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Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 1B Review

Led by man-of-the-match Barry Keeshan, Dolphin dug deep to edge out promotion hopefuls Ballymena 23-22 in a real cliffhanger of a game at Eaton Park.



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Dolphin are hoping to avoid finishing second-from-bottom and entering the four-team relegation/promotion play-offs with the second, third and fourth-placed sides from Division 2A.

The battle to retain their Division 1B status outright will go right down to the final round on April 16, with just two points currently separating Blackrock College (ninth), UL Bohemians (eighth), Dolphin (seventh) and Shannon (sixth).

Dolphin host newly-crowned Division 1B champions St. Mary’s in two weeks’ time and they proceed to that ‘must win’ fixture with renewed confidence after squeezing past third-placed Ballymena.

The Division 1A relegation/promotion play-offs are on the horizon for the Braidmen, who book-ended the first half today with tries from Ulster hooker John Andrew and Ireland Club international Rodger McBurney.

But that was only good enough to trail 13-12 at the interval and despite a second try from barnstorming full-back McBurney, who now has 10 touchdowns overall, it was Dolphin who took the verdict in the end.

They crossed the whitewash at crucial stages, scrum half Daryl Foley in the first half and full-back Rob O’Sullivan late in the second, and veteran out-half Barry Keeshan produced the goods yet again with an important 13-point kicking contribution.

Meanwhile, at Stradbrook, Blackrock College consigned Shannon to their fifth defeat in a row as the hosts triumphed 21-19 in another match that went right down to the wire.

Both of these sides are yet to confirm their place in Division 1B for next season, so it was no surprise that the first half was a tight and edgy affair.

‘Rock led 9-8 at half-time thanks to three penalties from goal-kicking scrum half Jack O’Carroll, who struck the ball really well in the heavy conditions.

Shannon’s left winger Greg O’Shea tore clear to score an excellent individual try, and he completed his brace out wide early in the second half.

However, despite a combination nine-point tally from penalties converted by Ronan McKenna and replacement Tadhg Bennett (2), missed kicks came back to haunt Shannon in the end.

McKenna and out-half Shane Airey both misfired on a couple of occasions and that allowed Blackrock to build pressure once again. Their well-organised maul forced a penalty try which was converted for 16-13.

Bennett squared things up for Marcus Horan’s men and added another penalty in the closing stages, but in between, Blackrock flanker Sam Cooke burst free on the left wing to run in the game’s decisive try.

Just two points in arrears, Shannon missed another shot at the posts in the dying minutes and ‘Rock held on for a gritty victory. A similar result will be needed away to Dublin University on April 16, as Emmet Farrell’s charges actually slipped to ninth place following UL Bohs’ bonus point success against Belfast Harlequins.

Buccaneers outscored Old Wesley by three tries to none as they won out 25-9 at Dubarry Park to move back into the top four of Division 1B.

The clubs placed second to fourth enter the Division 1A relegation/promotion play-offs come the end of the regular season, so this was a vital result for the midlanders.

Buccs have swapped places with Wesley in the table, moving into fourth spot with a three-point advantage ahead of their final round trip to Shannon. Wesley will be targeting a bonus point win at home to UL.

The sides were quite evenly matched, as expected, during the opening exchanges with place-kickers Ian Cassidy and Conor McKeon swapping penalties.

However, after Cassidy’s second strike, Buccs showed their try-scoring threat when McKeon’s cross-field kick was gathered by winger Eoghan O’Reilly and he had the pace to burst clear and make it 8-6.

Following McKeon’s first half departure, Alan Gaughan extended the Pirates’ advantage before Cassidy landed his third and final penalty of the day for the Dubliners.

Down the home stretch, Brett Wilkinson’s side picked off a couple of well-executed tries to put the result beyond any doubt. Former Ireland Under-20 international Cian Romaine crossed in the 69th minute and another young talent, centre Conor Finn, added the final gloss off turnover ball in injury-time.

UL Bohemians enjoyed a five-try rout of relegated Belfast Harlequins, but will need more of the same in order to avoid the relegation play-offs themselves.

Despite this runaway 34-0 success, Bohs are eighth in the table and will need to win away to Old Wesley in two weeks’ time in order to preserve their Division 1B status.

They were far too strong for bottom side ‘Quins, breaking into a 22-0 lead by half-time thanks to tries from Rory White, Colin Ryan and Rick McKenna, who converted two tries and also landed a penalty.

Ireland Sevens international Cian Aherne and second row Noel Kinane added further touchdowns to secure the bonus point for the Red Robins, who have now won four of their last five league matches.

Meanwhile, on Friday night, three first half penalties from Sean Kearns proved decisive at Templeville Road as St. Mary’s College were crowned Division 1B champions with a 9-5 defeat of Dublin University.

Kearns’ nine-point haul had the hosts in the driving seat by half-time, and even though Trinity narrowed the gap with a Tim Maupin try on the resumption, Mary’s held out to secure automatic promotion straight back to Division 1A for next season.

Mary’s had started this top of the table clash in determined fashion, and just eight minutes in, an excellent long range penalty from young out-half Kearns broke the deadlock.

The influential number 10 doubled his side’s advantage on 14 minutes, but the home side then suffered a setback when full-back Steve Toal-Lennon was forced out of the action through injury – with Terry Kennedy taking his place.

Trinity’s Tommy Whittle missed an excellent opportunity to narrow the gap, though, and thanks to a third successful penalty from Kearns, the 2012 Ulster Bank League champions brought a 9-0 lead into the interval.

Trinity kept Mary’s on the back foot for large spells after the restart, however, and even though Whittle’s 48th-minute place-kick rebounded off the woodwork, they finally breached the stern Mary’s resistance 16 minutes from time.

After the ball was recycled to the right flank, American international winger Maupin squeezed through in the corner for his 11th try of the season. The unconverted score set-up a tension-filled finale, but with Mary’s largely controlling the tempo of the play, they finished with four points to spare over the second-placed students.