Derby defeat compounds Boyne woes
Leinster League Division 1A: Dundalk 29 Boyne 7
Muted fist pumping turned into boisterous celebrations shortly after the final whistle on Saturday as Dundalk's dramatic bonus-point Louth derby win and Bective's last-gasp defeat saved Mike Walls' men from relegation.
It won't go down as an earth-shattering achievement for the victors, but the roars of approval that accompanied news of Wicklow's late winner against Bective simply rubbed more salt in the wounds of a Boyne side who were already certain of finishing bottom.
In the circumstances the Drogheda men put on a valiant performance and the margin of defeat was rather cruel on them, but the table doesn't lie and their record of 11 defeats from 14 matches will result in much soul-searching around Shamrock Lodge in the weeks and months ahead.
Dundalk went into this game knowing that a bonus win would see them finish above Bective on the head-to-head record if Rangers lost in Wicklow.
However, with just over five minutes remaining at both venues, neither scenario looked likely and the Mill Road men were beginning to contemplate a play-off against 1B runners-up Longford for the right to play in the Leinster League's top flight next season.
A highly unlikely sequence of results involving Enniscorthy in the All-Ireland round robin series and AIL Division 2C strugglers Tullamore and Seapoint could still see Dundalk and Longford face each other in that play-off, but for now they can concentrate on next weekend's Towns Cup quarter-final in Wicklow.
Boyne, with nothing but pride and bragging rights to play for at the end of a wretched season, kicked off into a stiff wind blowing diagonally across the pitch and they immediately found themselves on the defensive.
A jinking run by Dundalk scrum half Daragh Conroy put the hosts within touching distance of the line, but when Walls moved the ball left, Patrick Reilly's final pass to Laurence Steen didn't go to hand.
Dundalk remained camped in Boyne territory, but there were whoops of joy in the away camp when they won a penalty for a five-metre scrum infringement after their hosts had turned down a kick at goal to go for the set piece.
It was only a brief reprieve, though, and after having Brian Howell sin-binned for a deliberate knock on and then defending heroically, they eventually coughed up a try in the 18th minute as Reilly went over in the right corner.
After Conroy's conversion was missed, the Drogheda men responded with an excellent passing move, with Kevin Prendergast making the initial surge and prop Pat Shuttleworth then showing great hands to exchange passes with Karl Keogh before finally being bundled over the touchline.
Shortly after Howell's return from the bin, Boyne had Prendergast yellow-carded along with Dundalk's Sean Arrowsmith following an off-the-ball confrontation.
Some excellent kicking out of hand from out half Michael Briscoe kept the Drogheda men out of the home side's 22 for a lengthy spell, but deep into first-half stoppage time a scintillating break from Dundalk's youthful winger Ronan Greene gave them field position and Conroy eventually burrowed over from two yards before kicking the conversion for a 12-0 half-time lead.
Boyne could easily have crumbled at that stage, but eight minutes after the restart they kicked a penalty to the corner, Colm Joyce Ahearne secured lineout possession and they then attacked the blind side, with Wilson Twentyman getting the touchdown in the corner.
Karl Keogh's superb conversion from the touchline made it just a five-point game, but that would be the one and only time in the entire game that Boyne threatened the Dundalk try line.
In the meantime the home side set about creating scoring opportunities and initially they were frustrated as three Boyne offences near their own line had home supporters appealing in vain for another sin-binning.
Somehow Boyne kept 15 men on the field for a while longer and when Sam Weber and Enda Murphy combined to put Reilly away on the left wing, only to be superbly tackled into touch by Howell, it looked like the two further tries Dundalk desperately needed wouldn't materialise.
That all changed in the 68th minute when the referee brandished yellow to Joyce Ahearne and another Boyne infringement immediately after resulted in a penalty try - 19-7.
The Wicklow v Bective game was very much in the balance at this stage and Dundalk pushed on relentlessly and got that bonus score in the 76th minute. Conroy started the move deep inside his own half, the support play from backs and forwards was immense and none other than prop forward Robert Farrell popped up to get on the end of Weber's scoring pass and barge over from 10 metres out.
There was still time for a fifth try when Boyne full back Graeme McQuillan fumbled a high kick, presenting possession to Weber, and with the referee playing a scrum advantage the Kiwi centre broke right before releasing replacement forward Greg Whately who burst clear and dived over unchallenged.
The real icing on the cake for Dundalk, though, came a few minutes later when the result from Wicklow was confirmed.
DUNDALK: Robert Williams; Ronan Greene, Sam Weber, Johnny Williams, Patrick Reilly; Mike Walls, Daragh Conroy; Jonathan Gray, Sean Arrowsmith, Robert Farrell; Ben Mortimer, Enda Murphy; James McConnon, Laurence Steen, Tiernan Gonnelly. Replacements: Conor Williams, Ciaran Lennon, Greg Whately, Alister McCormack, Ciaran Lenehan.
BOYNE: Graeme McQuillan; Brian Howell, Adam Brodigan, Ruairi Hennessy, Cormac Brodigan; Michael Briscoe, Shaun Rooney; Pat Shuttleworth, Tadhg O'Reilly, Keith Keogh; Kevin Prendergast, Colm Joyce Ahearne; Ciaran Smith, Wilson Twentyman, Karl Keogh. Replacements: John Heeney, Eoghan McDonnell, Ben Dunphy, Cody O'Neill, Conor Callaghan.
Referee: Jamie Webster