Instonians win leaves Dundalk on front foot
Dundalk took a giant step in their quest to attain Ulster Bank League rugby next season when they travelled to Belfast last Saturday and beat former AIL standard-bearers Instonians 15-11 in the opening game of the 4-team Round Robin.
And before they resume their pursuit to play on the national stage the Louth side must tackle Enniscorthy on Sunday in an eagerly anticipated Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup semi-final.
The Leinster League champions displayed admirable discipline in a stoic late rear-guard action as they valiantly defended that precious four-point lead throughout a nail-biting last quarter at Shaw's Bridge on Saturday.
Dundalk had first use of Belfast's blustery elements but a narrow 8-5 interval lead that included a try scored by out half Johnny Williams and a penalty from the boot of winger Ultan Murphy appeared tenuous.
The hosts, who are coached by legendary Triple Crown winning former Ireland winger Keith Crossan, drew level soon after the resumption but an alert quick tap penalty inside the opposition 22 that caught the home side completely off guard led to hooker Sione Nuku powering over for the decisive score which crucially Murphy converted a quarter of an hour into the second half.
Despite conceding another penalty goal soon after Dundalk maintained their discipline to keep the penalty count to a minimum but still had to withstand a last gasp "throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" goal line stand at the death.
Tomorrow week they return to their Mill Road fortress where Clonmel are the visitors and the Munster champions signalled their intentions on Saturday with an impressive 40-0 home win against Connemara.
Dundalk's victory was part of an ideal set of results in the AIL jigsaw puzzle that will eventually determine the fate of many teams in the Leinster league; indeed Boyne's 26-0 bonus point win in Division 2B of the Ulster Bank League has ensured that all 6th places teams in the various Divisions will maintain their status for next season.
And if as seems likely Richmond join Ards in getting relegated from the AIL then either Boyne or De La Salle Palmerston will play the winner of the Round Robin in the playoff for the final place in the Ulster Bank League next season.
If Dundalk win the Round Robin then the winners of the Leinster League Divisional Promotion/Relegation playoffs that took place last month will all be promoted; and that would be good news for Gorey, Mullingar, Athboy and Balbriggan.
While familiar foes Dundalk and Enniscorthy square off in Naas Rugby Club on Sunday in the Bank of Ireland Provincial Towns Cup there is a novel pairing in the other semi-final as Clondalkin have made it this far for the first time and will face last year's beaten finalists Kilkenny in Co Carlow Rugby Club.
Clondalkin have beaten Boyne, Gorey and Tullamore to get this far and will face a stern test from a Kilkenny team that has already won Division 1B of the Leinster League while beating Co Carlow and New Ross in the Towns Cup before receiving a walkover from Skerries.
Enniscorthy's path to the semi-final included wins over Edenderry, holders Ashbourne and Tullow while Dundalk received a bye in the opening round before victories against Wicklow and Portarlington.
Tentative tips for Sunday? Enniscorthy and Kilkenny to edge a pair of extremely tight semi-finals.