Navan and Sligo both won on the road and with just three points separating them at the summit, it is now a straight shoot-out between the pair for the Division 2C title and promotion. At the opposite end, Boyne’s win over Bangor has boosted their chances of avoiding the drop.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE: DIVISION 2C: Saturday, March 25
ROUND 16 RESULTS –
Tullamore 18 Navan 22, Spollanstown (played on Friday)
Boyne 24 Bangor 10, Shamrock Lodge
Bruff 16 Seapoint 26, Kilballyowen Park
Kanturk 13 Sligo 27, Knocknacolan
Rainey Old Boys 42 Midleton 26, Hatrick Park
Round 16 began with a fiercely competitive Friday Night Lights clash between fourth-placed Tullamore and leaders Navan. Second half tries from Leigh Jackson and Bryan McKeever did the trick for the Meath men in a 22-18 win at Spollanstown.
Tullamore’s strong start, which included a try from winger Dylan Kelso, gradually unravelled as they lost number 10 Aidan Wynne to the sin-bin for not releasing in the 17th minute. Six minutes later, Navan’s Simon Hogan crossed in the left corner with reliable out-half Declan Bannon adding the conversion for a 10-7 turnaround.
Jackson’s pick and drive from the back of a ruck saw the Tullamore try-line breached again early in the second half. Either side of McKeever’s score from a blindside break, which came after Tullamore were turned over at a scrum, Conor Dunne popped over penalties after 48 and 59 minutes to keep the Co. Offaly club within range (22-13).
Navan had to defend for their lives during a breathless period as back-to-back yellow cards left them down to 13 men. However, one unconverted score is all they coughed up in the closing stages as a frustrated Tullamore fell four points short of the table toppers.
Meanwhile, Sligo’s winning streak now stands at nine matches following their 27-13 bonus point success at Kanturk. The Corkmen proved tricky opponents at sunny Knocknacolan, particularly in the first half when Ronan O’Brien bagged a brace of tries.
O’Brien’s second effort came against the run of play, an intercept setting the wheels in motion for a thrilling length-of-the-field try. Now trailing 13-8, Sligo lifted their game and ended a fast-paced first half 27-13 to the good.
Hooker Shane O’Hehir’s earlier try via a blindside snipe from a maul was added to by a well-taken brace out wide from out-half Mike Wells and an excellent team try finished off by centre Mark Rooney on the stroke of half-time.
Full-back Jack Keegan kicked two conversions and a penalty, but there were no further scores during the closing 40 minutes. The result leaves Sligo nicely poised to strike for top spot, with a home game against Tullamore to come before a potential winner-takes-all showdown with Navan at Balreask Old on Saturday, April 15.
Boyne’s first league win since late October – they overcame Bangor 24-10 at Shamrock Lodge on Saturday – has closed the gap on second-from-bottom Kanturk to just a single point. Both sides still have three matches left to play.
Two unconverted tries had the Drogheda outfit leading 10-3 at the interval, the first of them seeing captain George Cooney touch down in the left corner following a sustained bout of pressure. Boyne had most of the first half possession with Bangor struggling to win their own lineout ball.
The visitors’ scrum fared much better and a penalty from the set piece allowed Gareth Millar to get them on the scoreboard. However, straight from the restart, Boyne regained possession and a quick spread of passes out to winger Kevin McCleery saw him burst clear to score their second five-pointer.
Poor defending from Bangor again allowed Boyne out-half Niall Kerbey to drift through and score close to the posts with 50 minutes on the clock. The third-from-bottom Seasiders were given a lift by hooker Andrew Jackson’s subsequent try which saw him power over from a crash-ball run.
Boyne had a let-off when Bangor full-back Gareth Wright broke clear in a move that should have seen the visitors square things up at 17 points apiece. Instead, Wright’s attempted pass to player-coach Jason Morgan was intercepted and the home supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief.
That close call seemed to inspire the Boyne attack and after missing out on a try due to a double movement, the hosts secured their bonus point when they capitalised on a poor Bangor pass and McCleery punished the visitors’ brittle defence with his second try of the day. Kerbey’s conversion bounced over off the crossbar for a 14-point winning margin.
Seapoint will make the trip to Shamrock Lodge this weekend on the back of a terrific 26-16 bonus point victory at Bruff. The south Dubliners have moved up to sixth in the standings and well away from the relegation zone.
Eric Miller’s young side have developed a winning mentality in recent months and it was hugely evident in the final quarter at Kilballyowen Park. John Clery’s 60th-minute try and a subsequent Tony Cahill penalty had Bruff leading 16-12, but Seapoint floored the Limerick men with two decisive tries after 70 and 74 minutes.
Third-placed Rainey Old Boys confirmed their place in the promotion play-offs courtesy of a 42-26 bonus point win over Midleton. John Andrews’ charges bounced back from three straight defeats with a morale-boosting six-try display at Hatrick Park.
Rainey were aided by Tommy O’Hagan’s big impact on his return to the front row, the Ulster ‘A’ prop getting in among the tries along with Michael McCusker, Andrew Donaghy, Michael Wilson, Tim Barker and Philip McCusker. Stuart Lee kicked 16 points for the Cork side whose tries were scored by Rob Carey and Robert Smyth.