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Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2B Review

Armagh’s reward for winning all of their matches over the first half of the season is a nine-point advantage at the top of Division 2B. They have three Leinster clubs tucked behind them, while struggling Thomond and City of Derry really need to hit the ground running in the New Year.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2B: Saturday, December 3

ROUND 9 RESULTS –

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MU Barnhall 41 City of Derry 3, Parsonstown
Armagh 39 Wanderers 11, Palace Grounds
Dungannon 14 Old Crescent 15, Stevenson Park
Skerries 11 Bective Rangers 10, Holmpatrick
Thomond 7 Greystones 59, Liam Fitzgerald Park

Armagh served another warning to their promotion rivals that they are the team to beat, sweeping clear of highly-rated Wanderers in the second half to post a 39-11 bonus point win.

In damp conditions at the Palace Grounds, there was little to choose between the sides in a closely-fought first quarter. Cormac Fox’s lead penalty was cancelled out by a well-struck three-pointer from Wanderers winger Eoin O’Shaughnessy.

A bout of pressure led to Armagh winger Andrew Willis crossing for a 25th minute try at the end of a terrific back-line move, with a further penalty from out-half Fox stretching their lead to 11-3 by half-time.

The very impressive Fox increased his influence with a neatly-taken penalty, five minutes into the second half, but Wanderers hit back with a 50th minute try from fast-breaking centre Robert Clune. The conversion was missed at 14-8.

Crucially, the home side put on a spurt in and around the hour mark. Fox punished a Wanderers offside with three more points and then a fleet-footed attack saw Willis free up flanker James Morton for a run-in from the 22.

Fox’s conversion was cancelled out by an O’Shaughnessy penalty which proved to be the ill-disciplined Dubliners’ last score of the day. Armagh pushed on from 24-11, finding an extra gear to claim two closing tries in the final 10 minutes.

After Fox’s fifth successful penalty in the 65th minute, he provided the cross-field kick for centre John Faloon’s try in the 71st minute. Number 8 Neil Faloon bagged the bonus point with two minutes left, barging over after excellent approach work by replacement scrum half TC Campbell, who chipped through in the build-up, and Ryan Purvis who retrieved possession close to the line.

Meanwhile, winger Barry Hill scored two tries for the second week running as MU Barnhall made it three wins in a row. They ran out 41-3 bonus point winners over bottom side City of Derry at Parsonstown.

Andrew Purcell and Farrell McManus both crossed in the first half for a 12-0 interval lead, and Simon Gillespie and Neil Burns swapped penalties early in the second half. Derry suffered their second sin-binning and the Blue Bulls took complete control thereafter, running in four more tries through Conor Lacey, Rob Tiernan and Hill (2).

Dungannon, whose match away to Derry in the last round was postponed, were stung by the concession of a last-minute penalty goal as they went down 15-14 to Old Crescent at Stevenson Park.

Shane O’Brien’s late three-pointer gave a tight verdict to Crescent who remain fifth in the standings, three points ahead of Dungannon. Crescent captain Alex Simpson also lifted the Eric Shiels Memorial Cup afterwards.

The Shields Cup was presented many years ago by a former Dungannon President for matches between the two clubs. Before the All-Ireland League came into being, Crescent and Dungannon played each other every year on a home-and-away basis going back to the early 1950s.

The sides scored a try apiece in the first half, Tianua Poto’s conversion of his own try give ‘Gannon a slim 7-5 advantage. The Kiwi out-half intercepted a stray clearance out of defence in the 20th minute and sprinted clean through from about 40 metres out.

Crescent had hit the front three minutes earlier, their backs using scrum ball to work an overlap for winger Val McDermott to exploit and eventually touch down. Out-half O’Brien missed the conversion and was also off target with a penalty effort just before half-time.

The second period remained scoreless despite Simpson’s sin-binning for a high tackle in the 50th minute. ‘Gannon, who were missing some key men through injury and unavailability, retained the lion’s share of possession and territory without forcing a score.

That was until the Limerick men erred when trying to break from deep on the hour mark. Poto charged down an attempted clearance kick and duly complete his brace of tries, opening up a 14-5 lead in the process.

However, Crescent’s persistence paid off in a heartbreaking finish for the hosts. Number 8 Brendan Guilfoyle powered over for a converted try in the 72nd minute before ‘Gannon were pinged for holding on in the final seconds and O’Brien made no mistake with the all-important place-kick.

Meanwhile, Skerries held on for a much-needed 11-10 victory over Dublin rivals Bective at a windy Holmpatrick. There was huge relief for the Goats as their seven-match losing streak finally came to an end.

Bective were 7-6 to the good at half-time, their captain Gearoid O’Grady converting his own 10th minute try which came from a charge-down and against the run of play. Skerries had a strong wind at their backs and two penalties from out-half Billy Mulcahy after 22 and 30 minutes made it a one-point game.

The Bective scrum was under pressure since the early injury-enforced departure of their loosehead, but rather than rely on their set piece dominance, it took a moment of individual magic for Skerries to move ahead on the scoreboard.

Blindside flanker Evan Sherlock delighted the home crowd with an opportunist 43rd minute try, making it over in the corner at the end of a strong run that saw him fend off several tackles. The difficult conversion was nudged wide.

It was all hands to the pump as Skerries, now facing into the wind, tried to protect their 11-7 lead. Second rows Tom Mulvaney and Joe Glennon stood out in terms of their set piece work and huge work-rate around the pitch.

The home side had a touch of good fortunate as Bective missed two penalties, one of them hitting the post, and they needed a terrific cover tackle from full-back Paul O’Loghlen to deny Rangers an almost certain try in the 65th minute.

Strangely, Skerries have finished with 11 points in each of their last three league fixtures and that proved just enough against misfiring Bective. The visitors did close the gap with an O’Grady penalty but they were wayward with a further attempt in the 78th minute, leaving Skerries to pocket four very hard-earned points.

The only team to buck the trend for home wins in round 9 was second-placed Greystones who came away from Thomond with a resounding 59-7 bonus point success. Alan Wallace’s converted score was dwarfed by the nine tries that ‘Stones racked up during a thoroughly one-sided encounter.