Malone shade a tight encounter against visitors Cashel
By Stephen Barbour
Malone take the spoils in a very tight game against Cashel winning by 22-17
Daddy Winkers Bar was packed to capacity yesterday with Malone supporters looking the 1st xv to maintain their promotion challenge with three games remaining. Visitors Cashel from County Tipperary had hit a rich vein of form that had lifted them into 3rd place under the guidance of former Munster and Ireland star Denis Leamy. Conditions were perfect with the Gibson Park pitch at its best. With 140 guests at the pre match lunch the spectators were able to prepare for the eagerly anticipated contest between these two teams. The DNA in Munster produces big physical players and that was reflected in the size of the Cashel forwards.
Malone had to make changes during the week with injury ruling out backs coach Josh Pentland with winger Michael Cartmill unavailable. Full back Jack Owens moved in to partner Nathan Brown in the centre with Andy Bryans coming in at full back. Jack McMurtry came on to the wing with Mark O’Connor coming on to the bench. Graham Curtis was required by the Ireland Under 19 squad with Neil Alcorn taking his place on the bench. Ireland under 20 back row Joe Dunleavy was released by the Ireland under 20 management team to take his place in the Malone back row. Ulster Back row Chris Henry was also on hand to add his experience in this crucial match.
From the kick off Malone looked comfortable with ball in hand as they came up against a Cashel team who were quick to close down any space as they contested the breakdowns turning over early ball. The first opportunity to put points on the board fell to Cashel Captain Brian Silke as he pushed a straight forward penalty wide. It was very much a case of the Malone team having to defend in the first quarter as the Cashel forwards continued to dominate the collisions. It was clear to the Malone supporters this Cashel team had come to add to their four match unbeaten run as their organisation and ball retention continued to deny the Malone team any possession and territory. Twenty minutes into the game Malone lost second row Michael Shiels to injury with Dave Cave slotting into the back row and Joe Dunleavy moving into the second row. Despite the pressure the home team was under their scrum and lineout looked very solid. From a Malone lineout scrum half Connor Spence made a searing 30 metre break into the Cashel twenty two with the support unable to get their quick enough with Cashel forced to concede a penalty. Like his opposite number winger Rory Campbell pushed the straight forward penalty wide opportunity wide. The home side were coming increasingly under pressure from referee Chris Harrington as he awarded several penalties against them much to the dismay of the Malone supporters. When Cashel infringed 40 metres out Campbell stepped up to stroke the penalty straight between the posts to give his side a 3 – 0 lead after 30 minutes in this tight game. When you need something inspirational to break the deadlock up stepped Jack Owens who was able to get outside his opposite number just inside the Malone half. He drew the Cashel winger before passing to Rory Campbell. The two players inter passed as the Cashel defenders tried to close them down with Owens receiving the final pass from Campbell to touch down to the right of the posts for an excellent try. Again Campbell was unlucky to see his kick strike the outside of the post to leave Malone 8 – 0 in front with the first half on the blow. From the kick off Malone secured possession to force Cashel to concede another penalty from 40 metres out. Up stepped Campbell to watch the ball sail between the posts to increase the Malone lead to 11- 0. With several minutes of injury time Cashel pressed hard to reply to the Malone lead with the home side defending their line to lead 11 – 0 at halftime.
Malone made a change in the front row with Lee Barlow replacing Ben Halliday at loose head. The intensity of the match did not let up with Malone looking to secure the first score of the second half. Hooker Dan Kerr was replaced with Dave Cave moving to hooker and Neil Alcorn coming into the second row and Joe Dunleavy moving to number 8. With 50 minutes played Malone added to their score when from a scrum Malone carried strongly towards the Cashel line. Their patience was rewarded when Captain Ross Todd made the breakthrough to score his teams second try just to the left of the posts. It was not Rory Campbell’s day with the close in kicks as he again pushed the conversion attempt wide as Malone led 16 – 0.
Malone Head coach Paddy Armstrong made further positional changes with Jack McMurtry coming in to replace Connor Spence at scrum half and Mark O’Connor coming on to the wing. As we entered the final quarter you sensed that this game was not over and the response from Cashel was impressive. Again conceding some unnecessary penalties allowed the Cashel out half Darragh Lyons to kick deep into the Malone five metre area. From the first of these lineouts back row Ed Leamy was on hand to touch down with Lyons adding the points to reduce the Malone lead to 16 – 7. There was still 15 minutes on the clock to play with both teams fighting for possession and territory with several tired bodies showing the commitment from both teams. Again Cashel were pinged and conceded a penalty for Campbell to convert his third penalty to extend the Malone lead to 19 – 7. Cashel were not done and win 10 minutes remaining narrowed the Malone lead to 19 – 14. Another penalty had allowed Cashel a lineout on the Malone five metre line with Leamy on the end of their catch and drive to touch down with Lyons adding the points. The nerves of the Malone supporters were on edge at this stage. Malone secured ball from the kick off . As the Malone backs moved the ball wide the Cashel replacement Paul Hayes was yellow carded for a neck tackle with Campbell again striking from distance to increase the Malone lead to 22 – 14. When Malone kicked straight into touch the advantage swung again to Cashel with Malone conceding another penalty. With a losing bonus point opportunity Lyons kicked the penalty to narrow the Malone lead to 22 – 17 with time up. Connor Spence returned to replace Jack McMurtry at scrum half as Malone looked to close the game out. Eventually Malone won a lineout to clear the ball of the pitch for the referee to blow his whistle to end a wonderfully entertaining game with the result in doubt up until the final whistle.
Relief all round for the coaching staff and players with two matches left to play. The squad had to dig deep yesterday and they showed their resilience to win this match despite the Cashel fightback in the final quarter. They now have a week off before they play Highfield away on the 7th April and Nenagh Ormond at home on the 14th April to complete their season. One outstanding match with City of Armagh in the Premiership League Div 1 will decide the destiny of the Stevenson Shield this season currently held by City of Armagh. No date has been confirmed with both teams involved in crucial UBL matches as Armagh challenge for a play off place.
Malone have a 11 point advantage on second place Highfield who picked a bonus point in their 43 – 36 win over Queens Uni at the Dub yesterday. Highfield have a postponed game from the 3rd March against Greystones at home on Friday the 30.3.18 with a 6PM that can have a big influence of this league. Greystones are fighting to retain their place in Div 2A and picked up an impressive win over 4th place Nenagh Ormond yesterday. Highfield two remaining games after Greystones are Malone home on the 7th April and Blackrock away on the 14th April. Like Greystones, Blackrock are fighting for points to remain in Div 2A and recorded an impressive win over Galwegians yesterday. At this stage of the season all matches are Cup Finals.
Malone team: 1. Ben Halliday, 2. Danny Kerr, 3. Peter Cooper, 4. James McAllister, 5. Michael Shiels, 6. Joe Dunleavy, 7. Ross Todd (Captain), 8. Ryan Clarke, 9. Connor Spence, 10. Callum Smith. 11. Jack McMurtry, 12. Nathan Brown, 13. Jack Owens, 14. Rory Campbell, 15. Andy Bryans, 16. Lee Barlow, 17. Phil Eadie, 18. Dave Cave, 19. Neil Alcorn, 20. Mark O’Connor.
Malone supporters are aware that the second xv will contest the Final of the McCrea Cup at the Kingspan stadium on Easter Monday the 2nd April with a 12.30PM kick off. All support will be welcome.
With a backlog of fixtures Malone seconds will play Banbridge seconds in a double header at Gibson Park on Thursday the 29th March at Gibson Park with a 7.45PM kick off. All support will be welcome.
All at Malone send their congratulations to Grosvenor 1st xv on winning Div 2 of the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship. Well done to coaches Robert Ford and Michael Smyth.