Blue Bulls look to Rain down on playoff final

by Dave Donnelly

MU Barnhall sit on the cusp of promotion to Ulster Bank League Division 2A – the third level of senior club rugby – after a long spell in the fourth tier.

In their way stands an away trip to Rainey’s Old Boys in Derry on Saturday, with the winner assured a promotion play-off against either Greystones or Navan.

The Leixlip club have come a long way in their 49 years of existence, and that’s been accelerated since they linked up with Maynooth University in 2010.

Their success is emblematic of the changing face of Leinster rugby as clubs outside the traditional heartlands in Dublin’s interior continue to make themselves known.

With powerhouse Bective Rangers relegated to junior rugby for the first time this year, it would symbollise the changing of the guard if Barnhall were to succeed in making the step up.

MU Barnhall finished third in this season’s standings behind runaway league winners Old Crescent and second-placed Rainey.

They were on the end of a 42-10 thumping up in Magherafelt at the beginning of the season but such was their development during the season they eased to a 25-3 win over Rainey last month.

“We played them in, I think, the second or third match of the season up in Rainey and I think we were still getting used to our new structures,” captain Simon Gillespie told the Dublin Gazette.

“Our discipline let us down up there big time. We played for 20 minutes with 14 men in the first half, and we ended up being reduced to 14 for 30 minutes in the second half.

“You’re never going to win a match when you’re down to 14 men for 50 or 50 minutes. It was a big learning curve for us as a team.

“We took them on at home in a must-win match, which was delayed due to the snow, and we played one of our best performances of the season.”

While Rainey will have home advantage once again at the weekend, Gillespie’s side will take confidence from their most recent meeting.

The melding of youth and experience, with former rugby league international Tom McKeown and ex-Leinster winger Darren Hudson in the mix, has been key this season.

“There’s been change in the coaching set-up,” Gillespie continued.

“When you have that, there are a few structures to get used to. As a team, there hasn’t been that much change.

“All in all, with the new coaching structures, we’d a rocky start but once we got used to those we went on an eight game unbeaten run with five bonus point victories.

“We were in form, and we had a poor showing up in Navan about three weeks ago that stopped our unbeaten run, and from that we’ve had two draws against top of the table teams.

“Old Crescent came to us and we were 33-12 down and we managed to claw back to get a draw. The fight in this team is huge, and that was evident last week.”

Barnhall will be without long-term absentees Paul Nalty, Andrew Purcell and Conor McDermott but are otherwise at full-strength.

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