Highfield certainly hit the ground running in Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League, climbing straight to the top of the table following a well-judged 27-6 victory at home to Malone.
It was Chris Henry’s first league game in charge of Malone and things did not go to plan for the former Ulster and Ireland flanker. In difficult weather conditions, the Highfield pack, with player-coach Tim Ryan to the fore at tighthead prop, laid the foundations for a strong first round performance.
Full-back Luke Kingston scored the only try of the first half, Malone staying in the hunt up to half-time with Callum Smith booting two penalties for a 13-6 deficit. Two second half tries – a Mark Dorgan effort and a 65th-minute penalty try – sewed up the points for a physically-dominant Highfield.
Highfield’s influential out-half Shane O’Riordan chipped in with 10 points from the tee, a tally matched by Shannon’s new Australian number 10 Billy Gray in their opening game against Old Belvedere. However, ‘Belvo captain Steve Crosbie had the biggest say with a 17-point haul in their 22-20 away victory.
Speaking after the narrow defeat on Thomond Park’s back pitch, Shannon’s newly-appointed head coach Tadhg Bennett told SRTV: “Very disappointing, we were expecting to win at home. Never really implemented all the stuff that we had been working on during the week. So, back to the drawing board for next week.
“We know it’s going to be a huge challenge next week against Malone. I know that Chris Henry is in charge up there, so I’m sure they’ll be very well organised and I’m sure they’ll put up a stern test against us again next week.”
The teams swapped opportunist tries just before the quarter hour mark, centre James McKeown running in an 11th-minute intercept try for Belvedere and his opposite number Pa Ryan replying soon after, profiting from a charge-down. Gray’s conversion, adding to his earlier penalty, made it 10-7.
Nonetheless, as the rain began to bucket down, the right-footed Crosbie drew ‘Belvo level from a scrum penalty and then split the posts after 22 and 28 minutes, handing the visitors into a 16-10 half-time lead. Shannon had a late lineout maul try ruled out for a double movement.
League debutant Gray inspired Bennett’s charges on the resumption, breaking up to the Belvedere 22 before firing over a penalty to make it a three-point game. ‘Belvo clawed those three points back by the end of the third quarter with Crosbie punishing a maul infringement.
A costly block-down close to the Shannon line led to Crosbie’s final penalty goal in the 72nd minute, and despite a powerful lineout drive propelling Shannon replacement hooker Colin Slater over the whitewash barely two minutes later, ‘Belvo were able to keep them out of scoring range for the remainder of the game.
Division 1B newcomers Navan fell to a frustrating 23-18 defeat to St. Mary’s College at Balreask Old on Saturday, with Ireland Under-20 international Cormac Foley having a big impact for the eventual victors as a half-time replacement.
The game was finely balanced at the interval, Navan claiming a 13-7 lead with their best moment coming when centre Evan Dixon sliced through a gap in the 26th minute and sped clear for a terrific try from 40 metres out. Out-half Colm O’Reilly converted and also book-ended the first half with well-struck penalties.
Mary’s strong-carrying tighthead Michael McCormack was crucial to their opening try and was one of their best performers on the day. He was held up from his own barnstorming break and then got the shove on at the resulting five-metre scrum which earned a penalty try.
A brace of penalties from Ruairi Shields after 48 and 56 minutes drew Mary’s level, with the momentum seemingly within their grasp. But Navan showed their mettle, launching a furious breakout and sending a penalty to the corner. They retained possession and teed up South African centre Riaan van der Vyver who took two defenders with him on his way to the whitewash.
Disappointingly for the enthusiastic home support, Ray Moloney’s side conceded a soft try in response. Foley’s well-directed kick bounced awkwardly for the Navan cover and the onrushing Hugo Conway gathered it to go in behind the posts. League debutant Mick O’Gara converted and added a late long-range penalty to seal a winning start for his new club.
Mary’s second round visitors, City of Armagh, came from behind to post a hard-fought 13-7 victory over a youthful Naas team. The only score of a rain-soaked first half at the Palace Grounds was Fionn Higgins’ 24th-minute try, the visitors running a penalty before a loose ball was hacked through by the full-back who won the race to touch it down before the end-line.
Prolific goal-kicker Peter Osborne converted but missed a difficult penalty early in the second period. The Naas captain saved a certain try a couple of minutes later, hauling down Andrew Willis after the Armagh winger had excelled in the air when taking down an inviting kick from halfway from Cormac Fox.
However, Osborne was penalised for not rolling away and the Ulstermen took full advantage, setting up a lineout maul close to the corner and replacement hooker Andrew Smyth was driven over for a levelling try. Armagh survived an intercept effort from Bryan Croke, the Naas out-half unfortunately slipping and knocking on as he swerved to avoid defenders.
In the end, it was out-half Fox’s reliable right boot which got Armagh over the line. He landed a 66th-minute penalty to put them ahead for the first time, and after Osborne had missed from distance, Fox punished a last-minute collapsed scrum to seal a tense six-point success.
Flanker Conor Barry accelerated clear in the 76th minute to score the all-important try in Old Wesley’s 13-3 triumph over Banbridge at Energia Park. It was a penalty apiece at the end of an error-strewn first half, Bann full-back Adam Doherty cancelling out his opposite number Rory Stynes’ 22nd-minute strike.
Retaining lineout possession was particularly difficult and neither side had seriously threatened the try-line. Stynes was wide with a 43rd-minute penalty from distance, before a purposeful Banbridge attack ended with winger Conor Field being bundled into touch by Charlie O’Regan just short of the line.
Wesley started the final quarter with a 6-3 advantage, Stynes landing a straightforward penalty following a scrum infringement. They were also able to absorb a sin-binning for replacement Tim Clifford who was carded for a deliberate knock-on. Doherty was denied a try as the home defence stood firm under increasing pressure.
Just when it appeared that Banbridge’s Andrew Morrison had clawed back crucial territory, darting back up to halfway, the ball was knocked out of scrum half Neil Kilpatrick’s grasp and fed to Barry who galloped impressively up the right touchline to go over untouched. Stynes converted and Bann missed out on a deserved bonus point when Doherty sent a last-minute penalty wide.
Giving his reaction afterwards, Bann’s new head coach Mark McDowell commented: “It was frustrating to leave Wesley with nothing. I think at the very least we deserved something from the game, but unfortunately we missed that penalty at the end which would have earned us a losing bonus point.
“We had periods of dominance in attack in both halves but we just weren’t clinical enough at key times. We had good attacking positions in their 22 and either gave up possession too cheaply or our set piece didn’t function. That’s really what contributed to the loss.
“It shows the character of the group that they were able to be battling at 6-3 down in the 76th minute. But, unfortunately, Wesley scored their breakaway try. The defeat was through no lack of effort.
“When we sit down to review the game, I’m quite certain that we’ll see lots of positive play and lots of positive actions. Maybe we lacked that wee bit of killer instinct at key moments that could have put Wesley under pressure and tilted the scoreboard in our favour.”
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1B: Saturday, October 5
CITY OF ARMAGH 13 NAAS 7, Palace Grounds
Scorers: City of Armagh: Try; Andrew Smyth; Con: Cormac Fox; Pens: Cormac Fox 2
Naas: Try: Fionn Higgins; Con: Peter Osborne
HT: City of Armagh 0 Naas 7
CITY OF ARMAGH: Tim McNeice; Andrew Willis, Chris Colvin, Jonny Pollock, Shea O’Brien; Cormac Fox, Harry Doyle; Paul Mullen, Jonny Morton, Philip Fletcher, Josh McKinley, Oliver Millar, James Hanna, Nigel Simpson, Robert Whitten (capt).
Replacements: Andrew Smyth, Eoin O’Hagan, Barry Finn, JJ Scheepers, Stuart Lester.
NAAS: Fionn Higgins; Craig Adams, Ben Swindlehurst, James Hawkey, Eoin Walsh; Bryan Croke, Peter Osborne (capt); Jack Barry, Graham Reynolds, Conor McCormack, Paul Monahan, David Benn, Ryan Casey, Ruadhan McDonnell, Mike Russell.
Replacements: Conor Doyle, Peter King, Andrew Sweeney, Matt Stapleton, Mark Sutton.
HIGHFIELD 27 MALONE 6, Woodleigh Park
Scorers: Highfield: Tries: Luke Kingston, Mark Dorgan, Penalty try; Cons: Shane O’Riordan 2, Pen try con; Pens: Shane O’Riordan 2
Malone: Pens: Callum Smith 2
HT: Highfield 13 Malone 6
HIGHFIELD: Luke Kingston; Colin O’Neill, Ben Murphy, Mark Dorgan, Paul Stack; Shane O’Riordan, Chris Bannon; Michael Dillane, Dan Healy, Tim Ryan, Eoin Keating, Fintan O’Sullivan (capt), Dave O’Connell, Cathal Gallagher, Miah Cronin.
Replacements: Michael Shinkwin, Ciaran McHugh, Eddie Earle, Brian O’Hea, Thomas Beare.
MALONE: Andy Bryans; Mike Melville, David Busby, Nathan Brown, Jonny Milliken; Callum Smith, Connor Spence; Ben Halliday, Claytan Milligan, Ricky Greenwood, Josh Davidson, James McAllister, Ross Todd (capt), Dave Cave, Ryan Clarke.
Replacements: Scottie Finlay, Gary Crawford, Max Porter, Lewis Finlay, Rob Haldane.
NAVAN 18 ST. MARY’S COLLEGE 23, Balreask Old
Scorers: Navan: Tries: Evan Dixon, Riaan van der Vyver; Con: Colm O’Reilly; Pens: Colm O’Reilly 2
St. Mary’s College: Tries: Penalty try, Hugo Conway; Cons: Pen try con, Mick O’Gara; Pens: Mick O’Gara, Ruairi Shields 2
HT: Navan 13 St. Mary’s College 7
NAVAN: Paddy Fox; Sean McEntagart, Evan Dixon, Riaan van der Vyver, Ben McEntagart; Colm O’Reilly, Ruairidh Swan; Niall Farrelly, Brian McGovern, Eoin King, Callum Smith, Conor Hand, Colm Carpenter, James O’Neill, Conor Ryan (capt).
Replacements: Gary Faulkner, Leigh Jackson, Darragh Magee, Shane Walshe, Ray Moloney.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE: Dave Fanagan; Hugo Conway, Myles Carey, Mick O’Gara, Craig Kennedy; Ruairi Shields, Adam McEvoy; Tom O’Reilly (capt), Richard Halpin, Michael McCormack, Peter Starrett, Liam Corcoran, David Aspil, Cillian Dempsey, Nick McCarthy.
Replacements: Sean Healy, Niall McEniff, Jack Dilger, Liam Curran, Cormac Foley.
OLD WESLEY 13 BANBRIDGE 3, Anglesea Road
Scorers: Old Wesley: Try: Conor Barry; Con: Rory Stynes; Pens: Rory Stynes 2
Banbridge: Pen: Adam Doherty
HT: Old Wesley 3 Banbridge 3
OLD WESLEY: Rory Stynes; Tommy O’Callaghan, David Poff, James O’Donovan, Richie Walsh; Josh Miller, Charlie O’Regan; Harry Noonan, Ben Burns, Stephen McGivern, Iain McGann (capt), JJ O’Dea, Conor Barry, Stephen Boyle, Paul Derham.
Replacements: Craig Telford, James Burton, Ian Condell, Bill Corrigan, Tim Clifford.
BANBRIDGE: Adam Doherty; Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Hugo Harbinson; Josh Cromie, Neil Kilpatrick; Michael Cromie (capt), Peter Cromie, Ross Haughey, Matthew Laird, Robin Sinton, Ryan Hughes, Ethan Harbinson, Stevie Irvine.
Replacements: Timmy Savage, Robbie Mathers, Marty Vorster, Aaron Kennedy, Joe Finnegan.
SHANNON 20 OLD BELVEDERE 22, Thomond Park back pitch
Scorers: Shannon: Tries: Pa Ryan, Colin Slater; Cons: Billy Gray 2; Pens: Billy Gray 2
Old Belvedere: Try: James McKeown; Con: Steve Crosbie; Pens: Steve Crosbie 5
HT: Shannon 10 Old Belvedere 16
SHANNON: Jamie McGarry; Nathan Randles, Pa Ryan, Will Leonard, Ikem Ugwueru; Billy Gray, Keith Kavanagh; Conor Glynn (capt), Adam Moloney, James McCarthy, Sean McCarthy, Ronan Coffey, Odhran Ring, Kelvin Brown, Charlie Carmody.
Replacements: Colin Slater, Luke Rigney, Luke Moylan, Aaron Rice, Ben Daly.
OLD BELVEDERE: Jack Keating; Fergus Flood, James McKeown, Tom Molony, Ariel Robles; Steve Crosbie (capt), Marcus Walsh; James Bollard, John McKee, Adam Howard, Connor Owende, Dean Moore, Jack Kelly, David St. Leger, Colin Mallon.
Replacements: Joe Horan, Ryan McMahon, Ethan Baxter, Ben O’Shea, Dylan Simmonds.