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Ulster Bank League: Division 2C Review

Ulster Bank League: Division 2C Review

Malahide enjoyed a dream debut in the Ulster Bank League with a thumping 55-7 home win over Bective Rangers on the opening night, while fellow newcomers Omagh, who are back at this level after a gap of 17 years, also made a winning start away to Bruff (14-13).

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE DIVISION 2C: Saturday, September 16

ROUND 1 RESULTS –

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Malahide 55 Bective Rangers 7, Estuary Road (played on Friday)
Bangor 21 Tullamore 15, Upritchard Park
Bruff 13 Omagh 14, Kilballyowen Park
Midleton 20 Seapoint 10, Towns Park
Thomond 12 Sligo 13, Liam Fitzgerald Park

This season sees the introduction of the #UBLTry of the Month award with a prize of 250 euro for each monthly winner and entry into the Try of the Year award.

Malahide made sure their historic first night in the league was one to remember with a runaway 55-7 bonus point success against Bective. This Dublin derby was watched by a passionate crowd at Estuary Road, with the presence of player/scrum coach Mike Ross on the hosts’ bench adding even more interest to this fixture.

After a tense opening quarter, the breakthrough came in the 20th minute when Dave Nolan’s well-won lineout, five metres out, set up a maul and hooker Damien Butler was able to barge out for Malahide’s maiden try in Division 2C, converted by Conal Keane.

Out-half Keane knocked over two penalties to add further momentum to Malahide’s play, with Rick Evans’ side really hitting their stride as half-time approached. They opened up a 34-0 lead and had the bonus point in the bag by the interval, as Marcus McAllister ran in an intercept try from deep, Butler swooped on a loose ball to dart through for try number three and winger Daragh Sweeney turned a miscued Bective clearance into a late fourth score under the posts.

Keane maintained his 100% form with the boot, nailing all three conversions, and the north Dubliners tagged on three more converted tries after the break. 15 minutes in, and with former Leinster and Ireland prop Ross carrying strongly, a free-flowing back-line move conjured up the try of the game for replacement winger Gary Robb.

Rangers responded with one of their best spells of the match, pressing from a scrum free-kick and a close-in penalty. Good ball retention led to centre Martin O’Neill crashing in between two defenders for a well-taken seven-pointer. However, Malahide were ruthless on the counter, a second interception teeing up a try for centre Rory Kavanagh before he provided the assist for Robb’s second try – and his side’s seventh in all – in the dying minutes.

The division’s four clashes on Saturday afternoon were much more closely fought. Omagh Accies head coach Phil Marshall was ‘delighted’ after a 67th minute penalty from out-half Scott Elliott guided them to a nail-biting 14-13 win over hosts Bruff at Kilballyowen Park.

The Omagh supporters who made the long trip south to Limerick were also overjoyed to witness the club make a winning return to All-Ireland senior rugby. Marshall said: “It will take the monkey off our back and made the long journey home all the more bearable. The last kick hung so long in the air that we were agonising on the touchline and almost blowing it on and willing it to go over and thankfully it did!

“It was an eventful game which we learned a lot about the character of the side. It is a massive learning curve for us all, having long journeys, staying overnight, different pre-match preparations, and facing sides we have never played before. We certainly have to learn quick and will be anticipating some fierce physical battles from what we have seen so far.”

Two unconverted tries from Bruff’s Paidi Kilcoyne and Eric Finn, who were both fed out wide after the visitors’ defence was sucked in, had Omagh under pressure. Nonetheless, they held their own against a more experienced Bruff scrum and their reliable lineout launched them forward, setting up Elliott for two successful penalties.

The Tyrone men nipped in front for half-time – 11-10 – after defending manfully during Luke Hanson’s sin-bin period. A bout of forward pressure duly produced their first league try which saw hooker Adam Pollock show good strength to pile over for an unconverted effort. It was a penalty goal apiece in a rather turgid second half, again the Accies showing impressive resilience to leak only three points while number 8 James Catterson was in the bin.

With their bench proving influential, Omagh produced the stronger finish with Elliott planting a penalty from the 10-metre line through the uprights for the match-winning score. Bruff had enough time to bite back, but Marshall’s charges had the better of the closing exchanges and their flanker Adam Longwell came agonisingly close to a late try – he was hauled down just short after a blindside break from man-of-the-match Elliott.

James Hickey’s first game in charge of Thomond ended in a one-point defeat to Sligo, one of the division’s best performing teams from last season. There was just a kick of the ball in it as Evan Cusack’s last-minute touchline conversion fell just wide for the Soda Cakes.

At a rain-soaked Liam Fitzgerald Park, Sligo missed a couple of early penalties in difficult conditions and it was Thomond who took the lead midway through the first half. Centre Ger Finucane punched through midfield to set up a scrum, from which some nice handling from the backs, on a loop, put winger Darragh O’Neill over out wide on the right. Out-half Cusack converted and Sligo remained 7-0 behind at the break, suffering another penalty miss and a misplaced pass ruined a late Mike Wells-inspired attack.

However, with their scrum becoming more of a weapon as the game wore on, the Sligo pack forced the issue in the third quarter. A 56th minute penalty from Mark Butler finally got the visitors on the board and they followed up with a try on the hour mark. Off the back of a scrum penalty, Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill won the subsequent lineout and a determined drive saw replacement Shane O’Hehir cross in the left corner.

Sligo stretched their lead to 13-7 with 10 minutes remaining. Thomond were being starved of meaningful possession and the Connacht club’s forwards, driven on by Academy scrum half Ryan Feehily, were providing an enviable platform. Centre Mark Rooney managed to touch down on the left after good hands from Butler, Wells and winger Philip Carter.

With neither try converted, Thomond were still within range. The strong-carrying Finucane led the charge for the home side, the Sligo defence coming under ferocious pressure late on before David O’Halloran’s try out wide made it a one-point game. As the tension rose, young number 10 Cusack had a very difficult kick to win it, and although he struck it well, his conversion attempt was off target, leaving Sligo to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

There are positive signs at Upritchard Park where Bangor overcame a Tullamore side that did the double on them last season. Jason Morgan’s men ran out 21-15 winners, showing plenty of character and composure to erase an early 12-point deficit which saw the visitors’ new number 8 Lemeki Vaipulu and Sean Rigney both touch down.

One of Bangor’s young guns, winger Chris Jordan replied with a very well-taken score, spinning out of a couple of tackles and staying on his feet to stretch over the line. Gareth Millar’s well-struck conversion into the wind briefly closed the gap to 12-7 before Tullamore answered back with a penalty goal.

However, that proved to be the Offaly men’s last score of the afternoon as Bangor reduced the arrears to 15-14 for half-time – Stuart McCloskey’s brother Ross squeezed over in the corner after an initial break from Andrew Shaw – and turned around with the elements behind them.

Tullamore were unable to convert some late first half pressure into points and the Seasiders resumed in much better fettle. Dave Caughey drove into the Tullamore 22 and a couple of phases later, new forwards coach Lewis Stevenson marked his Bangor bow with a try from a few metres out. Out-half Millar made it three kicks out of three with another crisp conversion.

As clinical as Bangor were in taking their scoring chances, it was their well-drilled defence which ultimately won them the game. Tullamore laid siege to the hosts’ line but got no return for their efforts during the final quarter. Indeed, Millar might have taken the losing bonus point away from John Burns’ side but his radar was off with a late penalty attempt.

Midleton had nine new faces on duty as they kicked off their league campaign with a confidence-boosting 20-10 victory at home to Seapoint. Stuart Lee landed three penalties to give John O’Neill’s men a 9-0 interval advantage, with the visitors struggling to get their hands on the ball.

Rory Horgan and Michael ‘Yorkie’ Cronin were both prominent in the build-up to the Red Devils’ only try of the contest. Cronin was tackled short of the line but Lee’s brilliantly weighted pass, which took out a couple of Seapoint defenders, played in youngster Rian Hogan for a five-pointer in the corner.

Lee missed the conversion but tagged on two more penalties to complete his own 15-point haul, moving Midleton into an unassailable 20-point lead with 10 minutes remaining. To their credit, Eric Miller’s Seapoint rallied late on and notched two tries but neither was converted as the bonus point remained out of their reach.