- Result: Galwegians Firsts 12 - NUIM Barnhall 10
- Venue: Parsonstown on Sat Mar 15th 2014
- Competition: AIL Division 2A
Galwegians sealed promotion to Ulster Bank League Division 1b when they recorded their twelfth straight League victory in a nail-biting and absorbing encounter away to Barnhall on Saturday.
The hosts came into this game in second place in hot pursuit of a promotion place themselves. They drew first blood with a 5th minute penalty after Wegians were pinged for not rolling away, and Simon Gillespie split the posts to give his side an early lead. Both sides struggled to settle with the wind proving tricky, leading to much messy possession in what was a predictably tense match. However Wegians were beginning to put it up to Barnhall, and they came close to taking the lead before the break. Following a huge forward effort and a series of scrums which created the platform, the ball was spun wide and centre Brian Murphy looked certain to score, only to lose the ball over line. So it remained 3-0 at half-time.
In the second-half the Blues had the advantage of the stiff breeze which angled across the pitch. However they were dealt an early sucker punch when Barnhall won quick ball and veteran Gareth Murray was sent clear to dive over for a well-taken try, sending the home fans wild. Gillespie converted to stretch the lead to 10-0, and suddenly Wegians looked like they had a mountain to climb if they were to protect their long unbeaten League run.
However credit to the Blues who refused to panic, and captain Brian McClearn rallied his troops. They needed a quick score to get back into the game, and that is exactly what transpired. It came from another trademark Wegians lineout maul, as the marauding pack battered their way forward and over the line, with no. 8 Dan McCabe claiming the touchdown, his third of this campaign. Full-back Darragh Leader converted to restore a 3-point deficit, and it was now game on.
With their self-belief restored, the Blues went on to dominate the third quarter. Leader soon had an opportunity to level the game with a penalty from 30m, only to send his effort wide. But the visitors were really cranking up the pressure, and they seemed certain to score following a series of 5 metres scrums. The pressure was telling on the hosts who had a prop sin-binned, and following some resets, somehow the home pack managed to halt the Wegians juggernaut. Referee Paul Haycock decided the scrum was turned and then penalised the Blues for an early push on the Barnhall put-in.
However their relief was short-lived, as Wegians soon regained possession before moving the ball into space, and centre Rory Parata finished a superb move to dive over in the corner for an excellent try. Leader missed the difficult conversion to leave the game delicately poised at 12-10.
Barnhall then went in search of regaining the lead, and they soon had an opportunity when awarded a penalty, but Gillespie was off target. The game then entered a tense finale. Wegians had the home side largely pinned in their own half, but neither side seemed able to retain possession long enough to make it count. Leader tried to stretch the margin with a long-range penalty, and although he had the distance it sailed just wide to leave it a single score game. With the game entering stoppage time, Barnhall had one last chance for a breakaway when they turned over ball near halfway, but it came to nothing and referee Haycock sounded the final whistle, leading to jubilant scenes from the Wegians players and the large travelling support.
So this win seals promotion for the Blues, who have laid waste to all before them since suffering their opening game defeat away to Ballymena. Defeat sees Barnhall drop to third but still very much in the hunt for the second promotion place. However it was Wegians’ day and they now need just a solitary bonus point from their final two games to claim the League title. And so Division 1b beckons for the Blues next season, where they will renew battle and acquaintance with at least one of their Connacht rivals Corinthians and Buccaneers.
15. Darragh Leader; 14. Jerome Harrimate, 13. Rory Parata, 12. Brian Murphy, 11. John Cleary; 10. Ross Shaughnessy, 9. Barry Lee; 1. Ja Naughton, 2. Ross Fitzgerald, 3. Jason East; 4.Dave Nolan, 5. Brian McClearn (capt.); 6. Anthony Ryan, 7. Eddie Earle, 8. Dan McCabe.
Conor Muldoon, Paul Griffin, Jack Dinneen, Caolin Blade, Ciaran Gaffney.