Balbriggan a step closer to league glory
Leinster League: Balbriggan 20 Edenderry 0
Balbriggan's Division 2B title destiny now rests firmly in their own hands after they comprehensively defeated nearest challengers Edenderry to return to the top of the table on Sunday afternoon.
Barring an extraordinary turnaround in the sides' points difference - Balbriggan currently have an advantage of 134 in that regard - they will be the champions if they win their three remaining matches against Birr (away), Garda (home) and Arklow (away).
Despite the scoreline this was a very hard-fought win and so intense were the exchanges that neither team registered a score in the entire second half.
Balbriggan came out of the traps with all cylinders firing and at every opportunity looked to run at the Edenderry defence. First it would be the big boys taking it up - the Malones, skipper Caldwell and O'Reilly - and then the backs showed their skills, and with good distribution from Hanley both Verdon and Bryce made good breaks.
Con Casey, playing at full back, was hitting the line at different spots and giving the Edenderry defence problems and he was the victim of a high tackle that resulted in Hanley booting Balbriggan ahead with a penalty.
From the kick-off Balbriggan came straight back and a penalty allowed Hanley kick to the corner, from where the hosts won the lineout but were stopped when Sean Malone was illegally tackled in front of the posts.
Balbriggan opted for the scrum but couldn't make progress, so when another penalty came along it was decided to take the points and Hanley slotted through the posts.
The home team were on a roll and again went straight back from the kick-off, with Casey exposing the Edenderry defence, and while stopped short of the line Sean Malone was following up and got over for the try, with Hanley adding the conversion for a 13-0 lead.
The strange thing was that Balbriggan were playing into a very stiff wind and yet Edenderry tried to run everything from their own half, when they should perhaps have been kicking to the corner.
With Bryce and Verdon making good line breaks it was the injection of Casey into the line that was making an impact. Another break set Miller off up the wing and with the play just held up on the line Balbriggan won the put in to the scrum from where the elder Malone crashed over. With Hanley converting Balbriggan had a remarkable 20-point advantage.
It looked as if Balbriggan might have added another score, but what they felt was a deliberate knock on was deemed not so by the referee and the half came to an end.
Edenderry had it all to do, now playing into the wind, but they had not given up and a break by Balbriggan ended with the ball being turned over and Edenderry getting to the 22 before Murphy put in a crunching tackle.
The majority of the second half was played around the Balbriggan 22 and after giving away four penalties in a row the next Balbriggan offender, being Hanley, was given a yellow card. He was followed shortly after by Casey who took one for the team.
Balbriggan played the next eight minutes with 13 men, but you would have thought that the world was going to end if they let Edenderry in. The cry of 'no surrender' was certainly there as they tackled everything that moved. Smith in particular was a great disrupter around the fringes, upsetting any clean ball Edenderry got.
Again, one would have to question their tactics when the obvious solution would have been to go wide, but they kept coming back into the dominant Balbriggan pack.
The home side got as far as the Edenderry 22 on a couple of occasions, but it was mostly about defence and it held firm to the very end, with the Zincworx Man of the Match award going to Ciaran Verdon.
It looks like Balbriggan's title to lose, but they have a couple of tough matches left and the battle for the title could yet go down to the last weekend.
However, for the next week Balbriggan turn their attentions to the Towns Cup as they travel to face Clondalkin next Sunday.
BALBRIGGAN: C Casey; A Miller (D Staunton), H Bryce, C Verdon, I Murphy (G Healy); M Hanley, A Smith; G Mullen, S Malone A Whelan (P Joyce); C Caldwell, G O'Reilly; R O'Brien (D Quinn), A Whitney, C Malone.