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Ulster Carpets U18 League Final
Scorers: Kearns(2*Try, 4*Conv, 1*Pen), Molloy(1*Try), McGlone(1*Try), Friel(1*Try)


In literally Baltic conditions at the Mid-Ulster Sports Arena, Rainey U18s secured the Ulster Carpets sponsored Ulster 18 League title against a strong Randalstown team, running out 36-7 victors.  With a strong icy wind blowing straight down the pitch, the belief among the shivering supporters was that it would be a classic “game of two halves”, but in the event, the Magherafelt men were more than capable of winning both.


Starting with wind at their backs, Rainey were soon encamped on the Randalstown 5m line.  The ‘Town defence held firm through a series of scrums, penalties and free-kicks as Rainey pounded away at their line, but eventually the pressure had to give.  No8 Molloy picked up at the base of the scrum and broke blind before feeding centre Kearns who dove over 5m from the right touchline.  In the first of a series of conversions that Johnny Sexton would have been proud of, he then calmly split the uprights to earn the extras.


10 minutes later they were back in exactly the same situation, when the Randalstown fullback fumbled a beautifully weighted up-and-under from his opposite number McCann.  This time, Molloy went blind and powered over despite the attentions of 3 defenders, giving Kearns the chance to replicate his earlier effort.  He duly obliged.


Playing into the gale, Randalstown were never able to kick their way out of their own half, and intelligent use of the boot by out-half Friel kept them pinned back.  Several times Rainey tried to put width on the ball, but clearly suffering from the extreme cold, the handling in the backs was not all it should have been.  Changing tack, Randalstown tried to run the ball out, but they were met by a red and black wall, suffering a series of turnovers against them, with flanker Clarke making a complete nuisance of himself on several occasions.  Only un-enforced errors by Rainey stopped them adding to their tally.  Winger Young was also yellow carded for some mysterious offence.


Following a Randalstown scrum on their 22m, a savage tackle from Kearns forced a knock-on and the Rainey forwards pounced on the loose ball.  A series of short, direct drives involving hooker McGlone, Clarke and Molloy took Rainey to within 2m of the tryline, before the ball was fed back to McGlone for him to crash through three tacklers for the score.  Once more Kearns defied the gale and completed the conversion.


Continuing with their no-kicking policy, Randalstown began to make good use of their big pack, running the ball at Rainey at every opportunity.  Eventually they pounded their way up-field to the Rainey 22m for the first time, before their maul was held up, and from the resultant scrum Friel sent them back into their own territory to finish out the half.


With the wind at their backs, the Randalstown supporters were convinced their team could easily reel in the 21 point deficit.  They started strongly, pinning Rainey back in their 22’, but Friel cleared their lines with an up-field kick, chased and jumped to successfully claim it despite being tackled in the air in front of the referee.  Inexplicably, he failed to penalise this offence, and when Rainey kicked once more, they were penalised for offside and were soon back in their 22’. 


From a ruck on their 5m, scrum-half Murray chipped ahead with the ball once more being recovered by Friel.  As Rainey charged up-field, Clarke, Friel and second-row Corr all made good ground before Randalstown were penalised at a ruck on their 10m line.  Taking a quick tap, Rainey forced their way to the opposition tryline, and with a penalty coming, Friel threw a pin-point 20m pass to Kearns who evaded the cover to score in the right-hand corner.  Unbelievably, he then made it 4 from 4, into the wind, to give Rainey a 28 point advantage.


Randalstown were far from finished and when Rainey failed to properly deal with a chip ahead, their hooker pounced to recover the ball and feed their oncoming fullback.  He raced down the wing, outpacing the Rainey cover to score in the corner.  Proving to be no slouch in the kicking department either, he then knocked over a fine conversion.


They continued to pile on the pressure, keeping play in the Rainey half for the next 10 mins before Molloy latched onto a loose pass on his 22m and stormed downfield through tackle after tackle to take play to the opposition 10m line.   With the siege lifted, replacement fullback Scullion safely collected a long clearance kick and had a great scything run up the right wing before feeding his support, but the move broke down.  Rainey were then gifted a great opportunity when the Randalstown scrum-half fluffed a penalty kick to his open-side winger.  Rainey were on it like a flash, and a few phases later Friel went over for the try.


Randalstown pressed hard for a consolation try, but the Rainey close in defence refused to yield, with Leacock putting in tackle after tackle.  Prop McGovern was binned for failing to roll away, before Rainey forced yet another turnover and once again the forwards rampaged downfield to win a penalty.  Kearns was soon back on target with his fifth kick of the day.


Undaunted, Randalstown kept coming, but a combination of poor handling and stout defence kept them from the Rainey line.  Clarke was yellow carded to take Rainey down to 13 players, but still Randalstown couldn’t score and the clock finally ran out.


This was a good overall performance by the Magherafelt men, especially in light of the conditions.  With one trophy under their belt, attention now shifts to the cup, while an All-Ireland semi-final beckons in a few weeks’ time.


TEAM: Tom  McGovern, Ciaran McGlone, David Evans, Nial Corr, Connor Corr, Jack Leacock, Charlie Clarke, Aidan Molloy, Cahan Murray, Kealan Friel, Elliot Young, Ryan Kearns, Mark Feathers, Nathan Jeffers, Cianan McCann

REPLACEMENTS: John O’Neil, Martynas Raisuotis, Daniel McCormick, Naithan Scullion, Chrissy Diamond