A TOUGH, tenacious performance saw Highfield seal an excellent victory on the road and secure their place in the Energia AIL Division 1A promotion play-off final.
They will be on the road again to face Shannon on Saturday week and will be fired up to finally seal their place in the top flight.
The game went right to the wire with Old Belvedere mounting pressure in Highfield’s 22 in the closing minutes; mixing powerful forward carries with some strong running backs. Tired Highfield legs resolutely defended their line and eventually, the excellent Miah Cronin made a sublime interception in open play to secure possession. The dynamic number eight foraged forward and run a penalty to seal the victory for the Cork side in a front of a large vocal traveling support.
There was an almighty downpour a couple of hours before the game and persistent rainfall during the game made the ball slippery and underfoot conditions difficult. Highfield adapted to the conditions; with big kicks by Cian Bohane and Jack Taylor pinning Old Belvedere back. Some quick pressing defence often forced mistakes.
A couple of early penalties allowed the Cork side go to the corner where Amhlaoibh Porter was securing clean possession. The ball was quickly spread out right where winger Luke Kingston raced through for a try that Taylor converted.
Belvo’ were quickly building up the pressure as Highfield tackled ferociously. After three successive penalties, hooker Calum Dowling finally touched down with Micheál O’Kennedy converting.
Highfield regained territorial advantage. While their extreme competitiveness on the line-out led to the concession of several penalties; it also saw Highfield steal some crucial balls; including one on the hosts' five-metre line. Prop Daragh Fitzgerald responded quickly to gather the ball and crash over, putting Highfield 12-7 up at half-time.
O’Kennedy reduced the gap to 12-10 early in the second half. Highfield had the Dubliners under pressure from the restart. An overlap should have seen Ben Murphy put through, but Highfield did get a consolation of a five-metre scrum. With big space on the blind side; Cronin took the ball on before releasing scrum-half Chris Banon who went over. Taylor crucially kicked the touch-line conversion to stretch the lead to nine points.
As the rain abated; Belvedere played a more open running game; and their dynamic backs were able to race through some weary Highfield tackles. With ten minutes remaining Connor Owende powered over and the O’Kennedy conversion made it a two-point game.
Old Belvedere pressed in the closing minutes, but Highfield defended with great discipline and intensity with Cronin sealing the game-winning interception.
C Dowling, C Owende tries; M O’Kennedy pen, 2 cons.
L Kingston, D Fitzgerald, C Banon tries; J Taylor 2 cons.
J White; A Robles, J Beckett, M O’Kennedy, L McDermott; D Wilkinson, P O’Beirne; J Bollard (c), C Dowling, R Foxe; F McWey, C Owende; Ó O’Brien, T Mulcair, K Thatcher.
J Horan, J Mulhern, H Flood, J Ruddy, J Breen, B Leonard, J Tormey, J Keating.
C Bohane; B Murphy, L McCarthy, M Dorgan, L Kingston; J Taylor, C Banon; C Buckley, T Coomey, D Fitzgerald; S Garrett, E Keating; D O’Connell (c), A Porter, M Cronin.
R Murphy, I McCarthy, N Downing, M Fitzgibbon, J O’Callaghan, R Cassidy, S Quaid, G O’Leary.
D Carson (IRFU).