THE competitive nature of the Leinster League was perfectly illustrated last weekend when Division 1A runaway leaders Tullamore were beaten 20-14 by relegation threatened Cill Dara, who scored a last-play-of-the-game penalty try to thwart the champions elect.
The pacesetters remain long odds-on for the title, however, as second-placed Newbridge could only close the gap by a solitary point after being held to a 10-10 draw at home in Rosetown by Enniscorthy.
Tullow continue blazing the trail in Division 1B, as they increased their lead to 14 points with only four games to play after they won 35-19 in Ashbourne, and Kilkenny are back ahead of Malahide by a point in Division 2A after a 59-8 demolition at relegation-haunted Clane.
Railway Union blasted Swords aside 79-0 at home in Park Avenue and lead Division 2B by eight points, while second-placed Birr took advantage of Division 3 leaders Wexford Wanderers' bye week to reduce their deficit to four points after beating neighbours West Offaly Lions 16-10 in Ferbane.
But it was Beechpark that took centre stage on Saturday evening, as struggling Cill Dara, somewhat in limbo with nothing apparently to play for (nine points clear of last place but 13 adrift of sixth spot at the start of play), caused the upset of the season.
Tullamore got off to a flying start with an early try from hooker Kevin Browne. But a red card soon after for one of their wingers clipped their sails somewhat and a resolute Cill Dara had edged 6-5 ahead at the break with a pair of penalty goals from out-half Barry Flanagan.
The hosts pressed on, but stout and disciplined defence kept the shackles on a Tullamore surge for victory.
A determined finish by the Kildare town side saw them set up camp on the leaders' goal line, and after a series of scrums had been penalised (Cill Dara kept rescrummaging as they had no recognised kicker on the field following Flanagan's injury enforced 50th-minute departure) the referee eventually awarded the penalty try that handed Cill Dara the spoils after a Tullamore player illegally kicked the ball out of a rapidly retreating scrum.
Newbridge got off to the best possible start at home to Enniscorthy as a try by prop forward Grant Wattleworth helped them into a 10-0 first-quarter lead. But they were left to rue disciplinary issues of their own that probably cost them the win and what would have been a more serious threat to the league leaders.
A sending off and sin bin early in the second half reduced the hosts to 13 players for a while and allowed Enniscorthy to score the try to level matters. Despite chances for both teams thereafter an unsatisfactory share of the points was the outcome, allowing Newbridge to maintain second place ahead of a resurgent Wanderers who hammered Coolmine 37-17 at home in Lansdowne Road and are now level on points with the Kildare team.
Tullamore are 10 points clear at the top and they should get their ship back on an even keel tomorrow when they visit Westmanstown to play relegation-bound Garda.
Cill Dara get a chance for revenge for their recent Hosie Cup defeat when they play Newbridge in Newbridge College (and not Rosetown).
Wanderers face a tough examination of their recent renaissance when they take on Enniscorthy at Ross Road while Coolmine welcome Dundalk to Ashbrook.