There were plenty of high-scoring and entertaining contests in the opening round of Ulster Bank League Division 2B, with an average of 44 points scored across the five games.
City of Derry have their necks out in front after the first weekend, racking up a try-scoring bonus point in their 32-20 beating of MU Barnhall at Parsonstown. The ‘game of two halves’ cliché was particularly apt as Derry stormed clear in the first half and Barnhall bounce back in the second.
A strong start saw Derry captain John Burns drive forward in the sixth minute and with the home defence sucked in, scrum half Andrew Semple sent supporting winger Neil Brown over for a try that Neil Burns converted.
With set piece dominance established, the Ulstermen added try number two by the end of the first quarter. John Burns and Ali Beckett were involved in the build-up to a well-taken seven-pointer from out-half Neil Burns.
Barnhall, who lost two players to the sin-bin, pressed from a series of close-in scrums during an intense ten-minute period. However, Derry won turnover ball and soon conjured up a clinical third try, started by a terrific right wing run from Neil Burns whose brilliantly-timed overhead pass was gobbled up by centre David Graham who made it over in the corner. A penalty from Neil Burns made it 22-0 at the interval.
It was more of the same on the resumption as man-of-the-match Stephen Corr broke off the back of a scrum and passed for winger Neil Brown to touch down out wide following a 40-metre sprint.
Suddenly, Barnhall became more competitive with replacement out-half Simon Gillespie and back rower Paul Nalty both making an impact off the bench. Number 8 Tom McKeown scored a confidence-boosting try for his side from a close range scrum.
The gap was down to 27-12 after lock Conor McDermott took advantage of some poor Derry tackling with Gillespie converting the score. A 70th minute penalty from Gillespie and a seven-pointer from Brian Hennebry, just five minutes later, set up a grandstand finish as Barnhall heaped the pressure on a seemingly wilting Derry team.
At 27-20, Derry were wobbling but scrum half Semple, who had just returned from the sin-bin, was their saviour as he intercepted a cut-out pass close to his try-line and raced away to score the match-winning try – much to the relief of his team-mates and the travelling support.
Derry’s next game, at home to Bective Rangers, should be a cracker as the Dubliners opened up with a thrilling 28-27 bonus point win over Highfield, last season’s Division 2B champions.
Highfield were 10 points to the good at Donnybrook thanks to an early Dylan Horgan penalty and a fine converted try from their superb second row David Kelly. Bective hit back with a high quality solo score from winger Finbar Ryan, only for Highfield’s well-drilled pack to eek out a penalty try just in time for the break – 17-7.
Highfield seemed to have all the answers as despite leaking a try to Bective centre Adam Philpott early in the second period, a second penalty goal from out-half Horgan kept their noses in front at 20-14.
But the complexion of the game changed with the 59th minute sin-binning of Highfield replacement Ben Murphy. Bective’s Rob O’Beirn quickly joined his centre partner Philpott on the scoresheet, finishing smartly in the corner following a powerful surge.
O’Beirn then turned provider to set up another seven-pointer for rampant Rangers, with out-half Darragh Mullins getting over the line with just over 10 minutes remaining. Highfield were stung by those concessions and although Kelly muscled over to complete his brace late on, the visitors only had a losing bonus point to show for their efforts.
Elsewhere, the Ulster derby between Armagh and Dungannon was a feisty encounter with seven yellow cards shown. Armagh prevailed by a single point, 21-20, thanks to a crucial 78th-minute try from full-back Harry Boyd (pictured below).
Dungannon had taken the lead on the quarter hour at the Palace Grounds, Jake Finlay’s pinpoint cross-field kick playing in full-back Paul Armstrong for a converted try. Armstrong and Armagh centre Matthew Steenson swapped penalties as the visitors led 10-3 at the turnaround.
A 10-point scoring burst was Armagh’s reward for a productive third quarter, their pack doing the groundwork for Willie Martin’s score in the left corner. Andrew Willis did likewise on the right as the final 20 minutes approached.
The home side were still in front after an exchange of penalties between Armstrong and Boyd, before the latter cut through for his all-important five-pointer at just the right time. Credit to the young Dungannon side, they fought back for a well-merited bonus point as captain James McMahon barged through a number of tackles for a try that Armstrong converted.
New flanker Rory Winters struck for a last-minute try to steer Rainey Old Boys to an encouraging 21-18 triumph away to Seapoint. John Andrews’ charges showed plenty of character to come from 12-0 down at Kilbogget Park – enduring a lengthy injury stoppage for vice-captain Conor O’Neill too – and emerge as winners of a game that could have gone either way.
Greystones came away from Irish Independent Park with a well-judged 20-15 victory over hosts Sunday’s Well, who meet Highfield in a mouth-watering Cork derby next Friday night.
The sides were locked level at half-time (10-10), with Greg Higgins and Bobby Clancy swapping tries, but resilient Greystones’ strong finish saw them cancel out a Mark Chandler try with 10 unanswered points in the final ten minutes.
A well-worked move off the blindside of a scrum saw ‘Stones winger Padraig Geoghegan touch down in the corner with league stalwart Barry Lynn adding a tremendous conversion from the touchline. The Wicklow men remained on the front foot and Lynn landed a further penalty with the last kick of a very competitive clash.
ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Armagh 21 Dungannon 20, Palace Grounds
Bective Rangers 28 Highfield 27, Donnybrook
MU Barnhall 20 City of Derry 32, Parsonstown
Seapoint 18 Rainey Old Boys 21, Kilbogget Park
Sunday’s Well 15 Greystones 20, Irish Independent Park