Relegated Belfast Harlequins gave departing head coach Adam Larkin a winning send-off with a six-try 36-26 dismissal of Ballymena, who will travel to Dublin University in next Saturday’s Division 1A relegation/promotion play-offs.
Belfast Harlequins led 12-5 at the interval, with winger Peter Dunlop scoring in the corner in the 14th minute and a fine breakaway effort from full-back Mark Glover, following a Frankie Taggart steal on the ground, was converted by Mark Best.
However, with ‘Quins centre Best in the sin-bin, Ballymena got off the mark on the half hour when they moved the ball wide for winger James Beattie to break two tackles and touch down in the corner.
The Braidmen were level in the 49th minute after full-back Rodger McBurney teed up centre Callum Patterson for a well-taken seven pointer, and the visitors were ahead when they were awarded a penalty try due to captain Martin Irwin being tripped as he attempted to score from his own kick through.
An overthrown Ballymena lineout allowed ‘Quins to respond through second row Callum Leckey, however Andy Graham’s men collected their bonus point when replacement hooker Adam McBurney crashed over for Andrew Magrath to convert.
Nonetheless, that try-scoring bonus point was all Ballymena took home from Deramore Park as ‘Quins completed a morale-boosting comeback late on. There were 70 minutes on the clock when Glover drew in the last defender to put Dunlop through for his second try of the afternoon.
Best converted and he also added the extras to a penalty try just five minutes later, as referee Oisin Quinn ruled that a Ballymena player had deliberately knocked the ball into touch to prevent a Harlequins score. The final gloss was provided by a David McMaster try in the dying seconds.
Meanwhile, Barry Keeshan’s ever-accurate left boot accumulated 19 points as Dolphin stayed up with a rousing 29-8 win over champions St. Mary’s College.
The veteran out-half delighted the home crowd at Irish Independent Park by converting tries from Rob O’Sullivan and Ryan Murphy and landing four penalties and a drop goal.
Dolphin ended the season with back-to-back victories to finish seventh overall, six points clear of the relegation zone. Keeshan fired over two early three-points from close range inside the first quarter of the an hour.
His opposite number Sean Kearns replied with a crisp strike from 35 metres out, but the Corkmen stormed into a 20-3 lead by half-time.
A tremendous catch from a Keeshan kick by Munster’s Cian Bohane set up full-back O’Sullivan for the opening try, and flanker Murphy scored from a well-executed maul.
The tempo dropped in the second period as Dolphin remained in control. Mary’s did cross in the corner through former Ireland Under-20 international Richie Sweeney in the 67th minute, but Keeshan added a closing penalty and drop goal for a 21-point winning margin.
Ireland Under-19 full-back Colm Hogan scored two tries on his league debut as Dublin University cruised to a 55-21 triumph over relegation-threatened Blackrock College.
Blackrock will have to beat Division 2A opposition in the play-offs in order to stay in the second tier after finishing second-from-bottom. It was a heavy beating at College Park but they did run in three second half tries through hooker Conor Kilcoyne and centres Sean Coughlan and Hugo Godson Treacy.
Trinity, who will host Ballymena in the Division 1A relegation/promotion play-offs, led 17-6 at the break, their tries coming from captain Nick McCarthy and newcomer Hogan who impressed recently in the Ireland U-19s’ Easter win over France.
‘Rock ended the first quarter 6-3 to the good, with Jack O’Carroll booting a brace of penalties, but flanker McCarthy broke through to score in the corner and Hogan gathered a kick through from Brian Mollen to open his scoring account.
‘Rock hung in there with two early tries in the second period, closing the gap to 27-16, only for the students to find their rhythm and close out another convincing bonus point success on home turf.
Out-half Jack McDermott, Hogan, replacement Tom Collis and winger Mollen all touched down to take the hosts’ try count to seven on the day.
UL Bohemians booked their place in Division 1B for next season with a hard-fought 24-23 victory over Old Wesley at Donnybrook.
Wesley chipped away at a 10-point interval deficit, with captain Ian Cassidy and winger Paul Harte crossing for converted tries, but a 14-point kicking haul from Bohs out-half Rick McKenna ultimately proved decisive.
After early penalties from McKenna and Barry McLaughlin, Wesley number 8 Mark Rowley’s yellow card was immediately punished by the visitors as prop Philip Poillot crashed over following an initial lineout maul.
McKenna converted and swung over an excellent long range penalty on the stroke of half-time, leaving the Dubliners 13-3 in arrears.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with McLaughlin and McKenna notching early three-pointers and Bohs conjuring up a try – this time centre Rory White got over via a neat dummy out on the wing.
Wesley, who were pressing for Buccaneers for fourth place, stormed back with a two-try salvo. Scrum half Cassidy sniped over from close range and then a loose UL pass was picked up by Harte on halfway and he had the gas to make the line.
UL did not panic, however, and after attacking from a close-in lineout, they won a penalty just to the left of the posts which McKenna fired over for 24-20. McLaughlin replied by punishing a Bohs offside, however the Limerick men held on to end their campaign on a winning note.
One of the tries of the season, scored by young winger Greg O’Shea, was the highlight of Shannon’s 23-12 defeat of Buccaneers on Thomond Park’s back pitch.
Marcus Horan’s men outscored Buccs by three tries to two as they preserved their Division 1B status, finishing sixth overall and helping versatile back David O’Donovan end his stellar league career in winning fashion.
A penalty and drop goal from out-half Tadhg Bennett had the hosts leading 6-5 at half-time, with Buccs scrum half Conor Lowndes nipping in for an unconverted try.
But Shannon tightened their grip on proceedings in the closing 40 minutes, as talented youngsters Frank Bradshaw-Ryan and O’Shea and centre Shane Mullally – an All-Ireland Under-20 title winner with Shannon ten years ago – all crossed the midlanders’ whitewash.
Number 8 Kolo Kiripati did at least response for Brett Wilkinson’s Pirates side, who will relish the opportunity to take on Ballynahinch in next weekend’s Division 1A relegation/promotion play-offs.
DIVISION 1A/1B PLAY-OFFS:
Champions/Promoted: St. Mary’s College
Div 1A Relegation/Promotion Play-Offs: Ballynahinch (9th, Div 1A) v Buccaneers (4th, Div 1B), Dublin University (2nd, Div 1B) v Ballymena (3rd, Div 1B) – Saturday, April 23 (2.30pm); Winners play each other to decide final Div 1A team for next season
Div 1B Relegation/Promotion Play-Offs: Blackrock College (9th, Div 1B) v Cashel (4th, Div 2A), Banbridge (2nd, Div 2A) v UCC (3rd, Div 2A) – Saturday, April 23 (2.30pm); Winners play each other to decide final Div 1B team for next season
Relegated: Belfast Harlequins