Blackrock College and Galwegians began the road back from relegation with hard-earned first round wins in Division 2B, while promoted pair Ballina and Malahide both lost at home.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 2B: Saturday, October 5
Ballina 0 Galway Corinthians 25, Heffernan Park
Belfast Harlequins 25 Wanderers 27, Deramore Park
Dungannon 12 Blackrock College 17, Stevenson Park
Galwegians 18 Sligo 10, Crowley Park
Malahide 10 Greystones 25, Estuary Road
Out-half Ewan Strang kicked eight points and supplied the assist for Tommy Downes’ first half try as Galwegians overcame Sligo 18-10 at Crowley Park. It was a successful All-Ireland League debut for former Connacht Andrew Browne as Galwegians’ new head coach.
Sligo had won their first ever Connacht Senior League title in Glenina a fortnight ago, and they had the first scoring chance on Saturday. Their full-back Euan Brown missed a 15th minute penalty, before an unfortunate bounce denied ‘Wegians’ South African winger Sandile Sibande a try from his own charge-down.
Both sides had their struggles at lineout time, but with Sligo centre Mata Fifita in the sin-bin for a late tackle, ‘Wegians gained tidy set piece ball in the 26th minute and flanker Mike O’Donnell used the maul to grab his fifth try of the season so far. It went unconverted and Brown closed the gap to 5-3 with a subsequent penalty.
Former Ireland Under-19 international Downes dotted down at the Sligo posts from a classy 36th-minute chip kick by Strang, but the visitors hit back on the stroke of half-time. They exerted pressure at a late scrum and provided the platform for scrum half Ryan Feehily to snipe down the left and crash over the line.
Although Brown’s well-struck conversion reduced Galwegians’ lead to 12-10, the home side went on to dominate the second half. They could not make it count on the scoreboard until Strang’s 72nd-minute penalty – adding to an earlier effort – put them eight points clear of a subdued Sligo outfit who had no response.
It was an encouraging start for ‘Wegians’ new coaching team, which includes Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran, but a missed try-scoring opportunity – when they foiled by an early blow of the whistle – and three penalty misses from Strang, including one which shaved the underside of the bar, could have hurt them on another day.
Greystones, who finished second in last season’s table, kicked off the new campaign with a 25-10 victory over newly-promoted Malahide. In very wet conditions at Estuary Road, replacement winger Ferdia Kenny touched down from a 55th-minute cross-field kick for the only score of the second half.
Both number 8s crossed the whitewash, Malahide’s Eoin Crowley scoring early on from a quickly-taken penalty and his opposite number Dan Mannion crashing over close to half-time. The hosts’ 10-6 lead was completely erased by a pushover try from the ‘Stones pack and Mannion’s powerful drive at the posts.
Reigning Division 2C champions Ballina were held scoreless by Galway Corinthians who came away from Heffernan Park with maximum points from a convincing 25-0 triumph. Former Connacht underage winger Michael O’Reilly bagged a brace of tries for the division’s first-round leaders.
Things just did not click for Ballina on the day and they also fell foul of referee Henry Richmond’s whistle. They blew a gilt-edged try-scoring opportunity with a forward pass to waiting full-back Darragh Whyte, while centre Chris O’Neill then saw yellow for a high tackle.
Adding to an early Simon Keller penalty, Corinthians took an 8-0 lead into half-time after Mark McDermott’s cross-field kick found Cathal Evans and despite being tackled towards touch by Whyte, he was able to lob a pass back infield for the onrushing O’Reilly to gather and score out wide.
Ballina had nothing to show for a strong attacking spell near the break, with a knock-on allowing Corinthians to exit unscathed. JP Cooney’s men extended their lead with an early second half pushover try, and a terrific last-ditch tackle from Keller prevented O’Neill from responding at the other end.
Although Whyte did just as well to bring down Corinthians winger Adi Donovan, the possession was recycled quickly and shifted out to the left wing where lock Colin Raftery finished off in the corner to make it 18-0. Ballina hung in there with some tigerish tackling from Billy McVann and Liam Jones.
There was no change in the hosts’ fortunes as young replacement out-half Dylan Prendergast, the Division 2C Rising Star award winner last season, watched his attempted cross-field kick drift into touch. Corinthians pounced on some handling errors in the closing stages and they built for the bonus point score from O’Reilly, which was converted by Keller.
Elsewhere, the division’s two Ulster teams, Belfast Harlequins and Dungannon, suffered home defeats to Wanderers (27-25) and Blackrock College (17-12) respectively. The Dublin clubs have two new head coaches in Eoin Sheriff and James Blaney, and their November 16 encounter is already shaping up to be a cracker.
‘Rock’s new player-assistant coach Denis Hurley featured at inside centre against Dungannon and scored a try, as did loosehead Paul McSweeney. Blaney’s charges meet Malahide in an early-season Dublin derby at Stradbrook next Saturday.
Kiwi out-half Coby Miln was in inspirational form for Belfast Harlequins, helping them to recover from an early 10-0 deficit to lead 18-13 at half-time. However, they were overhauled by a late try from influential Wanderers scrum half Conor McQuaid – his second of the game – with prop Jimmy Robinson also touching down for the Chaps.