Clonmel and Dundalk are the early pacesetters in the Ulster Bank League Round Robin qualifiers, following their opening round wins over Connemara and Instonians respectively on Saturday afternoon.
2014/15 ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, March 28
ROUND 1 –
CLONMEL 40 CONNEMARA 0, Ard Gaoithe
Scorers: Clonmel: Tries: Alex Sheehan, Gareth Mulcahy, Darragh Foley, Conor Cooney, Dylan Cadogan, Ronan Crosse; Cons: Conor Cooney 5
HT: Clonmel 14 Connemara 0
INSTONIANS 11 DUNDALK 15, Shaw’s Bridge
Scorers: Instonians: Try: Matthew Keane; Pens: Davy Scott 2
Dundalk: Tries: Jonathan Williams, Lotu Nuku; Con: Ultan Murphy; Drop: Ultan Murphy
HT: Instonians 5 Dundalk 8
Munster Junior League champions Clonmel made a big statement of intent with a 40-0 bonus point dismissal of Connacht challengers Connemara on Saturday afternoon.
Denis Leamy’s side established a 14-0 half-time lead at Ard Gaoithe, the blustery conditions keeping the game scoreless until the 17th minute when scrum half Alex Sheehan ran in the opening try.
Full-back Conor Cooney converted and also added the extras to hooker Gareth Mulcahy’s close range effort, seven minutes before the break, with Clonmel notching their second try while their captain Ronan Crosse was in the sin-bin.
The visitors, who also had a player binned, missed a first half penalty and further pressure from the Clonmel pack led to a 55th minute try from Darragh Foley which Cooney converted.
Cooney secured the bonus point score by going in under the posts eight minutes later and the Tipperary men added two more tries before the finish – Dylan Cadogan touched down from an intercept and lock Crosse also made it over following a powerful drive from the home pack.
The two winning teams from the first round will meet on Saturday week at Mill Road. Dundalk will be back on home soil on April 11 having opened their Round Robin campaign with a hard-earned 15-11 victory away to Instonians.
Ulster title holders Inst battled right to the end, but they were left to rue the 14 penalties they conceded over the course of this encounter with the recently-crowned All-Ireland Junior Cup champions.
Dundalk leaked a 10th minute try at Shaw’s Bridge, a brilliant solo effort from scrum half Matthew Keane. Playing into a strong wind, Instonians pressed from a lineout maul before Keane spotted a gap from far out, breaking down the blindside and along the touchline before crashing over in the corner despite a last-ditch tackle.
Out-half Jonathan Williams answered back for the visitors just seven minutes later, making it over in the corner after some neat handling from the Dundalk backs off a close-in scrum. Like the Inst try, the conversion was missed in tricky conditions.
Place-kicking winger Ultan Murphy added a well-taken drop goal but given that they had the elements at their backs, Dundalk would have wanted to be further in front at the interval than 8-5. They had three penalty misses, including one from halfway.
Inst were back level within six minutes of the second period, centre Davy Scott doing the necessary from a 40-metre penalty. However, Dundalk managed to disrupt the Belfast club’s momentum and the 55th minute sin-binning of number 8 Paddy Marks – for killing ruck ball – really hurt Inst.
A key moment came on the hour mark when a refereeing decision went against Instonians. Seizing the initiative from a quick tap, Dundalk retained and recycled possession in ominous fashion and the bout of pressure led to hooker Lotu Noku (pictured above) crossing the whitewash for Murphy to convert.
Wilbur Leacock’s men were quick to respond, setting up a penalty out wide which Scott did really well to send through the posts and cut the gap to 15-11. Instonians went to dominate the closing stages but despite leaking a number of penalties, defiant Dundalk held firm at the end of an intense spell of Inst mauling close to their try-line.
ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES TO COME:
Saturday, April 11 –
Connemara v Instonians, Monastery Field, 1pm; Dundalk v Clonmel, Mill Road, 2.30pm
Saturday, April 18 –
Connemara v Dundalk, Monastery Field, 2.30pm; Instonians v Clonmel, Shaw’s Bridge, 2.30pm
Saturday, April 25 –
Play-off between the Round Robin series winners (away) and the third-from-bottom side in Ulster Bank League Division 2B (home)