Despite losing the services of prop Jason Harney after just three minutes play, Naas put in a spirited display to pick up a much-needed 26-19 win over Banbridge in the All-Ireland League.
The Kildare side had been precariously positioned close to the drop zone in Division 2A even after their single point defeat of leaders Old Wesley in their previous outing. And that threat of relegation had obviously sharpened their attitude as they started the game with an aggression that Banbridge struggled to match.
In Harney’s case, the aggression was not tempered by the necessary discipline but the 14 men who remained on the pitch compensated for his loss to build a 23-8 advantage by the interval.
Aaron Kennedy’s 10th minute penalty was cancelled out by a similar effort from Naas out-half David Ahearne and in the 17th minute home scrum-half Rob Campbell made Bann pay the price for some limp defending as he weaved his way to the try line after a lineout on the visitors’ 22. Peter Osborne added the conversion.
The Bann threequarters looked threatening with ball in hand and after Andrew Morrison had sliced through the Naas midfield, he found John Porter with a long pass for the winger to finish off with his customary aplomb. Kennedy’s conversion attempt re-bounded off an upright.
Osborne kicked a penalty for a 13-8 lead in the 25th minute and after Naas had pummelled the Bann line for several minutes centre Henry Bryce eventually proved unstoppable from close range. The strong-running centre did the early damage in the build-up to his side’s third try, with his midfield partner Johnny Delaney finishing off to leave Naas comfortably ahead at the break.
Bann made the running at the start of the second half with an early lineout steal setting up the chance for the first of two Kennedy penalties before Osborne struck back to take the score to 26-14.
Stephen Irvine tapped a penalty and made good ground but Adam Doherty was unable to take the off-load as the line beckoned. Chris Allen’s yellow card on 64 minutes evened up the sides numerically but as the visitors continued to edge the exchanges, a flowing threequarter move followed by quick ruck ball put Doherty in for an unconverted try.
Bann pressed hard for the equalising score in the 15 minutes that remained and the impressive Morrison almost snatched it with another searing run right at the end. But the hungrier home side held on for the win that almost certainly guarantees their place in the smaller Division 2A next season.
Bann coach Daniel Soper was disappointed with aspects of the performance but nevertheless paid tribute to the hard work put in by the players since Christmas. “We showed glimpses of quality today but the first half performance was poor,” he said reflecting on the game. “We were just too soft in defence.
“That ends a run of five AIL wins on the bounce which the players should be given credit for as it lifted us well above that critical 10th place in the league. The last month has been difficult as our training quality has dropped because of niggling injuries to key players.
“The big challenge for us now is to finish with a win over league winners Wesley to assure us of fourth place. That would be a great achievement after what was a poor start to the season.”
That final game against Old Wesley will be at Rifle Park on 11th April but before that Bann conclude their Ulster League programme with games at Rainey tomorrow night (Wednesday 7.45pm ko) and at Ballynahinch on Saturday, 2.30pm ko.