The penultimate round of UBL fixtures was to be a day of reckoning for many of the sides involved in promotion and relegation issues.
Rainey Old Boys were in that company, needing to win at Barnhall to avoid the play-offs.
However, despite producing a much improved performance in County Kildare, they were desperately unlucky to lose 20-19 and must now win two games against the teams finishing behind the winners Old Crescent in the top four of Division 2C. These teams are most likely to be Tullamore, Bruff and Wanderers.
The semi-finals are scheduled for April 16, with the final on April 30. Rainey will, however, enjoy home advantage.
Rainey were very unfortunate at Barnhall where they did not get the rub of the green. The attitude could not have been better, nor the commitment any greater, with the forwards turning in a tremendous exhibition of rucking and pick and go rugby to give themselves every chance of winning.
But they were made to pay for a couple of little mistakes and were made suffer in the third quarter in particular as a succession of decisions went against them. The refereeing had to be seen to be believed. The home crowd readily admitted that Rainey were hard done by as Portadown referee Adrian Reavey somehow failed to spot several obvious Barnhall knock-ons at a vital stage of the contest. Both touch judges were bewildered.
Two penalty decisions then robbed Rainey of the momentum they had built up and changed the course of the match.
With Rory Winters and Simon Derby ruled out by injury and Ronan McCusker unavailable, Rainey brought in 18-year old Darren Corrigan for his first game since before Christmas and the very promising No.8 played a leading role despite still being hampered by a hand injury.
A strong crossfield wind at Parsonstown, just outside Celbridge, was to totally dictate the tactics used and make life very difficult for the players.
A fired up Rainey side started well and camped in the home 22’ for seven minutes before full-back McIlroy opened the scoring. Shortly afterwards, out-half Martin chose to move play in field where his loose pass was snapped up by the opposition and the Blue Bulls backs quickly exploited the space on the left to run in a try which was converted.
With scrum-half Wilson working well with his pack, Rainey put together some impressive phases and this tactic worked a treat after 25 minutes with centre Damien McMurray going through for a great try.
While they continued to play most of the rugby, they did give themselves an anxious moment when they turned over ball on their own 22’ and were thankful that Barnhall did not make the most of the situation.
Stirling and O’Kane both had little runs as Rainey stormed into the Barnhall 22’ once again in search of the score that they would have deserved. Damien McMurray was shown a yellow card to halt their momentum and right on half-time a shot at goal from McIlroy was swept wide.
With the next score likely to have a big say on the outcome, the third quarter was a very tense period. Solid in the tight and always likely to mess up the opposition’s lineout ball, a Tim Barker-inspired pack kept Barnhall pinned in their own half until an unbelievable exhibition of refereeing altered things. Barnhall kicked a penalty, but McIlroy landed a beauty to put Rainey back in front.
Rainey, however, failed to deal with the midfield drop-out, handing Barnhall the lineout throw. From here they earned a penalty to go 13-11 up.
With ten minutes remaining ,the bounce of the ball brought Barnhall a try out of nothing and moved the score on to 20-11.
Rainey put everything into a storming finish. Barnhall had a player sin-binned before wing Stirling moved in field to make an incisive break approaching halfway. He always looked like getting there, but the closing cover pushed him wider, leaving an impossible conversion into the wind. After oniy three minutes of added time, the final whistle sounded.
Rainey Old Boys: J. McIlroy, M. McClelland, J. McMurray, D. McMurray, N. Stirling, G. Martin, M. Wilson, K. Donaghy, A. Shaw, N. O’Kane, T. Barker, P. Stewart, J. Lees, B. Mullan, D. Corrigan. Replacements: T. O’Hagan, J. Roe
Saturday 2 April at 2.30pm
Rainey Old Boys v Seapoint
Post-match entertainment by Paddy Collins.