John ‘Luigi’ Cleary was the toast of Crowley Park as his two-try haul helped Galwegians overcome Garryowen 17-13 and pip the Limerick side to promotion from Ulster Bank League Division 1B.
Galwegians lost their grip on top spot in the previous round, but they edged out Garryowen in Saturday’s winner-takes-all clash in Glenina with veteran winger John Cleary and young out-half Aidan Moynihan playing crucial roles.
Moynihan’s opposite number Jamie Gavin booted the Light Blues into a fifth minute lead and although he missed a second kickable penalty, the visitors were well on top as they forced penalty after penalty.
Galwegians’ disciplinary issues resulted in props Doron McHugh and Conor Kyne being sent to the sin-bin, and Gavin duly split the posts for a 6-0 advantage.
Matt Brown’s green-shirted home side dug deep to keep their try-line intact and their defensive efforts were rewarded seven minutes before half-time when Moynihan opened their account from a lineout penalty.
Cleary (pictured above) increased his influence with an important challenge on advancing Garryowen captain David Sherry. He then popped up in attack soon after the restart, dinking a kick over the visiting defence and winning the race to score a superb first try.
Moynihan’s successful conversion was followed by a spirited spell of Garryowen pressure. ‘Wegians held out once more, but they were unable to prevent centre Andrew O’Byrne from scoring against the run and play and moving the resilient visitors 13-10 clear.
It was then Cleary’s turn to take centre stage. Having been called back previously for a forward pass, he was on his toes to finish off a blindside move sparked by replacement scrum half Caolin Blade. Moynihan converted and try as they might, Garryowen just could not respond.
The result means Galwegians are back in the top flight of the Ulster Bank League for the first time since 2009, while runners-up Garryowen still have a shot at promotion in their April 25 play-off match away to St. Mary’s College.
Dublin University were agonisingly close to finishing in the top two after running in six tries to beat Belfast Harlequins 41-20 at College Park. The students gave it their all but lost out in an exciting three-team scrap for promotion, ending the campaign on 64 points compared to Garryowen’s 65 and champions Galwegians’ 67.
Backs Tim Maupin, Seb Fromm and Paddy Lavelle all touched down in the first half, and left winger Jack Fitzpatrick was the player to secure Trinity’s eighth try-scoring bonus point of the season.
Ballymena, who had drifted out of the promotion race in recent rounds, signed off with a 45-0 hammering of a Buccaneers side that will have a new head coach next season.
The Braidmen tallied up seven tries in all at Eaton Park, including a brace from openside Dominic Gallagher and five of the starting back-line also dotted down against the midlanders.
In a much more competitive contest, already relegated Malone outscored Shannon by five tries to four as they said farewell to Division 1B with a 37-34 home victory. The Cregagh Red Sox did most of the damage in the first half and blindside Richard Millar added the finishing touches to a fine team try late on.
It was an emotional day for UL Bohemians full-back Mossy Lawler as he ended his playing career with a 24-19 success at home to relegated Corinthians. A try from replacement Joe Murray split the sides as Bohs completed a topsy turvy campaign with a bonus point win.