The weather gods smiled on Ulster Bank League Division 2B last Saturday as all five matches were able to be played, with free-scoring front runners Armagh and Greystones matching each other stride for stride.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2B: Saturday, March 4
ROUND 14 RESULTS –
Armagh 36 Skerries 10, Palace Grounds
Bective Rangers 0 Old Crescent 17, Donnybrook
Greystones 39 Dungannon 5, Dr. Hickey Park
Thomond 22 MU Barnhall 28, Liam Fitzgerald Park
Wanderers 20 City of Derry 11, Aviva Stadium back pitch
With four rounds to go, Armagh and Greystones are only split by a single point as they fight it out for top spot and automatic promotion. The sides have near identical records with 12 wins and two defeats each but with Armagh boasting one more bonus point compared to ‘Stones (who have a notable advantage in the scoring difference column of more than 100 points).
Thankfully the heavy rain of the previous night cleared to make way for near perfect conditions at the Palace Grounds where Armagh took on seventh-placed Skerries. The table toppers were 10-0 up inside 12 minutes, Harvey Young landing a penalty and also converting full-back Kyle Faloon’s well-taken try from a sweeping back-line move.
The Dubliners, who had a good share of first half possession, hit back in the 24th minute when Armagh failed to clear the danger following two fly-hacks downfield and Skerries winger Eddie O’Mahony succeeded in squeezing over in the corner.
However, two seven-pointers either side of half-time gave the Ulstermen a very comfortable 24-5 lead. Quick recycling allowed captain Ali Birch to charge 30 metres to the whitewash before the break, and try number three followed in the 48th minute when David Swann got over in the corner following a 40-metre burst by winger Andrew Willis.
Out-half Young nailed both conversions, including a brilliant effort from the touchline. Undeterred by a knock-on which had ruined a scoring opportunity from a close-in lineout, the visitors deservedly crossed the whitewash approaching the hour mark, winger Mark Oliver getting the touchdown after scrum half Eoghan Carron’s swift break from halfway.
Skerries showed their mettle when they prevented the league leaders from scoring during a 10-minute spell of almost constant pressure. Nonetheless, a series of five-metre scrums eventually led to the concession of a penalty try, and the conversion of the bonus point score made it 31-10.
Although the outcome was in no doubt now, both sides still went in search of scores in an entertaining final quarter where the action swung from end to end. Despite losing hooker David Swann to the sin-bin, Armagh were able to break from deep through the ever-influential Birch. He made 50 metres and the support arrived in timely fashion, bringing possession up close to the try-line before Chris Colvin dived over to complete the scoring.
Meanwhile, talented young centre Con Callan caught the eye again with two intercept tries in Greystones’ runaway 39-5 bonus point success against Dungannon.
Having lost 35-19 up in Tyrone in October, the Wicklow men were determined to win this return fixture and Callan’s quick-fire brace in the second quarter – adding to Barry Lynn’s initial try – had them 24-0 to the good at their Dr. Hickey Park base.
‘Gannon got on the scoreboard by the interval, but three more tries in the second period had Kevin Lewis’ charges well and truly out of sight. Forwards Dan Mannion and Barry Fitzpatrick both touched down and the hosts saved the best for last as Mike Lea and Paudie Geoghegan combined for a cracking sixth try finished off by Geoghegan, the fleet-footed winger.
On the 4G surface at Donnybrook, Old Crescent put two February defeats behind them with a 17-0 triumph over second-from-bottom Bective Rangers.
The result saw Crescent hold onto the fourth and final promotion play-off spot, but MU Barnhall are nipping at their heels following their 28-22 bonus point success away to bottom side Thomond.
Crescent laid the foundations for their latest win with a solid first half display. Shane O’Brien’s 25th-minute penalty was followed five minutes later by a try from experienced back Brian Tuohy who broke through some poor Bective tackling to touch down near the posts.
O’Brien converted to open up a 10-0 lead for half-time, but the Limerick side were under the cosh for much of the third quarter. Bective forced the issue with long passages of play in the visitors’ 22 but they just could not break down a resolute defence.
In a near carbon copy of their first try, Crescent struck for the clinching seven-pointer with 15 minutes remaining. Gareth Quinn McDonogh evaded the scrambling Bective defence to make the try-line and condemn the Dubliners to their seventh successive defeat.
Brothers Andrew and Matthew Coade scored a try apiece as MU Barnhall won for the first time in three rounds. Importantly, the Blue Bulls picked up a try-scoring bonus point at Liam Fitzgerald Park, with Conor Lacey and Farrell McManus also crossing the whitewash.
Thomond showed their battling qualities by scoring three unconverted tries in the first half – Leonard Slattery, Cian Coady and Kevin O’Mahony all got their names on the scoresheet – and then Pa Ryan’s closing effort secured a brace of bonus points for his relegation-threatened team.
City of Derry lost for the first time in the league since early December as their five-match winning run was ended by Wanderers who were 20-11 winners on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch.
Like Barnhall, the third-placed Dubliners were rebounding from a round 13 reversal. Derry were only 10-8 behind at the break, with Ian Bratton scoring a try and Neil Burns kicking a penalty. However, early tries in each half from Harley Murray and Eoin O’Shaughnessy steered Wanderers to a hard-earned victory in showery conditions.