Malone and St Mary’s met on Sunday afternoon at Gibson Park in the first round of the AIL Promotion Playoffs, the winners going through to play Tralee next weekend to decide which team will replace Tullamore in the Women’s AIL next season.

St Mary’s deservedly came out on top 20 – 41 in a highly entertaining game but it was Malone’s Ella Durkan that stole the show with a display sizzling with intent from start to finish.

I’d tipped St Mary’s as heavy favourites for this one but Malone showed enough to indicate significant progression this season and with that bit more experience under their belt they are going to be knocking loudly on the door of the AIL again next season.

Malone caught their guests napping from the kick off with a knock on giving the Belfast side an attacking scrum. The ball was quickly moved wide for fullback Ali Boal to outstrip the defence for an unconverted try.

St Mary’s got their act together and, after a sustained period of territory and possession, Irish International Paula Fitzpatrick crossed for the equalising score, Shayne Richardson converting to give Mary’s a 2 point lead. The visitors back row, featuring the experienced Niamh Fitzgerald and the impressive Aoife Moore, looked to be getting on top and St Mary’s extended their lead minutes later when Ciara Scanlan crossed for an unconverted try.

The home side were under pressure at the breakdown but their backs always looked dangerous and a magnificent break from Durkan pulled it back to a two point game before a two try burst from St Marys, just before the break left the home side reeling. Fitzpatrick grabbed her second try before Sinead Lennon crossed on the stroke of half time. Richardson converted both to give St Mary’s a 10 – 26 lead at the break.

The Dublin side showed their experience with an unconverted try from Aoife Moore shortly after the resumption and with a 21 point lead that looked like it for Malone.

However as the game progressed was the young Malone side that started to dominate the contact area as more and more decisions began to go their way.  After a period of pressure in the St Mary’s 22 the ball was worked to centre Brogain Ní Chiarrain who crashed over out wide to pull back five points.

It would be fair to say that there was some concern, if not panic, in the St Mary’s side who had spent a fair amount of the second half under the cosh. They eventually managed to break out of their own half for their impressive centre Scanlan to score her second of the afternoon to restore their three score lead with just over 10 minutes remaining.

However, Malone refused to lie down and a wonder try from Durkan minutes later had the crowd on their feet as the youngster broke from her own 22 to chip and re-gather and sprint to the line, taking the last defender over with her. Wonderful!

The Belfast side pushed for more but St Mary’s showed their experience, soaked it up and finished the game with their seventh try of the afternoon with prop Christy Haney crashing over with the last play of the afternoon.

Great game from both sides.