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All-Ireland League Division 1B: Round 8 Review

All-Ireland League Division 1B: Round 8 Review

Four of last Saturday’s matches in Division 1B were decided by eight points or less, showing again just how well-matched the second tier clubs are. St. Mary’s College were the most impressive winners and are the latest team to hit the summit.

ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: DIVISION 1B: Saturday, December 8

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BALLYMENA 18 BALLYNAHINCH 10, Eaton Park
Scorers: Ballymena: Tries: Michael Stronge, Jordan Foster; Con: Tim Small; Pens: Tim Small 2
Ballynahinch: Try: Rhys O’Donnell; Con: Peter Nelson; Pen: Peter Nelson

HT: Ballymena 15 Ballynahinch 3

Bottom side Ballymena took their chances well and won the breakdown battle to finish eight points clear of Ulster rivals Ballynahinch in a keenly-contested derby clash at Eaton Park.

The early exchanges favoured ‘Hinch, who had won their last two games and fielded an all-Ulster front row of Tommy O’Hagan, Zack McCall and Tom O’Toole. Full-back Peter Nelson kicked them ahead with a well-struck fifth minute penalty, having missed a more difficult earlier chance.

Ballymena soon used their big forwards, including Connor Smyth and young number 8 Azur Allison, to carry hard into the breeze. They scored after a dominant scrum gave them a platform to attack the midfield, with winger Jordan Foster crossing in the corner. Tim Small’s excellent touchline conversion made it 7-3.

Ballynahinch could not capitalise on recently-returned winger Ross Adair’s intelligent running lines, and Ballymena increased their lead with a Small penalty from the 22-metre line. His half-back partner Michael Stronge’s accurate box-kicking had the hosts exiting very efficiently from restarts.

The difference between the sides was summed up when ‘Hinch coughed up turnover ball after Adair had done well to set up a five-metre lineout, and the Braidmen responded with a tremendous try via their own David Whann-won lineout on halfway.

A well-timed switch from Small in midfield put powerful full-back Rodger McBurney stepping through the defence and galloping up to the 22 where he linked with Foster whose floated pass back inside put the supporting Stronge over for a high-quality unconverted score.

Trailing 15-3 and turning into the wind in the second period, ‘Hinch had a mountain to climb and they lacked penetration once play resumed. Nonetheless, a yellow card for Ballymena’s Ulster hooker John Andrew changed things and the County Down outfit responded with their only try.

Scrum half Rhys O’Donnell tapped a penalty to score his fifth try of the campaign, reacting quickest after Ballymena had infringed at a lineout five metres out from their own line. Nelson added the extras to reduce the arrears to five points, head into the final quarter.

Frustratingly for Brian McLaughlin and his fellow coaches, ‘Hinch had a poor exit from the restart and Ballymena won a penalty which Small converted to steady the ship at 18-10. As the conditions deteriorated, the big home pack were able to keep ‘Hinch at bay in a scrappy climax, which included a vital turnover close to their own posts.

BALLYMENA: Rodger McBurney; Robert Baloucoune, Matthew Norris, Tim Small, Jordan Foster; Bruce Houston, Michael Stronge; Josh Bill, John Andrew, Chris Cundell, David Whann, Connor Smyth, Clive Ross, Marcus Rea (capt), Azur Allison.

Replacements: Nacho Cladera Crespo, Jonny Spence, Stephen Mulholland, JJ McKee, Darrell Montgomery.

BALLYNAHINCH: Peter Nelson; Ross Adair, Callum McLaughlin, Ryan Wilson, Aaron Cairns (capt); Hilton Gibbons, Rhys O’Donnell; Tommy O’Hagan, Zack McCall, Tom O’Toole, John Donnan, Campbell Classon, Keith Dickson, Ollie Loughead, Conall Boomer.

Replacements: Claytan Milligan, Connor Piper, Thomas Donnan, Robin Harte, Connor Phillips.

CITY OF ARMAGH 16 NAAS 11, Palace Grounds
Scorers: City of Armagh: Try: Andrew Willis; Con: Ryan Purvis; Pens: Ryan Purvis 3
Naas: Try: Fionn Carr; Pens: Peter Hastie, Peter Osborne

HT: City of Armagh 10 Naas 11

Winger Ryan Purvis landed two crunch second half penalties to guide City of Armagh to a hard-fought 16-11 win over injury-hit Naas, who have now lost three on the bounce near the midpoint of the season.

Armagh welcomed back Neil Faloon at number 8 following his long injury lay-off, whereas Naas’ strong start in the light rain was another injury to a starting back – their fourth in the last three rounds. Goal-kicking full-back Peter Osborne was forced off after kicking them into a fifth-minute lead.

The Cobras initially overcame that setback to move 8-0 ahead on the quarter hour mark. Armagh failed to clear after a Peter Hastie kick, giving Naas an attacking scrum. The ball was moved swiftly wide and experienced winger Fionn Carr ghosted past two defenders to touch down in the right corner.

The Kildare men threatened to double their try tally, only for their lineout to misfire five metres out and then Hastie, having done the hard work in slicing through a static home defence, threw a poor pass to Jordan Fitzpatrick who lost his footing and left a certain try behind him.

Armagh began to string some promising phases together with James Hanna and Peter Starrett both prominent. Naas infringed close to their line in the 6th minute and Purvis knocked over the penalty for an 8-3 scoreline. Hastie hit back with a three-pointer of his own from straight in front of the posts.

The margin was reduced to the minimum when Naas failed to deal with a dangerous Harry Boyd cross-field kick and Armagh winger Andrew Willis dived on the loose ball for their opening try. Purvis converted and suddenly Willie Faloon’s side were only 11-10 behind.

Two second half penalties decided the game in the Ulstermen’s favour. Naas captain Paulie Tolofua’s no-arms tackle in the 53rd minute allowed Purvis to boot Armagh in front for the first time, and he split the posts again on the hour mark after Naas were not back 10 metres from a quickly-taken penalty.

Armagh’s defence was first class during a tense final quarter as Naas looked to spread the ball at every opportunity. Boyd picked off an interception on the Naas 10-metre line, with five minutes remaining, but his opposite number Hastie got back to make a try-saving tackle on John Faloon and Naas held on to take home a losing bonus point.

Armagh boss Willie Faloon commented afterwards: “We did start a little slower in the first quarter this week allowing a good Naas team to dictate play, but thankfully we pegged them back with that crucial try just before half-time. Our second half performance was excellent with a really sound defensive display which was needed in a tight match like this.”

CITY OF ARMAGH: Tim McNiece; Andrew Willis, Evin Crummie, Jonny Pollock, Ryan Purvis; Harry Boyd, Harry Doyle; Paul Mullan, Jonny Morton, Philip Fletcher, Peter Starrett, Josh McKinley, James Hanna, Robbie Whitten, Neil Faloon.

Replacements: Andrew Smyth, Eoin O’Hagan, James Morton, John Faloon, Shea O’Brien.

NAAS: Peter Osborne; Fionn Carr, Jordan Fitzpatrick, Johne Murphy, Ben O’Connor; Peter Hastie, Richard Fahy; Jordan Duggan, Graham Reynolds, Conor Doyle, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Ryan Casey, Will O’Brien, Paulie Tolofua (capt).

Replacements: Cathal Duff, Jack Barry, Eoin Walsh, Max Whittingham, Ross Bailey-Kearney.

MALONE 12 OLD WESLEY 16, Gibson Park
Scorers: Malone: Pens: Rory Campbell 4
Old Wesley: Try: James O’Donovan; Con: Rory Stynes; Pens: Rory Stynes 3

HT: Malone 12 Old Wesley 10

It has been a disappointing December so far for Malone with back-to-back losses knocking them off the top of the table, the second of them seeing Old Wesley come away from Gibson Park with a very valuable 16-12 victory.

This was a real old fashioned encounter, played on soft turf on a cold and wet winter’s afternoon. It was penalty kicks early on with both teams landing one apiece inside the opening six minutes, and Malone increasing the score to 6-3 with a ninth minute effort from full-back Rory Campbell.

Wesley eventually got a good foothold in opposition territory after a penalty kick down the line. A knock-on denied them but from the resulting Malone scrum, the ball squired out for Charlie O’Regan to gobble it up and James O’Donovan, who was only on the pitch a few minutes, broke a couple of weak tackles to score under the posts.

After Rory Stynes’ conversion, the sides were evenly matched for the remainder of the first half but the Wesley scrum was coming under increasing pressure from a Malone front row that included Peter Cooper and Adam McBurney. Two closing penalties from Campbell gave the hosts a 12-10 interval lead.

Having disappointed in the second halves of their recent games, Wesley turned the screw with a big start on the resumption, taking the ball to the opposition at every opportunity. They just missed out on a try when Tom Kiersey’s cross-field kick evaded Stynes’ clutches in the short in-goal area.

Crucially, Wesley were able to force penalties from their purposeful attacks, and although Stynes missed place-kicks after 55 and 62 minutes, he was successful with an attempt with 14 minutes remaining to give the Dubliners a single-point lead.

Credit to the Wesley defence, they managed to prevent Malone from gaining ground and curtail their scoring opportunities. Stynes stepped up to land another penalty to give his side a four-point buffer, and a crooked lineout saw the Cregagh Red Sox endure a frustrating finish as their final chance went a-begging.

MALONE: Rory Campbell; Ben McCaughey, Stewart Moore, Josh Pentland, David McMaster; Callum Smith, Shane Kelly; Peter Cooper, Adam McBurney, Ricky Greenwood, Jonathan Davis, Michael Shiels, Matthew Hadden, Ross Todd (capt), Joe Duleavy.

Replacements: Dan Kerr, Ben Halliday, Josh Davidson, Graham Curtis, Gareth Millar.

OLD WESLEY: Rory Stynes; Tommy O’Callaghan, Bill Corrigan, David Poff, Alan Jeffares; Tom Kiersey, Charlie O’Regan; Ciaran McHugh, Ben Burns, James Burton, JJ O’Dea, Iain McGann (capt), Darren Horan, Josh Pim, Mark Rowley.

Replacements: Andrew McCrann, Craig Telford, Paul Derham, Josh Miller, James O’Donovan.

OLD BELVEDERE 11 BUCCANEERS 10, Anglesea Road
Scorers: Old Belvedere: Try: Tom Molony; Pens: Steve Crosbie 2
Buccaneers: Try: Dean McMahon; Con: Luke Carty; Pen: Luke Carty

HT: Old Belvedere 6 Buccaneers 10

Old Belvedere and Buccaneers swapped places in the table for the second successive week when the Dubliners eked out an 11-10 victory at a wet and windy Anglesea Road. They hung on with Luke Carty’s drop goal attempt from over 30 metres – with the final kick of the game – going narrowly wide.

Old Belvedere made two changes to their pack for this round 8 encounter with Declan Lavery and Eoin Sweeney replacing Roman Salanoa and Connor Owende respectively. Buccaneers were severely hit by changes, seven in total from their victory over Armagh.

All were enforced with Eoghan Masterson, Dave Heffernan, Kieran Joyce and Eoin Griffin required by Connacht, while winger Darragh Corbett had exam commitments. Colm Reilly (hamstring) and Michael Hanley (tonsillitis) were two late cry-offs, but fit-again lock Peter Claffey returned and there were starts in the back-line for Graham Lynch, Frankie Hopkins and Dean McMahon.
 

Assisted by the considerable elements, Old Belvedere began on the front foot and a trio of early penalties pegged Buccs back while Paraic Cagney was held up near the uprights. The midlanders defended commendably with Steve Crosbie’s 16th-minute penalty the hosts’ only reward.

Buccs were by now making progress of their own and they patiently went through phases, constantly switching the point of attack, until Carty’s astute grubber kick unlocked the home defence. McMahon pounced onto the ball for a well-worked 20th-minute try wide on the left. In the truly difficult elements, Carty’s touchline conversion was superb.
 
Referee Mark Patton had words with Sweeney following his wild shoulder tackle and the exchanges became a bit heated for a period. Niall Farrelly was doing splendidly in the tight, resulting in ‘Belvo’s experienced prop Lavery being called ashore after only 28 minutes. The Pirates’ momentum continued to build and they applied fierce pressure around the half hour mark.

With the home side reaching out to slow the ball on a number of occasions, Buccs were on the cusp of a penalty try. However, their only score in this spell came when captain Shane Layden intercepted his former team-mate Ben Carty’s pass and earned a 33rd minute penalty which Ben’s younger brother Luke gratefully converted to extend the Athlone side’s advantage.
 
As the weather turned even more foul approaching half-time, Belvedere enjoyed similar pressure to that of the visitors earlier. This time Patton elected to sin bin Lynch as Buccs desperately defended their line. With the final kick of the half, Crosbie slotted over the penalty to reduce ‘Belvo’s arrears to 10-6 at the break.
 
With the floodlights now on in the extremely gloomy conditions, the exchanges remained evenly contested in the second half despite ‘Belvo replacement Colin Mallon being sin-binned a mere two minutes after his 48th minute introduction.

The Dubliners enjoyed their best period as the game entered the final quarter and applied steady pressure from side to side until replacement Tom Molony joined the line at pace to crash through for a 65th minute try which captain Crosbie converted.
 
This edged Old Belvedere ahead by the minimum and, with the breeze now having eased noticeably, Buccaneers had to work even harder to make ground. They managed to do so in a dramatic conclusion, inching bit by bit into home territory until Carty got a drop goal opportunity.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, the wind for once failed to curl Carty’s kick which went tantalisingly wide and Belvedere claimed a precious win by the minimum that moves them into eighth place above Buccs, whose losing bonus point keeps them off the bottom.

OLD BELVEDERE: Daniel Riordan; Jack Keating, Jamie McAleese, Ben Carty, Fergus Flood; Steve Crosbie (capt), Paraic Cagney; Jame Bollard, Ed Rossiter, Declan Lavery, Jack Kelly, Eoin Sweeney, Martin Moloney, Eoin O’Neill, Tom de Jongh.

Replacements: Caoimhghin Bradshaw, Adam Howard, Colin Mallon, Charlie Allen, Tom Molony.

BUCCANEERS: Callum Boland; Rory O’Connor, Shane Layden (capt), Dean McMahon, Frankie Hopkins; Luke Carty, Graham Lynch; Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Niall Farrelly, Peter Claffey, Ruairi Byrne, Evan Galvin, Rory Moloney, Simon Meagher.

Replacements: Harry O’Reilly, Rory Grenham, Torin Rensford, Thomas McGann, Robert Enraght-Moony.

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE 28 BANBRIDGE 7, Templeville Road
Scorers: St. Mary’s College: Tries: Liam Curran, Myles Carey 2, Hugo Conway; Cons: Conor Dean 4
Banbridge: Try: Peter Cromie; Con: Adam Doherty

HT: St. Mary’s College 21 Banbridge 0

A tremendous three-try first half salvo propelled St. Mary’s College to a 28-7 bonus point win over Banbridge and has them suddenly leading the chase for automatic promotion at the top of Division 1B.

Bann were playing catch-up at Templevile Road after leaking 14 points in as many minutes, as Mary’s started in confident fashion. The visitors were caught cold by Paddy O’Driscoll’s quickly-taken penalty, Hugo Conway gaining further ground and being tackled short before he got his pass away for lock Liam Curran to power over in the corner.

Connacht Academy out-half Conor Dean nailed a brilliant conversion from the touchline and also added the extras to centre Myles Carey’s first of two tries. Bann were under pressure from a series of sharp attacks with Conway, Dave Fanagan and captain Marcus O’Driscoll to the fore, and Carey picked up and slalomed through the crowded defence to go in under the posts.

Bann head coach Simon McKinstry said that a 14-0 half-time scoreline would have kept his side within striking distance, but what he termed ‘really, really soft tackling’ let Mary’s in for a third converted try before the interval. A Bann pass did not go to hand, Mary’s were able to offload out of the tackles that did go in and winger Conway jinked his way to the posts from outside the 22.

“We changed our tactics in the second half. We went for pick-and-go and played a bit tighter and made ground out of that but the game was gone,” admitted McKinstry whose charges have fallen to fifth place but are only five points behind the new leaders.

Improved ball retention, concentration and patience through the phases enabled Bann to reduce the deficit to 21-7 by the hour mark, with hooker Peter Cromie picking up his sixth try of the league run and full-back Adam Doherty firing over the conversion.

However, it was Mary’s who found a late surge to get the maximum return in injury-time. Busy flankers Ronan Watters and David Aspil were heavily involved in a wave of late attacks which ended with Conway running cross-pitch, looking for a chink and getting the ball away for the eager Carey to romp over and seal a 21-point winning margin.

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE: Dave Fanagan; Hugo Conway, Myles Carey, Marcus O’Driscoll (capt), Craig Kennedy; Conor Dean, Paddy O’Driscoll; Tom O’Reilly, Stephen O’Brien, Michael McCormack, Liam Corcoran, Liam Curran, David Aspil, Ronan Watters, Nick McCarthy.

Replacements: Richie Halpin, Padraig Dundon, Hugo Diepman, Daragh McDonnell, Ruairi Shields.

BANBRIDGE: Adam Doherty; Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Ben Carson, John Porter; Jonny Little, Jonny Stewart; Michael Cromie (capt), Peter Cromie, Stuart Cromie, Chris Allen, Stevie Irvine, Caleb Montgomery, Ethan Harbinson, Greg Jones.

Replacements: Corrie Barrett, Ross Haughey, Matthew Laird, Niall Armstrong, Hugo Harbinson.

– Photos from Darrell O’Kane Photography (Ballymena v Ballynahinch), Ken Redpath (City of Armagh RFC), Michael Silke (Buccaneers RFC) & Kayla Mullan (Banbridge RFC)

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