Ulster Bank League Division 2C enters a fascinating phase with the first of the back-to-back fixtures this Saturday, and the return legs taking place on January 21. While Rainey continue to top the table, only three points separate the five clubs in the chasing pack.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, December 3
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
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Sligo (5th) v Bangor (4th), Hamilton Park, 2pm
Sligo’s improved game management has really shown through in recent outings. Indeed, they have picked up at least a losing bonus point in every round so far, including three wins in the last four.
Reeling in fourth-placed Bangor, who are just a point above them, would be a great way to end the calendar year for Ross Mannion’s men, who count out-half Mike Wells and key forward Jamie Bowes as two of their talismen.
Bangor were off colour in their 13-6 home defeat to Bruff – and it was not just their alternate jerseys! Their discipline and execution must be better if Jason Morgan’s side want to stay in touch with the pacesetters.
Bruff (7th) v Rainey Old Boys (1st), Kilballyowen Park
After two very successful trips to Kanturk and Bangor, picking up nine much-needed points, Bruff are back at Kilballyowen Park where they host front runners Rainey in an intriguing battle.
Bruff’s bench has had the desired impact in the last two rounds, Mike Cooke coming on to touch down twice against Kanturk and ‘super sub’ Brian Cahill claiming the match-winning try at Bangor a week ago.
Rainey left it late to secure their try-scoring bonus point against Kanturk. Tim Barker’s leadership up front has been a crucial factor in their success to date. This clash could be won or lost in the forwards, both sides boasting very strong scrums where the likes of Dave Horan and John Hogan will pack down opposite George Fritz and Tommy O’Hagan.
Kanturk (10th) v Boyne (9th), Knocknacolan
This has ‘must win’ written all over it for both sides, particularly Kanturk who have four points to make up at the foot of the table. These two meetings with Boyne (the second one following on January 21) could be season-defining.
Ben Martin’s charges can take encouragement from their first half display against league leaders Rainey, a Daithi Fitzpatrick try giving them just a two-point deficit at the interval.
Boyne also gave third-placed Tullamore a right good rattle in a 28-22 defeat in round 8. The Drogheda side have been heavier scorers and meaner defenders than the ‘Turks, and that should show on the scoreboard come full-time.
Navan (2nd) v Seapoint (8th), Balreask Old
Navan’s four-match winning run came to an end at Midleton, the latter’s defence frustrating the division’s second top scorers into submission. The Meath men were also left to rue their own high error count.
Back-to-back wins over Seapoint are a must for Alan Kingsley’s second-placed side who now only have three points to spare over Midleton in sixth position. In addition, they cannot afford to let Rainey get too far ahead of them.
Seapoint’s home loss to Sligo was a chastening one, their failure to finish off first half chances haunting them as the visitors pulled clear after the break. The Dubliners’ points-for column is the second worst in the division, so head coach Eric Miller really needs a big improvement in that area.
Tullamore (3rd) v Midleton (6th), Spollanstown
After some patchy results in October, Midleton have shown their mettle with back-to-back victories over Sligo and Navan, albeit that the winning margin was two points on both occasions.
Their games have not been for the faint-hearted, with Stuart Lee’s boot digging them out of holes at times. His three penalties were just enough to lower the colours of high-flying Navan last week.
Tullamore needed a strong finish – and some inspired play from Ireland Under-18 Sevens starlet Conor Dunne – to see off Boyne a week ago. After two recent home defeats, you would expect Geoff Kenny’s men to do everything in their power to get the result here. Whatever the outcome, a tight one-score game looks likely.