Malone defeat Neagh Ormond to become Champions of Division 2A of the Ulster Bank League
By Stephen Barbour
Malone are Division 2A Champions after defeating Neagh Ormond by 43 - 19
Both teams new a win would secure the league title for Malone and a top four finish and the playoffs for Nenagh Ormond. Conditions were near perfect as the teams took the pitch at Gibson Park with a large crowd present. Malone were dominant in the early exchanges with an accuracy in their handling and an intensity in their play that forced Nenagh Ormond to defend deeply in their twenty two. We didn’t have to wait long for the first score with the home side making the decisive break though with scrum half Connor Spence taking advantage of an opening to touch down to the right of the posts with Rory Campbell adding the points. Malone added a second try within minutes when a combination of Callum Smith, Michael Cartmill and full back Jack Owens created the opportunity for Jack Owens to touch down for a try with Campbell again adding the points to give Malone a 14 – 0 lead after eight minutes. It would be then another forty six minutes before Malone added to their score line in the second half as gradually Nenagh Ormond came into the game with their strong forwards putting the Malone defence under pressure. With Nenagh Ormond attacking winger Rory Campbell put his hand out and knocked on their pass. The referee was left with no alternative but to issue a yellow card. The one man advantage spurred on Nenagh with you sensing they were coming back into the game. It was all about Malone seeing out the first half as they looked dangerous with centre Cartmill and full back Owens threatening to break away and add further scores. Not surprisingly coming up to half time Nenagh made a break through. Their talented full back Clayton Stewart joined a flowing backline move to put winger Nicky Irwin in at the left hand corner with Stewart adding the conversion to leave Malone leading 14 – 7 at the break.
News had come through that their nearest challengers Highfield were losing at Blackrock College.
Head coach Paddy Armstrong made one change in the front row with Ricky Greenwood replacing Lee Barlow at the beginning of the second half. Nenagh buoyed by their score exerted all the early pressure with their tight head prop John Coffey escaping the clutches of the Malone defence to run twenty five metres and touch down for an excellent try again converted by Stewart to level the scores seven minutes into the second half. Again Paddy Armstrong went to his bench to freshen up the team as they struggled to gain a foothold in the match. He brought on Jack McMurtry to replace Connor Spence at scrum half and Josh Pentland to replace Andy Bryans with centre Michael Cartmill moving to the wing with Josh Pentland slotting in outside Nathan Brown at twelve. The changes had an immediate impact with Callum Smith, Rory Campbell and Jack Owens combining to take play to the Nenagh line. Good patient work by the forwards created the space for Captain Ross Todd to score the all important third try with Campbell adding the points. Nenagh had also made a number of changes with their prop Coffey again breaching the Malone cover with another strong carry. Recycled ball was moved quickly to their skilful replacement Jamie McGarry who skipped through the Malone cover to score his teams third try with Stewart unable to add the points. You could feel the tension with Malone leading 21 – 19 as we entered the final quarter. Blackrock were still leading Highfield but this Malone team wanted to end their season with an emphatic performance in front of their supporters as they chased the league title.
With the bench already having an impact Head coach Paddy Armstrong called on experienced forwards Dave Cave and Neil Alcorn to join the action in place of Dan Kerr and James McAllister. With fifteen minutes remaining this Malone team produced some of their most devastating rugby witnessed at Gibson Park this season. The key drivers being Josh Pentland and Jack Owens with the pace they injected and their ability to breach the Nenagh cover. First up Jack Owens and winger Michael Cartmill combined to run in an outstanding try from sixty metres with Cartmill gaining the touch down and Campbell unable to add the points to leave Malone leading 26 – 19. The home side were completely on top with Pentland, Owens and Cartmill again combining to make another devastating break towards the Nenagh line with Cartmill forcing the Nenagh defender to touch down in his own in goal area. From the scrum Pentland was unlucky not to add another try as he spilled the ball going over the line. The pressure was relentless from the home side with Nathan Brown touching down for the teams fifth try converted by Campbell to increase the Malone lead to 33 – 19. With ten minutes remaining Andy Bryans returned to replace Jack Owens. A further penalty opportunity was pushed wide by Campbell who then kicked a 40 metre penalty on the back of some excellent work by the forwards at the breakdown to increase the Malone lead to 36 – 19. With time almost up it was that man Pentland who took a pass on the halfway line. His show and go wrong footed the Nenagh defence as he set of for the line with Cartmill on his shoulder. Josh was not going to miss this opportunity as he scorched in from fifty metres for a well deserved try with Campbell adding the points to increase their lead to 43 – 19. The referee added on a few minutes as Nenagh went in search of the fourth try and the bonus point that would secure them a playoff place only for a Malone player to kick the ball into touch and bring to end a pulsating game of rugby to reward the Malone team and their supporters with the Div 2A league title. By the narrowest of points for difference Nenagh have qualified for the playoffs ahead of their Tipperary neighbours Cashel. Any hope Highfield had of overtaking Malone was dashed in their 25 – 14 defeat at Blackrock. It was a delighted Ross Todd and his players who received the Div 2A trophy from former Ulster President John McKibben to start the well deserved celebrations.
Report courtesy of George Millar
Richly deserved achievement by Head coach Paddy Armstrong and his players under Captain Ross Todd in the clubs 125th Anniversary season. The strength in depth of the squad at the club was crucial in the team winning the league. When you think back to the team travelling to Galway Corinthians with a club team that came away with a bonus point win that gives you some idea of what this team and squad have achieved. You could see what winning the league title meant to Ulster players Jack Owens, Matt Dalton and Joe Dunleavy yesterday as they celebrated the win with their families. It is three years since Malone were relegated from Div 1B the challenge for the club and coaches is building a squad that can compete at this level. Banbridge have shown what can be achieved after securing promotion last season in finishing second this season. Malone will have fellow Ulster teams Ballymena and either Banbridge or Ballynahinch or both playing alongside them next season. City of Armagh made the playoffs with a win at Greystones and could play in Div 1B next season. Wouldn’t it be great to have 4/5 Ulster teams in this league next season. Can either Banbridge or Ballynahinch make it into Div 1A. Ulster teams have to build on this progress and challenge the top teams in Leinster and Munster. We wish them well.
Malone team: 1. Lee Barlow, 2. Danny Kerr, 3. Ben Halliday, 4. James McAllister, 5. Matt Dalton, 6. Joe Dunleavy, 7. Ross Todd (Captain), 8. Ryan Clarke, 9. Connor Spence, 10. Callum Smith, 11. Andy Bryans, 12. Nathan Brown, 13. Michael Cartmill, 14. Rory Campbell, 15. Jack Owens, 16. Dave Cave, 17. Ricky Greenwood, 18. Neil Alcorn, 19. Jack McMurtry, 20. Josh Pentland.
Other squad members who contributed to the development of this squad over the last two seasons but missed out through injury and unavailability yesterday include Shane Kelly, Phil Lucas, Chris Griffiths, Gary Crawford, Ben McDonnell, Josh Davidson, Phil Eadie, Stuart Doddington, Graham Curtis, Peter Cooper, Mark O’Connor, Michael Shiels, Tiarnan Dillon, Scott Finlay, David McMaster, Tom Dullage, Max Porter and Callum Jeffrey. As everyone will tell you, you need a squad of 40+ players to compete in the All Ireland league.