Table toppers Lansdowne and defending champions Clontarf will have home advantage in the Division 1A semi-finals after a tumultuous final day in the Ulster Bank League.
Next Sunday’s semi-final clashes will pit Lansdowne against fourth-placed Cork Constitution, who will defend their Bateman Cup crown at Old Belvedere the following Saturday, and Clontarf will host third-ranked Young Munster at Castle Avenue.
Lansdowne finished top of the pile on scoring difference following their 40-17 bonus point dismissal of Garryowen whose top flight survival rests on the upcoming promotion/relegation play-offs which include three Division 1B clubs.
The headquarters club were winless in the last four rounds but with Scott Deasy back at out-half, they led from the second minute onwards thanks to flanker Charlie Butterworth’s early try on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch. Current Ireland Under-20 hooker Tadgh McElroy also touched down as the hosts built a 28-3 lead.
Tries from Ireland Students international Bailey Faloon (43 minutes) and Munster Academy member Steven McMahon (50) lifted the Light Blues’ spirits – their second-from-bottom finish means they will host Old Wesley in a play-off semi-final next Sunday.
Lansdowne made sure they had the final say with two closing tries from back-three regulars Daniel McEvoy – the division’s top try scorer with 11 touchdowns – and Eamonn Mills.
Former Ireland Under-20 international Conor O’Brien, who recently returned from injury, bagged two tries in Clontarf’s action-packed 37-28 bonus point win over UCD on their 4G pitch.
The north Dubliners were 21-15 down at half-time, with Josh Murphy, Ciaran Frawley and Andy Marks notching tries for the students who were brimming with confidence after last week’s Colours success.
‘Tarf got on top in the third quarter, moving ahead thanks to converted tries from centre O’Brien and out-half David Joyce who also kicked 12 points. A deserved try for workhorse number 8 Michael Noone, coupled with a Joyce penalty, made it 27 points without reply, before UCD’s Leinster-capped prop Andrew Porter had a late consolation score.
Down at Temple Hill, there were tries aplenty too as Cork Constitution got the better of St. Mary’s College on a 34-27 scoreline. Backs Ned Hodson and Michael Clune bagged braces for the victors.
Dublin University clawed clear of the relegation zone with a stunning last-minute try from Tim Maupin which saw them overcome Terenure College 27-25 at College Park.
The students, who were bidding to stay up at the end of their first season in Division 1A, won possession back in the final seconds thanks to a big tackle by number 8 Tom Ryan. The Trinity backs then countered at pace from their own 22, with Colm Hogan and Michael Courtney to the fore, and they put USA international Maupin into space out wide for the game’s decisive score which was coolly converted by U-20 out-half James Fennelly.
Trinity director of rugby Tony Smeeth, whose young side finished sixth in the table, beamed afterwards: “It was just unbelievable. I can’t describe it really. I didn’t think we were going to win. That was the try of the year that last one. You won’t see many tries better than that in College Park.”
Despite going down to that late try, Terenure also maintained their top flight status by finishing eighth overall – just a point above relegation-threatened Garryowen. It has been a superb comeback from James Blaney’s side when you consider that they were nine points adrift at the foot of the table in late January. Front rowers Robbie Smyth and Oisin Heffernan scored two of ‘Nure’s three tries on the day.
Munster centre Dan Goggin touched down twice in Young Munster’s runaway 33-12 bonus point victory at relegated Old Belvedere. The Cookies were coasting by half-time, armed with a 21-0 buffer. Teenage out-half Alan Tynan crossed the whitewash in between Goggin’s well-taken brace.
Tynan kicked four conversions to add to a try double from prop Paul Allen in the second half, but their efforts were not enough to gain home advantage in the play-offs. ‘Belvo bowed out of the top flight with tries from scrum half Kyle McCarthy and replacement Eddie Weaver.
Meanwhile, Buccaneers ended their Division 1B title-winning campaign with a bang as they hammered Ballynahinch 40-10 at Dubarry Park yesterday.
The champions’ talismanic number 8 and captain Kolo Kiripati, who is bowing out after almost a decade with the Athlone club, even chipped in with a conversion in the six-try triumph.
One of the real success stories of Buccs’ season is young winger Jordan Conroy who has shone in the try-scoring stakes. The Ireland Sevens flyer ran in his 18th league try against ‘Hinch, giving him a perfect one try-per-game ratio.
Ballymena and Shannon were both under some pressure to secure their places in Division 1B for next season. In the end, Rodger McBurney’s first half try guided the Braidmen to a 13-10 home win, while the losing bonus point ensured an eighth place finish for the Limerick men.
There were no last day heroics from Galwegians who will make the drop down to Division 2A after losing 27-16 at home to Naas. Two second half tries from Rory Parata and Adam Leavy were not enough.
The Johne Murphy-coached Naas side are in the hunt for back-to-back promotions, the final round working out in their favour as they climbed into second spot to secure home advantage in next week’s promotion play-offs.
Former Cill Dara and Ireland U-18 Clubs winger Peter Howard, who made his league debut in January, is a player who has really stood out for the Kildare men. He scored his sixth try in five games yesterday.
A second half brace from Paul Harte saw Old Wesley run out 19-5 winners over UCC at Donnybrook and lock down fourth place. However, the result of the day in the second tier came at the University of Limerick where play-off-bound Bohemians were beaten 16-10 by resurgent Dolphin.
Flanker Kevin Allen’s 12th-minute try was converted by league veteran Barry Keeshan who also kicked three penalties. Chris Rowe’s Corkmen ended the regular season with four wins on the trot, it was enough to avoid the drop but their divisional status now results on the play-offs – they host Malone, Division 2A’s fourth-placed team – next week.
Banbridge were crowned Division 2A champions and secured promotion in some style with a 40-12 triumph at Sunday’s Well. It is Bann’s first league title since their Ulster Qualifying League 1 success of 1998.
Greystones, by far the league’s heaviest scorers with 663 points, took the Division 2B honours with a 45-10 win at home to Old Crescent. Paudie Geoghegan and Eoin Marmion scored two tries apiece.
There was a straight shootout for the Division 2C silverware at Balreask Old where Navan prevailed 15-5 against second-placed Sligo. Fittingly, former captain and club centurion Simon Hogan ran in the clinching try for Alan Kingsley’s first-time league champions, just six days on from the Navan Under-20s’ historic Fraser McMullen Cup win.
There was a heartbreaking finish for Kanturk who, despite excelling with a 36-18 bonus point victory over Cork rivals Midleton, were relegated to the junior ranks on scoring difference. Boyne scored a converted try in the very last play to draw 25-all with Bruff and finish level on 27 points with the ‘Turks. Their Ulster Bank League status now rests on a home play-off in two weeks’ time.
Malahide will be the league’s new boys next September after they won the All-Ireland Provincial League Championship with a round to spare. The 50th league place will be claimed by either Boyne, the ninth-placed finishers in Division 2C, or the Round Robin runners-up – likely to be Omagh or Clonmel.
ULSTER BANK LEAGUE – DIVISIONAL RUNDOWN:
DIVISION 1A –
Division 1A semi-finalists: Lansdowne (1st), Clontarf (2nd), Young Munster (3rd), Cork Constitution (4th)
Division 1A semi-finals: Sunday, April 23: Lansdowne (1st) v Cork Constitution (4th), Aviva Stadium back pitch, 2.30pm; Clontarf (2nd) v Young Munster (3rd), Castle Avenue, 2.30pm; Division 1A final: Aviva Stadium, Sunday, May 7
Relegated: Old Belvedere (automatic); Garryowen (Division 1A promotion/relegation play-offs)
DIVISION 1B –
Division 1B champions/Promoted: Buccaneers
Division 1A promotion/relegation play-off semi-finals: Sunday, April 23: Garryowen (9th Div 1A) v Old Wesley (4th Div 1B), Dooradoyle, 2.30pm; Naas (2nd Div 1B) v UL Bohemians (3rd Div 1B), Forenaughts, 2.30pm; Division 1A promotion/relegation play-off final: Saturday, April 29
Relegated: Galwegians (automatic); Dolphin (Division 1B promotion/relegation play-offs)
DIVISION 2A –
Division 2A champions/Promoted: Banbridge
Division 1B promotion/relegation play-off semi-finals: Saturday, April 22: Dolphin (9th Div 1B) v Malone (4th Div 2A), Irish Independent Park, 2.30pm; Highfield (2nd Div 2A) v Nenagh Ormond (3rd Div 2A), Woodleigh Park, 1.30pm; Division 1B promotion/relegation play-off final: Saturday, April 29
Relegated: Belfast Harlequins (automatic); Sunday’s Well (Division 2A promotion/relegation play-offs)
DIVISION 2B –
Division 2B champions/Promoted: Greystones
Division 2A promotion/relegation play-off semi-finals: Sunday April 23: Sunday’s Well (9th Div 2A) v Old Crescent (4th Div 2B), Irish Independent Park, 2.30pm; Saturday, April 22: Armagh (2nd Div 2B) v Wanderers (3rd Div 2B), Palace Grounds, 2.30pm; Division 2A promotion/relegation play-off final:Saturday, April 29
Relegated: Thomond (automatic); Bective Rangers (Division 2B promotion/relegation play-offs)
DIVISION 2C –
Division 2C champions/Promoted: Navan
Division 2B promotion/relegation play-off semi-finals: Saturday, April 22: Bective Rangers (9th Div 2B) v Tullamore (4th Div 2C), Donnybrook, 5pm; Sligo (2nd Div 2C) v Rainey Old Boys (3rd Div 2C), Hamilton Park, 2.30pm; Division 2B promotion/relegation play-off final: Saturday, April 29
Relegated: Kanturk (automatic); (Boyne (home advantage in Division 2C promotion/relegation play-off)
ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP –
Round Robin champions/Promoted: Malahide
Division 2C promotion/relegation play-off: Boyne v Round Robin runners-up (Omagh or Clonmel), Saturday, April 29