Malahide are the early leaders in the race to qualify for next season’s Ulster Bank League via the All-Ireland Provincial League Championship. They won away to Omagh Accies in the opening round, while Clonmel squeezed past Connacht challengers Ballina.
ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, April 1
ROUND 1 –
Clonmel 10 Ballina 6, Ardgaoithe
Omagh 17 Malahide 26, Thomas Mellon Playing Fields
Recent Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 winners Omagh were beaten by Malahide in their first round clash at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields. The Dubliners were leading 26-5 before the Accies lifted their game, scoring two tries, but it was too late to reel in the visitors.
Malahide looked the sharper team early on and negated the influence of Omagh’s strong-carrying number 8 James Catterson. They opened the scoring in the 15th minute when a blindside move set up winger Marcus McAllister for an unconverted try.
But Omagh were level within five minutes, hooker Richard Hemphill popping up in support to take Mervyn Edgar’s offload and make the line from close range. The attack was mounted off Jamie Sproule’s lineout take and a break by scrum half Stewart McCain.
Malahide then threatened when Omagh attempted an ill-advised interception, leaving the hosts’ defence under sudden pressure, and centre Marc Hewitt took advantage of a poor tackle to touch down on the half hour mark. Conal Keane’s successful conversion made it 12-5 for half-time.
The wet conditions led to a few spilled balls and a couple of potent Malahide attacks broke down. Omagh went agonisingly close to their second try just before the interval, a muscular maul being held up after good build-up play by McCain, Scott Barr and Catterson had set up the lineout opportunity.
Into the second period, the Co. Tyrone outfit fell further behind after coughing up a turnover just outside their 22. Malahide moved the ball at pace and out-half Keane’s dummy caught the Omagh defence out and he dived over for a try which he converted himself – 19-5.
Omagh were just not as clinical in attack, their execution and decision-making letting them down at times. Having held firm despite a couple of momentum-building scrums from Omagh, Malahide bagged their bonus point when a loose Accies pass was hacked through and McAllister used his speed and footballing skills to complete his brace, with Keane converting.
The Accies had their best spell of the game in response, quick taps by Edgar and McCain injecting some much-needed pace into their attacks. Their persistence paid off when second row Jamie Sproule drove into two defenders and stretched out to score with Neil Mellon adding the extras.
Blindside Edgar, who got through a huge amount of work, put his name to try number three in the dying minutes, but the drop-kicked conversion missed the target and time ran out on Omagh’s comeback bid.
Omagh head coach Phil Marshall told the club website: “We were poor in the first half, probably as bad as we have been all year but improved greatly in the second. As I said previously, it is a pleasure to be here and we are far from out of it yet.
“We know what we have to do at training this week and look forward to the trip to Ballina next weekend. With Clonmel only beating them 10-6 there is still everything to play for, but it will be another massive test for us.”
Meanwhile, Munster champions Clonmel were made to fight all the way for their 10-6 victory over a fiercely-committed Ballina side who were disappointed to come away from Ardgaoithe without the four match points.
In tough weather conditions, it was the Moy men who hit the front around the 20-minute mark, their forwards earning a penalty which Darragh Whyte sent through the uprights from 30 metres out.
Conor Cooney kicked Clonmel level after a prolonged bout of attacking in the Ballina 22. Despite losing Sam Liebezeit and Richard Morrow to injuries, Ballina had the best try-scoring opportunities before half-time – Chris O’Neill was held up over the try-line and Fergal Tully had a charge-down try ruled out as the ball had gone over the end-line.
A second successful penalty from Whyte – this time from 40 metres – moved the visitors back in front in the 48th minute. However, just as the hour mark passed, a costly turnover led to Clonmel countering to telling effect, hoofing the ball downfield and with Ballina unable to regather it, Luke Hogan pounced to slide in under the posts for a crucial converted try.
Clonmel will be mindful that they beat Connacht opposition (Westport) in their first Round Robin game last season before suffering back-to-back defeats. However, last Saturday’s hard-fought win should steel Denis Leamy’s charges for their round 2 trip to table toppers Malahide.
Giving his reaction to his side’s defeat in Tipperary, Ballina boss Dave Newman said: “I’m very proud of the guys but I’m not very happy at the moment. We came here to win this competition and we showed that out there. Usually a Connacht team makes up the numbers, but we came down here with the true belief that we could win the competition.
“Unfortunately a break of a ball, they got a try. We had a few try-scoring chances that we didn’t take – one was ruled out, another one dropped over the line, another one held up. That’s three tries we missed out on in the first half. We’re there or thereabouts.
“We’ve two games at home now to prepare for. The boys are upset (in the dressing room), a few words were said in there, a few teary eyes. But they’re ready to pick themselves up again. It’s onwards and upwards.”
ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 2: Saturday, April 8
Ballina (3rd) v Omagh (4th), Heffernan Park, 2.30pm
Malahide (1st) v Clonmel (2nd), Estuary Road, 2.30pm