It is very tight at the top of Division 1B with just four points separating the leading four clubs following the first round of Ulster Bank League action in 2015.
Galwegians’ lead is down to just a single point as their early season form appears to have suddenly deserted them. They suffered their second successive defeat when going down 18-3 at home to a fired-up Shannon team.
Shannon, with just three wins before Christmas, started the brighter at Crowley Park and took an early lead courtesy of Tadhg Bennett’s second-minute penalty. However, Galwegians were soon on level terms when a 30-metre penalty was slotted over by full-back John Cleary.
The Blues were getting on the wrong side of referee Will O’Connor who, with the first quarter barely up, lost his patience and duly sin-binned ‘Wegians tighthead prop Doron McHugh. The hosts held out at a five-metre scrum, although Bennett soon restored Shannon’s three-point lead.
‘Wegians were struggling to find any rhythm, although they were somewhat unfortunate not to grab the opening try when returning centre Brian Murphy burst through the middle, only to be pulled back for a forward pass.
The turning point of the game came on the half hour when the Blues were camped in Shannon territory. Despite losing Lee Nicholas and replacement prop Kevin Griffin to the sin-bin, Shannon kept their try-line intact. ‘Wegians number 8 Anthony Ryan picked and went too early and the seven-man Shannon scrum somehow turned the ball over at the next set piece to relieve the pressure.
It was a game-changing moment and it got even better for the visitors on the stroke of half-time. With the ‘Wegians lineout misfiring, Shannon stole lineout ball near the hosts’ 22 and with the covering Colin Conroy gambling on a tackle and missing his man, David O’Donovan was sent over for the game’s opening try and an 11-3 interval lead.
Galwegians continued to miss opportunities on the resumption, including a Cleary penalty miss, and the confidence appeared to visibly drain from the home side.
Back to their full complement, Shannon were simply hungrier and more determined, with out-half Bennett dictating play and putting in some good relieving kicks. Winger O’Donovan was denied a second try by an excellent cover tackle by Cleary.
The clinching score eventually came in injury-time when young full-back Stephen Fitzgerald was sent clear on the right, and he sauntered in unopposed. Replacement Ronan McKenna’s easy conversion capped off a morale-boosting success for Ian Sherwin’s charges who are now up to seventh in the league standings.
Elsewhere, second-placed Ballymena kept the pressure on Galwegians as they came from behind to beat Ulster rivals Belfast Harlequins 17-13 at Eaton Park.
Andy Graham’s men were made to fight all the way for their eighth victory of the campaign, which hung in the balance until winger and man-of-the-match Jordan Foster (pictured below) touched down with only four minutes left.
Ritchie McMaster converted that try and Stephen Mulholland’s effort earlier in the second half as the hosts fought back from a 13-3 half-time deficit. Harlequins’ points came from a Rory Scholes try and his Ulster colleague Michael Heaney kicked a conversion and two penalties.
Paddy Jackson’s older brother Paul touched down twice as Malone won for the first time in five league outings, overcoming Corinthians 27-11 at Gibson Park.
It was a pleasing performance from the Cregagh Red Sox, whose other try was scored by nippy scrum half John Creighton and winger Neil Burns had a 12-point contribution off the kicking tee.
When Garryowen and Buccaneers met in September they shared out six tries. The same amount were scored at Dooradoyle today where the Light Blues prevailed on a 28-20 scoreline.
It was a rewarding afternoon’s work for Garryowen out-half Jamie Gavin who kicked 13 points to bring his tally for the league season to 105. He was on target early on with a sixth minute penalty.
Gavin’s opposite number Callum Boland responded in the 12th minute and Buccs went in front thanks to a penalty try. They looked like winning the race for a touchdown when Garryowen scrum half Jamie Glynn hauled down an opponent and was promptly sin-binned.
Boland converted the try but on the stroke of half-time Gavin atoned for an earlier miss by landing his second penalty to reduce the arrears to 10-6.
Garryowen regained the lead on 66 minutes with a well-taken try from winger Alex Wootton (pictured below) – his sixth of the campaign – which was followed by another Gavin three-pointer.
The Limerick outfit gained further momentum in the final ten minutes with back-to-back tries from Steve McMahon and Ed Rossiter, both of which Gavin converted, as they edged closer to a possible bonus point.
However, four minutes from the end, Garryowen full-back Lorcan Bourke was sin-binned for a high tackle. Buccaneers responded with tries from Rory O’Connor and Stephen McVeigh, although their efforts were not enough to gain a losing bonus point as Boland hit the post with his final conversion attempt.
Dublin University registered their seventh win in eight league matches, bagging a bonus point in the process as they hammered UL Bohemians 32-13 on Thomond Park’s back pitch.
Bohs had their second row and captain Ed Kelly sent off after 35 minutes for a second yellow card. He was sin-binned on the quarter hour mark and the visitors led 15-6 at half-time.
USA international Tim Maupin got Trinity off to a bright start with a third minute try which Jack McDermott converted, and Maupin’s wing colleague Killian O’Leary also touched down in the 22nd minute.
Not surprisingly, Dublin University were in complete control in the second half and further tries from scrum half Angus Lloyd and number 8 Tom Ryan guaranteed their five-point return. The result puts them within four points of the summit now.
UL’s only consolation was flanker Ian Condell’s fourth try of the campaign, which Shane Airey converted to add to his two first half penalties.