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Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2A: Round 1 Review

Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2A: Round 1 Review

Blackrock College were quick out of the traps against Ballymena in their Division 2A opener ©John Crothers Sports Photography

Now led by player coach Derek Corcoran, Nenagh Ormond were the only team to win away from home during Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 2A’s opening round.


Saturday, October 1 –

Blackrock College 38 Ballymena 24, Stradbrook
MU Barnhall 44 Old Crescent 27, Parsonstown
Navan 20 Cashel 19, Balreask Old
Queen’s University 69 Dolphin 12, Dub Lane
UL Bohemians 5 Nenagh Ormond 20, UL Arena

Queen’s University are back where they finished the regular season in 2021/22, sitting at the top of the table following a typically swashbuckling 69-12 win over Dolphin.

Redoubling their efforts after losing last April’s dramatic promotion decider to Buccaneers, Derek Suffern’s Queen’s side ran in 11 tries to begin the new campaign in fine style at Dub Lane.

The students carried a huge attacking threat right from the off, with the elusive Graham Curtis breaking down the left wing inside the opening seconds.

Dolphin fell behind in the third minute, Charlie Irvine securing a close-in lineout for Queen’s and then a series of carries ended with prop Matthew Millar crossing beside the posts for assistant backs coach Ritchie McMaster to convert.

Jonny Hunter showed his footballing skills, breaking onto a well-weighted Robbie Johnston kick through to flick it past the covering defender and touch down in the seventh minute, making it 14-0.

Hunter and Ben Heath combined to send number 8 Gary Dillon over, before Dolphin hit back. James Rochford intercepted a pass and then winger Rob Reardon scored a charge-down try in the right corner.

Queen’s ended the first quarter with the bonus point in the bag, full-back Stuart Martin getting the touchdown in the left corner after Curtis had collected a Johnston kick and the ball had gone backwards off Reardon in a tackle.

Dolphin pulled the deficit back to 14 points (26-12) when a nice move off a lineout saw Craig O’Herlihy release centre Cameron O’Shaughnessy, who had won the initial turnover penalty, and he scampered in behind the posts.

However, Queen’s added two more tries before half-time, scrum half James Wright scoring from another lightning-quick kick chase initiated by Hunter. The half’s final try was arguably the best of the lot.

Dillon used an overthrown Dolphin lineout to break past four defenders from inside his own half. Heath was up in support and he passed out of a tackle for Curtis to romp home from the edge of the visitors’ 22.

McMaster’s fourth successful conversion left it 38-12 at the interval. Six minutes after the restart, Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam winner Lorcan McLoughlin got in on the act, running in an intercept try from just outside the Queen’s 22.

Dolphin continued to have some purple patches, particularly on the back of their strong scrum, but Queen’s were lethal on the counter attack and often from inside their own 22.

Curtis spearheaded a lung-busting break from deep, sending replacement Simon McMaster away from 60 metres out, with a neat step off his left taking him past the covering Thomas Scannell. McMaster curled over his sixth conversion.

Now 52-12 to the good, Queen’s had hooker Harry Long sin-binned for a no-arms tackle and Dolphin were left to rue a knock-on close to the whitewash. From the scrum, there was no stopping the students.

Ulster Academy back rower McLoughlin switched to number 8 and thundered off the base of the scrum, shrugging off two defenders. He had a one-two with Peter Heasley near halfway, before rampaging clear to complete his brace.

Queen’s were briefly down to 13 men, with replacement hooker George Coen sin-binned for taking out Dolphin captain Ryan Foley in the air. In his absence, the excellent Curtis and Heath combined to put Simon McMaster away in the 72nd minute.

Centre Johnston converted and also helped himself to the final try, dinking a kick through, hacking it on and collecting the ball on the Dolphin 10-metre line to cruise home and seal a runaway 57-point victory.

Nenagh Ormond overcame a stern test from UL Bohemians, and the wet and windy conditions at the UL Arena, to triumph 20-5 in their league opener.

UL’s Charlie O’Doherty missed an initial shot at the posts, from just inside the visitors’ half, but there were positive early signs for the Red Robins with Darragh O’Gorman and Colin Ryan both standing out.

Nenagh had little territory until captain Willie Coffey broke out of his own half, with timely support from Nicky Irwin. They drew a penalty which full-back James Finn landed for a 22nd-minute lead.

It was nip and tuck approaching the half hour mark, Eoin Sweeney winning the breakdown battle for Bohs before Kevin O’Flaherty stole the resulting lineout.

The scrap for set-piece supremacy intensified as Nenagh forced a scrum penalty on the hosts’ 10-metre line. The three points were expertly pocketed by Finn to make it a six-point game.

UL’s indiscipline landed them back in their own 22 late on, and Nenagh replacement Cian Ryan gained good ground off the lineout. Dylan Murphy then fed lock O’Flaherty from a quick tap and he barrelled in under the posts to make it 13-0 at half-time.

That converted score was preceded by a Sweeney yellow card, and despite being down a player, UL started the second half strongly. They threatened on both wings but Nenagh’s O’Flaherty brothers, John and Kevin, both stole lineouts.

Although the error count increased for both sides, Bohs were looking more dangerous with Ireland Under-19 international Ihechi Oji proving hard to stop. The pressure on the Nenagh defence led to replacement Josh Rowland’s sin-binning.

UL’s reward came soon after, the Nenagh defence getting sucked in with 62 minutes on the clock and good passes from O’Gorman and Ryan put Juan Ignacio Garcia over for an unconverted try on the right.

Nonetheless, the Nenagh pack pulled out a big lineout maul in the last minute to seal the result. Hooker Murphy was on the cusp of scoring when UL infringed and referee Dermot Blake awarded a penalty try.

Navan emerged as 20-19 winners of a titanic tussle with Cashel at Balreask Old. Number 8 Hardus van Eeden wrestled his way over for the decisive try with just over two minutes remaining.

Cashel’s fast start delivered an unconverted score inside the first two-and-a-half minutes. Ben Murray’s strong run and offload put scrum half Josh Pickering darting clear for a 35-metre run-in.

However, it was the home side who turned around with a 15-5 advantage. Colm O’Reilly got Navan on the board following a 10th-minute scrum penalty, and they were able to turn a couple of Cashel errors into tries.

Paudie Leamy fumbled a box kick from Ben Stephens and the Navan backs swooped in. Ben McEntagart hacked the ball on and it took a favourable bounce off Sean McEntagart before Evan Dixon dribbled it through to touch down.

O’Reilly judged the tricky wind well, converting from far out on the right. Then, eight minutes before the break, a Pickering kick was straight down the throat of Ben McEntagart who countered impressively.

The left winger beat a defender and linked with Simone Ragusi, the former Benetton Treviso player who is now Navan’s backs coach. The jinking Italian threw a couple of dummies, fixing defenders and putting Dixon away to complete his brace.

Turning around with the wind at their backs, Cashel brought on Brendan Crosse and Mikey Wilson. Their forwards got a grip on proceedings, the ball being worked infield from a dominant maul for centre Conor Cashman to cross from close range.

Josh O’Dwyer converted and also added the extras to flanker Richard Moran’s 64th-minute effort. He had James Ryan on the latch as they surged over the line together, with Navan struggling to stop Pickering’s control of play and the force of the Cashel carries.

Still, even with lock Eoin Noonan in the bin, Navan managed to work their way back into try-scoring range. South African van Eeden pinched a crucial lineout and just a few minutes later, he popped up as the match winner.

Blackrock College began life back in Division 2A by claiming the full five points at Stradbrook. They beat Ballymena 38-24 with head coach James Blaney giving debuts to seven players.

One of the newcomers, scrum half Ross Barron, sniped over from an early set piece for the opening try. Four more converted scores followed for wind-backed ‘Rock before half-time as they built a 33-10 lead.

Centre James Moriarty marked his debut with a brace of tries, while captain Liam McMahon crossed out wide in the 33rd-minute as the Dubliners bagged their bonus point off seven well-constructed phases.

Matthew Dwan’s score from a chip kick was cancelled out by a Ballymena penalty try, and despite an improved second half showing that saw Dean Millar and Adam Lamont notch tries, the Braidmen could not get into bonus point range.

Speaking afterwards, Ballymena captain Glenn Baillie said: “Credit to Blackrock, they started off very well in the first half. They took advantage of the big wind and got up early, got a couple of scores.

“That was the game-plan and they’ve done it well. I thought we did well in the second half to come back, but just our discipline. Too many penalties given away, yellow cards as well. So it’s something we’ll have to look at for next week.”

Blackrock gave themselves enough of a cushion with a sixth and final try from centre Peter Quirke off a 57th-minute scrum. Quirke also kicked four conversions for a 13-point haul.

Stephen Kiely, who played for Ireland Under-18s in 15s and Sevens this year, ran in two terrific solo tries as Old Crescent battled back to take home a bonus point from their 44-27 defeat at MU Barnhall.

Barnhall were too strong for the young Limerick side, a charge-down leading to a try inside the first minute at Parsonstown. The Blue Bulls had five on the board by half-time to lead 34-8.

Barnhall out-half Adam Chester led the scoring with 14 points, including a try, while full-back Conor Duggan bagged a brace of tries and there was one each from David Dooley, Darragh Bellanova, Conor Lacey and Rob Holt.

Old Crescent will take heart from their second half display, Eoin Murphy (55 minutes) and flying teenager Kiely (70 and 77) both touching down to add to Rob Magill’s fifth-minute effort.