCarey to score an unconcverted try in the left corner.
McClaughlin and Coulter then traded penalties, and Malone's chances improved before the break when 'Quins lost back row Rob Devonshire (29 minutes) and the 19-year-old Cave (39) to the sin bin for ruck offences.
Crucially, with 'Quins 15-9 in front, Malone back row Chris Henry was prevented from going over for his side's first try by a great tackle from Colin Atkinson. Coulter also missed a close-in penalty to the left after Cave had been carded.
...Harlequins coach Andy Ward...
It took a while for the second half to ignite but when it did, it was all 'Quins. On the hour mark, former Ards favourite Stewart bulldozed through from all of halfway for a brilliant individual try. He shrugged off three would-be tacklers on the way to touching down.
Two minutes later, Kettyle cantered in under the posts for a fourth 'Quins try - McClaughlin converted for 29-9. Malone heads were dropping at this stage and Glancy got in for a fifth in the closing minutes with McClaughlin again converting.
In truth, the scoreline flattered 'Quins as Malone, coached this season by Jacque Benade and Michael Smyth, went toe to toe with the victors for more than an hour's play and deserved their place in the final after wins over Ards and Banbridge.
HARLEQUINS: M Kettyle; J Lowe (capt), D Cave, N Stewart, P McKenzie; J McClaughlin, D Creighton; B Lynch, S Philpott, C Keown, G Rourke, L Stevenson, R Devonshire, C McCarey, C Atkinson.
Replacement used: M Glancy for Cave (72 mins).
MALONE: P Baird; J Amos, J Burgess, R Botha, J Anderson; T Horner, P Coulter; T Craig, S Bailie, M Stokes, D Barbour (capt), B Basset, M McBrien, DW Bekker, C Henry.
Replacements used: R Fegan for Baird (58 mins), L Barlow for Stokes, A Watt for Henry (both 62).