1st XV v Ballymena (A) by D. O’Brien 06.02.2016
Ballymena RFC V St Mary’s College RFC
AIL Division 1B
Saturday 6th February 2016.
This was a tough, gruelling hand to hand struggle, with a win hewn from unstinting spirit and unrelenting, blatant bravery. Although the pitch was under siege from a piercing wind and biting rain, the teams complained not, just added their sweat to the rain as they gave their all. In truth, it could easily have been the Braidmen who prevailed, but in the end it was not; it was the Templeville Tyros who won the day.
It is good to note the way Marys are evolving, there is a growing ability to vary and adapt. Today we needed to play close and hard, retain possession and use set pieces. This is what we did. The ball retention was excellent, the support play outstanding and defence showed a team and personal understanding that augurs well. We are by no means home, but today we took a giant step. Yes, we had good fortune, but we were able to use that fortune and hold it, so a deserved win. That win will weld the younger players to their team and instil unquenchable loyalty.
This was a collective performance and a collective win, with all holding their intensity and concentration. Unfortunately, Richard Sweeney, who had a superb game at Six last week, had to cry off just before the game. Captain Robert Sweeney and Kevin Sheahan were both still out.
There were excellent performances throughout, with the mid field vital in defence and forward momentum, the pack of course had to show a level of fitness vital to success. To have David O’Connor back was a true bonus. He was soaring in the lineout and crushing in his work, he was the corner stone. Last week Hugo Kean had a somewhat difficult time. The measure of player is how he returns, to show character and nerve. Today Hugo showed his steel and his burgeoning talent. He threw like cupid, every arrow through the heart. He was ever at the breakdown, working. He scrummaged strongly with his two excellent props, and he scored two tries. Well there you are, of course he was my MOM.
This was, in spite of conditions, an entertaining game and for both sides a little nerve wracking, now and then, especially in the last ten minutes. Fortunes swayed throughout. St Marys had two yellow cards awarded at crucial times yet held out during them and Ballymena suffered by having one late on too.
Early on, the Ballymena scrum was ascendant and it looked like it could be a vital factor, however, credit to our team and mentors, they sorted and adapted. Both sides had commendable lineouts in testing conditions. Excellent ball retention in difficult conditions was a feature of the game, and the reason it was a low scoring game was the defence of both teams, almost impenetrable. Overall this was a performance to grace any stage or level and a credit to all concerned.
A very welcome piece of news was that Ciaran Ruddock, who is the rock on which our pack is built, deservedly, has been justifiably selected on the Club International side. Congratulations Ciaran.
We have now gone out to 54 points, five ahead of TCD on 49, who leapfrog Ballymena on 46, and Old Wesley are a further ten back.
An added factor for Marys today, was the support. The president Declan, was no doubt proud, not only of his team but of the supporters who made their way to the game. There were nigh on a hundred Marys’ supporters. Joyce brought over 30 in the coach, 13 travelled up the night before and several cars came on the day. The pre-match lunch had over fifty visiting supporters at it, probably a record. (Perhaps, not quite for the Guinness Book of Records).
Ballymena started brightly, did most of the pressing early on and were awarded a penalty, converted by Richard McMaster. Sean Kearns evened the score with a penalty and just before half time Ballymena went ahead with another McMaster penalty. The score at half time was 6 – 3.
Early in the second half we had a mauled try from Hugo and two penalties for Ballymena, which left it worryingly close at 12 – 8. Near the end it looked bad, with Ballymena pressing; they missed a penalty and then we broke out, kept fighting, and at the end we got a penalty, which was kicked to touch on the home 22 by Sean. We mauled it expertly, now a real Marys’ weapon; to add to the power, the backs joined in. The maul stalled, it swayed and swung, it shunted. The Marys supporters howled. It accelerated and swept over the line in a grotesque mass. But what beauty there was in that grotesque mass when the referee raised his hand. Then Sean, who had kicked beautifully all game, swept it over from way out. 12 – 15. That was the end.
The Squad (Rolling substitutions)
15 S Toal-Lennon, 14 R O’Loughlin, 13 M O’Driscoll, 12 I Dineen, 11 D Fanning, 10 S Kearns, 9 D Fanagan, 8 M Fallon, 7 B O’Flanagan, 6 D Aspil, 5 D O’Connor, 4 C Ruddock 3 B McGovern(Capt.), 2 H Kean, 1 T O’Reilly, , E Ferron, M Elliot-Murray, I Cullinane, R Glynn, C Toolan, I O’Neill.