Division 2A looks set to be fiercely competitive this season with only a point currently separating the top five teams. Banbridge hold a slight lead despite being pipped by Thomond on Saturday afternoon.
Malone climbed into third place, joining Naas and Banbridge on 10 points, following their workmanlike 20-14 win over struggling Corinthians at Gibson Park.
This was a game pockmarked by handling errors and a high number of penalties. It was stop-start fare and Corinthians’ Kiwi out-half James Proctor landed three penalty goals to one from Malone full-back Mark O’Connor, as the visitors led 9-3 at the turnaround.
A ten-minute injury stoppage for Malone hooker Dave Cave, who suffered a leg injury, and a yellow card late on for Corinthians flanker Ross Mooney were the other notable incidents of a scrappy first 40 minutes.
The Cregagh Red Sox resumed in much better fettle, going on to dominate the third quarter with a run of 17 unanswered points. A red card for Corinthians blindside Sean Connolly, which left Malone scrum half Shane Kelly with a nasty head injury, gave Malone a clear advantage.
An O’Connor penalty was followed by the game’s opening try as Malone replacement prop Gary Crawford barged past two defenders to score from close range. O’Connor converted and also added the extras to a penalty try after a series of dominant scrums from the Belfast outfit.
The closing stages were rather listless, apart from a yellow card for Malone’s Max Porter with ten minutes left and a leg injury that sidelined Corinthians centre Cathal Evans. The Galway men battled on and picked up their first point of the league campaign when they swiftly moved possession from a penalty out to the left where winger Dave McDermott touched down.
UCC, Malone’s next opponents, also picked up a losing bonus point from their trip to Forenaughts where they were beaten 34-27 by Naas.
The Cork students found the sunny conditions to their liking in the opening half, with out-half Tim Clifford darting over in the right corner for a superb converted try and pressure on the home defence forced a penalty try in the 36th minute.
Naas full-back Peter Osborne was adjudged to have deliberating knocked on near his try-line and was duly sent to the sin-bin. His opposite number Kevin O’Keeffe converted for a 17-3 lead, but a timely Henry Bryce try closed the gap to nine points for the break.
Cutting down on the errors, Naas began the second period in strong fashion, working their way up the touchline and off a close-in lineout, Rob Campbell and David Aherne fed player-coach Johne Murphy to nip over with just five minutes on the clock. The returning Osborne converted.
Murphy’s charges were beginning to dictate play and after UCC suffered a yellow card, Osborne fired over penalties in the 50th and 57th minutes for a 21-17 scoreline. O’Keeffe responded but UCC prop Colin Jackson was carded for killing the ball and up stepped Osborne to make it 24-20.
The scores continued to come in the last ten minutes as Osborne, who finished with a handsome 19-point haul, split the posts with another penalty and then converted a terrific try from replacement back rower Paul Tolofua.
There was still time for UCC to cross the whitewash in injury-time, notching a losing bonus point thanks to hooker Dan Healy’s try which was expertly converted by O’Keeffe from the left touchline.
Last week’s leaders Queen’s University suffered their first reversal as Nenagh Ormond belatedly opened their campaign with a tremendous 36-13 victory at New Ormond Park.
Head coach Derek Corcoran must have been delighted with Nenagh’s bonus point display. Their six tries were shared out by Lemeki Vaipulu, Kevin O’Flaherty, Anthony Kavanagh, Eathon Moloney, Darragh Hassey and Eoin Gardiner.
The Tipperary club laid the foundations in the first half at the end of which they were 19-3 to the good. Queen’s improved after the break, but tries from Paddy Farrell and debutant Robert Lyttle, the Ireland Under-18 Schools international, were mere consolation.
Cashel came away from scenic Holmpatrick with a last-gasp 43-40 triumph over Skerries in what was one of the matches of the weekend across all five divisions. Twelve tries were scored, six by each side, and the visitors conjured up the match winner in injury-time as centre Jason Newton had the final say.
A brace from speedy centre Kevin McGrath, coupled with a pushover effort from prop Mark Nally, had Skerries leading 21-17 at half-time. Cashel turned around with the breeze now at their backs, but fell further behind thanks to tries from McGrath again and experienced winger Derek Keane, who used his strong hand-off to very good effect.
However, the introduction of Brendan O’Connor up front and the increasing influence of the Leamy brothers, Kevin and Ed, got Cashel back on track as they looked to eat into the 33-17 deficit.
Kevin Leamy managed to block down an attempted clearance in the Cashel 22, and with the forwards then taking the ball on, Aidan Barron squeezed over by the posts for Newton to convert.
Skerries were suddenly crumbling as Cashel worked possession from the restart wide to the wing where Brian Silke raced 30 metres to score in the corner. On the hour mark, the visitors went ahead (36-33) when Kevin Leamy reached over following some powerful carrying from the pack.
The Dubliners lifted the intensity again, attacking with renewed vigour and getting their reward with five minutes remaining. Keane scored what looked to be the clinching try, with James Faiva adding a smashing conversion from out wide while facing into the wind.
Surely that was that and Cashel’s challenge was over? The answer was a resounding no, as Mark Butler’s charges put aside their two bonus points and went in search of the win. They won a penalty just inside the Skerries 22 in injury-time, the forwards gained the hard yards with an accurate set of phases and finally Newton was driven over for a try which he converted himself.
Thomond won at the third attempt as Fiach O’Loughlin’s dramatic late drop goal inspired them to a 22-21 victory over previously unbeaten Banbridge at Liam Fitzgerald Park.
O’Loughlin, a former league title winner with Shannon, is in a player-coach role at Thomond and he certainly led by example by slotting the match-winning kick. First half tries from Eoin O’Carroll and captain Wayne Mullaney had the Limerick men leading 14-8 at the interval.
Bann hit them with 10 unanswered points near the end of the third quarter. Scrum half Lee Steenson kicked a penalty and then it was his break that paved the way for a converted try from prop Stuart Cromie.
Bann’s discipline let them down, though, as they allowed Thomond to come back at them and full-back Jamie McGarry’s 68th-minute try nudged the hosts back in front at 19-18. The Co. Down side’s scrummaging looked to have won it for them when a 77th minute penalty was knocked over by Steenson.
Bann’s solid set piece game would have pleased their forwards coach Simon Best, the former Ulster and Ireland prop. However, they did not bank on Thomond having the final say thanks to league veteran O’Loughlin.
Speaking afterwards, Best told the club website: “Maybe it was a bit of inexperience or naivety, but I thought we had worked hard enough to win it. Thomond put a lot into the first 20 minutes while we looked a bit sluggish.
“We got a foothold at the start of the second half and battled back to take the lead with about five minutes left on the clock. But we couldn’t close it out and the experience of their replacement out-half Fiach O’Loughlin showed as he coolly slotted over that winning drop kick.”
ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Malone 20 Corinthians 14, Gibson Park
Naas 34 UCC 27, Forenaughts
Nenagh Ormond 36 Queen’s University 13, New Ormond Park
Skerries 40 Cashel 43, Holmpatrick
Thomond 22 Banbridge 21, Liam Fitzgerald Park