Balbriggan on 'Warr' footing for a title push
Leinster League: Balbriggan 30 Midland Warriors 15
Balbriggan's Division 2B title prospects now rest entirely in their own hands after they collected yet another bonus-point victory to kick-start 2019 on a high note.
They play host to current leaders Edenderry next Sunday and a win in that game would put the Fingal side firmly in the driving seat to secure promotion to 2A in the coming weeks.
On an very mild January day, both Balbriggan and Midland Warriors dished up a good game to get the New Year off to a flying start and in the end it was a very hard-fought victory for the hosts.
Nevertheless, with a bonus point secured for the eighth time this season - Edenderry only have five - Balbriggan's ability to score heavily in most games could help see them over the line to secure that coveted promotion spot.
Player coach Henry Bryce's high, hanging kick from the start was secured by Balbriggan hands and eventually the home side mauled the ball from a 22-metre lineout and Ciaran Malone broke loose to barge off for the game's first score.
Warriors put Balbriggan under pressure from the restart and after winning a lineout near to their line scrum half Smith didn't find touch from his clearance kick and Warriors ran the ball back and after a few phases got the equalising score.
Warriors were coming more into the game and stealing a lot of Balbriggan ball at the breakdown, while Balbriggan looked to run at every opportunity and on a number of occasions Warriors were let off the hook though the ball not going to hand.
Eventually, though, Balbriggan got it right and Bryce made a good break to set Andrew Miller away. Miller made good ground before offloading to flanker Whitney, who was running a good support line, and he crashed over for the second try.
From the last play of the half the ref adjudged that Bryce had played the ball from an offside position - it certainly didn't look so from the Balbriggan sideline - and Warriors slotted over the penalty to go in only 10-8 down.
Balbriggan attacked from the restart and despite some poor passes managed to keep the ball to hand and Miller was denied a try when the ref said he was held up.
From the following scrum Graham O'Reilly thought that he was over, but again the match official wasn't convinced.
At the next attack Balbriggan were penalised, but the Warriors didn't clear the ball to touch, Miller caught the ball and ran back into midfield where he fed Bryce who then put Staunton away on the near wing. Staunton was held up just short and bundled into touch for a five-metre lineout.
However, a superb steal by Whitney from the Midland throw saw Balbriggan drive to the line and with Bryce adding his considerable weight to the push Sean Malone was able to get over for the touchdown.
There are several Balbriggan players who will not want to see what happened next as Warriors gathered the ball from the kick-off and their centre evaded a number of tackles to score under the posts. Suddenly, from being ahead, the game was tied at 15-15.
Balbriggan at this stage started to use the bench, which for once was packed with experience. Anto Whelan replaced Charlie Browne, who had picked up a knock, while Con Casey, making a welcome return, replaced Mike Hanly and Jon Davis came on for Sean Malone.
The home side now made the best use of any opportunity and Casey used his experience to pin the Warriors back with some telling kicks. Miller made another break and fed O'Brien whose dancing feet got him close to the line where he offloaded to Murphy who got over for the bonus-point try.
Moments later Balbriggan had a penalty under the posts and wisely decided to kick to put two scores between them.
The final nail was driven in by Andy Whitney, finishing a good move across the line when Casey had sent substitute Glen Healy away. Hanly, having missed all his earlier conversions, nailed the most difficult one.
Warriors came back looking to see if they could earn a bonus point but were held out, even if it cost Miller a yellow card. Nevertheless, the visitors caused all sorts of problems at the rucks all afternoon and while Balbriggan did better in the second half it is an area that they are going to have to work on.
Having Gav Mullen back in the front row was a big plus and in the backs Ciaran Verdon and Ian Murphy never stopped all afternoon, but captain Conor Caldwell was named Man of the Match, an award sponsored by Andy Smith Heating & Plumbing.
BALBRIGGAN: I Murphy; A Miller, H Bryce (C Casey), D Verdon, D Staunton (G Healy); M Hanley, A Smith; G Mullen (A Whelan), S Malone (J Davis), C Browne; G O'Reilly, C Caldwell; A Whitney (D Quinn), R O'Brien, C Malone.