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Bann have top tier in sights as five Ulster clubs reach finals

 

By Michael Sadlier

It was a weekend of notable returns for Ulster clubs with five of the possible six sides who could advance to play-off final shoot-outs managing to get there.

Banbridge, City of Armagh, Rainey Old Boys, Belfast Harlequins and Omagh all won their play-off semi-finals and now face winner takes all games, with the latter two clubs actually coming up against each other in what will be a tense Ulster derby.

Bann now host UCC for a spot in Division 1A, Armagh welcome Nenagh Ormond to the Palace Grounds with the winners joining already promoted Malone in 1B, and Rainey are also at home to Navan with promotion to 2A awaiting the winners.

Quins have a slightly different agenda as they need to beat Omagh just to stay in 2B while the Tyrone side will move up from 2C should they go on to taste victory at Deramore Park.

Last weekend also had a derby clash, though, with Bann dramatically coming from behind to deny Hinch the win at Rifle Park.

Indeed, it was a late penalty try which ensured that Dan Soper's side triumphed 28-24 to painfully end Hinch's interest in the knockout stages.

Hinch had led 14-0 early on through tries from Richard Reaney and David Busby, before Bann started to come back into the game through the awarding of their first penalty try.

And though Reaney's second try then put them 19-7 up, and seemingly in a good place, Conor Field crossed right on the blow for half-time to cut Hinch's advantage back to 19-12.

Even so, Hinch still looked good for the win as Aaron Cairns then grabbed their fourth try but, even at 24-12 in front, Brian McLaughlin's squad couldn't close the deal.

Three James Hume penalties moved Bann to three points behind before their very late second penalty try - a score which actually gave them the lead for the first time in the game - completed the comeback.

Armagh had a less nerve-fraying time at Highfield and made off with an impressive 27-13 result.

Andrew Willis and Tim McNeice scored first half tries which helped put the visitors 18-6 ahead and in a strong looking position to win.

After that, it was over to Cormac Fox who kicked three penalties, to add to the conversion and two penalties he had managed in the opening 40 minutes, and Armagh had their triumph from the long trip to Cork.

Rainey had to come from behind to see off MU Barnhall at Hatrick Park with a strong second half performance banking the result 26-14 to take them into Saturday's play-off final.

The Magherafelt side crept into a 12-11 lead at half-time when Andrew Magrath had converted Oisin Quinn's try after, earlier, missing the kick for Scott McLean's opener.

Magrath went on to land two penalties and a drop goal to take Rainey through to the final.

Quins did the needful at Deramore and racked up a fourth consecutive win as they defeated Malahide 19-13.

A penalty try as well as touchdowns from David Devine and Toby Mannus, along with some admirable defending from the home team, gave Quins a chance at staying in 2B should they defeat Omagh.

Mark Gribben grabbed the other points for Quins by converting Devine's try.

After a tense opening half, which saw Omagh lead 12-10, coach Phil Marshall's side powered on to set up their game at Quins by beating Thomond 34-13 at Thomas Mellon Playing Fields.

Adam Longwell and James Catterson's first half tries were added to by a brace of scores from Ryan Mitchell as well as single tries from Kyle Alexander and Ali Beckett.

Meanwhile in the qualifying round-robins, Instonians suffered a massive blow to their hopes of a return to the AIL, and senior rugby, after they tumbled to a 41-18 defeat at home to Ballina.

Now Instonians need five points at Bandon this weekend, and Ballina to win at Ashbourne, to allow the Ulster club finish second in the round-robin table and stay in with a chance of making the AIL through a play-off with Bruff.

Belfast Telegraph

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