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Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Review

Armagh’s promotion march quickened considerably in pace with a 10-point victory away to chief chasers Greystones. They now hold a nine-point lead at the summit, with MU Barnhall and Old Crescent the only movers after the four games played in round 8.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2B: Saturday, November 26

ROUND 8 RESULTS –

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Greystones 18 Armagh 28, Dr. Hickey Park
Wanderers 33 Skerries 11, Merrion Road
Old Crescent 29 Thomond 20, Rosbrien
Bective Rangers 18 MU Barnhall 22, Donnybrook (played on Friday)
City of Derry v Dungannon, Judge’s Road (match postponed due to unplayable pitch)

Saturday’s top of the table clash between Greystones and Armagh was watched by a big crowd at Dr. Hickey Park where the visitors, unbeaten in seven leagues before kick-off, swept decisively into a 19-3 interval lead.

Boosted by the return of captain Ali Birch to their back row, Armagh fell behind to an early ‘Stones penalty from Andrew Kealy. There was not much between the sides in the first quarter, and Cormac Fox emphasised this with a levelling penalty in the 18th minute.

Greystones were left to rue their failure to capitalise on James Morton’s yellow card for a high tackle. Kealy missed the resulting penalty and his opposite number Fox split the posts at the other end, 23 minutes in.

Armagh really upped the ante in the very next minute, the Ulster-capped Birch stealing a lineout on halfway and charging clear down the wing for a superb solo try. Alex McCloy’s men added a second unconverted try ten minutes later, full-back Tim McNeice crossing in the corner after gathering a pinpoint cross-field kick from Fox.

Fox fired over two penalties, either side of half-time, to leave a shell-shocked ‘Stones trailing by 19 points. The Co. Wicklow outfit showed great character and resilience, though, to launch a tremendous fight-back, hitting back with tries from Conor Pearse and speedy replacement Ferdia Kenny in a frenetic three-minute spell.

Kealy converted Kenny’s effort and ‘Stones almost had a third try in quick succession, the covering McNeice coming to Armagh’s rescue with a vital tackle. Fox, who had an excellent day with the boot, got the scoreboard moving for Armagh again with a penalty on the hour mark.

Greystones were back in bonus point range thanks to a Kealy three-pointer, setting up a grandstand finish with ten minutes remaining. But Armagh and Fox slammed the door shut with his sixth successful penalty, with the Ulstermen now nine points clear of ‘Stones in the table.

Speaking afterwards, Armagh head coach McCloy singled out try scorer McNeice and busy prop Philip Fletcher for their contributions in the 10-point win. They cannot afford to drop off in next Saturday’s final round before Christmas as third-placed Wanderers will give it their all at the Palace Grounds.

Wanderers will make the trip north on the back of a 33-11 bonus point success against third-from-bottom Skerries. They led 18-6 by half-time, with further tries in the 53rd, 55th and 63rd minutes ensuring a five-point return for the hosts at Merrion Road.

Paddy Mallon, Aaron O’Callaghan, Eoin O’Shaughnessy and Niall O’Donoghue all crossed the whitewash for the victors who, with Dungannon’s clash with City of Derry being postponed due to an unplayable pitch, now have a four-point buffer in third.

Four of MU Barnhall’s players got the chance to train with the Australian squad at the RDS last Thursday, and the following night the Kildare men produced the goods at nearby Donnybrook, winning a closely-fought floodlit encounter with Bective Rangers.

The Blue Bulls had four points to spare in the end, prevailing 22-18 thanks to a converted try in the very last play. Winger Barry Hill was the man to get over the line in the dying seconds, adding to his initial try early in the second half.

Meanwhile, Thomond suffered a double whammy when two final quarter tries from Val McDermott, allied to a late Barry Neville penalty, guided Old Crescent to a 29-20 bonus point victory at Rosbrien and denied the Soda Cakes even a losing bonus point.

It was a real kick in the teeth for the visitors who led 17-14 after 50 minutes thanks to converted efforts from Diarmuid Ryan and Pat McNamara. Crescent had crossed twice in the first half through John O’Dwyer and Cathal Monaghan and as well as winger McDermott’s efforts in the 60th and 65th minutes, they had an important nine-point kicking contribution from Neville.