Highfield and UCC gear up for vital run-in to the All-Ireland League

Sundays Well are another Cork club in desperate need of points going into the concluding two rounds of fixtures
Highfield and UCC gear up for vital run-in to the All-Ireland League

Highfield's Miah Cronin is a key figure for the club on the run-in to the end of the league season.

HIGHFIELD and UCC have the same destination in mind, but they’re travelling in different directions to get there.

The routes will take in a couple of pit-stops along the way, too, and as to whether the Cork duo reach their desired location, that is the burning question.

’Field’s much sought after elevation to energia All-Ireland League Division 1A for the first time appears to have dimmed following a bright start to the 18-game schedule.

Now, with two regular games remaining, they’ve come under attack from a chasing pack, also striving for the end-of-season semi-finals and final.

Naas’s 27-22 victory over their visitors at the weekend yielded a losing bonus point for ’Field, for whom Mark Dorgan, Ronan O’Sullivan and Paddy O’Toole crossed for tries with Shane O’Riordan converting two and also kicking a penalty.

That bonus point was important because it kept them in second place in division 1B, though the lead over fast-finishing Shannon has been reduced to the minimum.

The win also kept the Co Kildare side in the hunt for a top four slot, three points behind Shannon, while St Mary’s are a further three more adrift in fifth.

Their challenge is likely to weaken, however, because they’ve the leaders Old Wesley to come at the weekend, a team that is hotly fancied to be promoted, when it’s all done and dusted.

The change in fortunes in such a highly competitive league is best reflected in the opening weeks of the marathon season.

Highfield hosted Naas in round three and won convincingly 38-3, touching down for six tries in the process from different scorers.

The week before, the Cork side accumulated 42 points away to Navan-Miah Cronin and Paul Stack crossing twice each-and the Co Meath club visit Leeside on Saturday.

Little has changed for Navan, who prop up the table and are mired in relegation trouble, offering ’Field the opportunity to strengthen their position.

Ending in the top two is important because it guarantees a home tie in the semi-final and if the standings were to remain unchanged that would serve a mouth-watering Highfield-Shannon play-off.

The Limerick club look set for a maximum return, when they visit struggling Banbridge though Shannon’s last game is at home to Wesley with ’Field heading to play St Mary’s.

It’s Highfield’s last scheduled home game of the season and the picture should become a bit clearer after the final whistle before heading into the decisive closing round of fixtures the following week.

UCC are in a better place than their Cork neighbours because of their division 1A standing and their season will come down to the two-leg relegation play-off against Ballynahinch.

That’s been the focus for the students in recent weeks and their young side has certainly learned the hard way about the unforgiving and merciless nature of the top tier.

That was further evidenced in the 52-21 loss away to second-placed Lansdowne, who are practically unbeatable on their Astro pitch astride the Aviva Stadium.

UCC scored three tries, hooker Billy Kingston barging over for a couple and fellow front-rower Tadhg McCarthy also getting in on the act.

College host a Garryowen side, which has really struggled this season, a lowly eighth in the listings and beaten in the Munster cup final by Young Munster, at the Mardyke on Saturday.

A win would be a timely boost for UCC ahead of the Hinch games, which went the way of the visiting teams during the campaign.

In division 2A, Dolphin, despite losing 46-29 to leaders Queens University at Musgrave Park, guaranteed a stress-free run in to the end of the season.

The bonus point gained following tries from Paul Dowling, Dave Jennings, James Vaughan and Cameron O’Shaughnessy ensured the Cork club edged away from any potential relegation matters.

Midleton were also in try bonus territory in their 24-8 victory over Bangor at Towns Park, where Will Casey (2), Ryan Lehane and Ryan Moore scored.

In theory, the east Cork club could squeeze into the top four in division 2C but making up nine points on Tullamore with just two games to be played is a tad unrealistic.

Midleton pop up the road for a critical local derby from Sunday’s Well’s perspective on Saturday.

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