Division 1B leaders UL Bohemians needed a late penalty from Rick McKenna to seal a hard-fought 27-23 victory over a determined Galwegians side at Crowley Park on Saturday.
It was the first time that UL Bohemians have failed to net a try-scoring bonus point since the league season began, and Christy Neilan's men had to overcome their stiffest test so far.
It was Jekyll and Hyde stuff from Galwegians in the early stages, winger Peadar O'Beirn breaking through for a try in the corner before Connacht prop Conan O'Donnell was sin-binned for collapsing a UL maul.
With his depleted squad having to dig deep into their reserves, Brian McClearn's home side were given little chance coming into this game against the early season pacesetters. But the Blues showed a marked improvement over last week's disappointing capitulation away to Dolphin.
Playing into a mild first half breeze, Galwegians started the more impressive, and their early pressure was rewarded in the seventh minute when O'Beirn went over on the right for his debut score in the Ulster Bank League.
The visitors soon settled into their stride, however, and before long they hit back with their first try. When O’Donnell was sin-binned as early as the 12th minute, the Red Robins made hay when they mauled their way over from the resulting lineout, with flanker James Ryan claiming the touchdown. Bohs' Kiwi out-half Rick McKenna landed the conversion to put his side in front, 7-5.
'Wegians responded well to this setback, and despite being a man down they found themselves back in front by the end of the first quarter. It came when Aidan Moynihan, starting at number 10 for the first time in place of the absent Mitch Lam, evaded a couple of tackles for an excellent 20th minute try out wide, putting his side 10-7 to the good.
The second quarter was a compelling high tempo contest, and any thoughts that the visitors had of a comfortable fourth successful bonus point win were being dispelled by a highly competitive performance from the westerners.
The Blues held onto their lead until the 39th minute when Bohs hit back yet again. This time their powerful number 8 Brian Walsh, who had an excellent game, rounded off an overlap to score on the left wing. McKenna again added the extras to give his side a 14-10 lead at half-time.
This round 4 tie was effectively decided in what proved to be an attritional third quarter that saw the influential O'Donnell and UL's talismanic scrum half Cathal Sheridan (leg fracture) both forced to retire with injuries.
'Wegians full-back Conor Lowndes reduced the arrears on 53 minutes with a penalty, only for McKenna to almost immediately cancel that kick out. However, the clinical visitors showed why they are league leaders when they scored what ultimately proved the decisive score. It came when they outflanked the well-drilled 'Wegians defence by putting impressive width on the ball, allowing centre Finbar Aherne to cross for a 58th minute try. McKenna again added the extras to give his side what looked an unassailable 24-13 lead.
However, 'Wegians showed tremendous heart and self-belief and they took the game to their opponents, dominating the final quarter. They appeared to throw themselves a lifeline on 63 minutes when they drove a ruck over the line under the posts, but referee Leo Colgan did not award the score – much to the consternation of the home support.
Lowndes did land a second penalty on 70 minutes to reduce the deficit. Spurred on by this, the hosts soon got their third try when pressure was rewarded with debutant winger Matthew Quinn crossing in the left corner barely four minutes later. Lowndes' excellent conversion left 'Wegians trailing by a solitary point (24-23).
The Blues threw the kitchen sink at the Robins, but the wily visitors held their line. Then the final act was yet again not without controversy, when 'Wegians picked up a costly and controversial yellow card after UL had hacked the ball downfield. This gave McKenna one final chance to add to his points tally, and he duly obliged for a four-point winning margin.
Referee: Leo Colgan (IRFU)