Ballymena RFC V St Mary’s College RFC
AIL Division 1B
20th October 2018.
Coming in after the drive to Eaton Park, there was time to enjoy the ambiance of the spacious grounds with their fine pitches, clubhouse and the surrounds of woods, and the Braid river, meandering by. We were not there to meander, but to charge, we hoped; and with Ballymena having scored only three points this season so far, those hopes were high. The last time we visited we ended the game with a massive maul that won the game. This rankled slightly with the local team and that meant we were in for a challenge. That did not of course take away from the genuinely warm welcome we received from the alickadoos and supporters. The match too was played in the most sporting manner. The score alone, tells a clearly stinging tale.
It was cool day with a moderate breeze and damp conditions under boot. Ballymena had a team well prepared. They have a big pack, a useful pair of halves and a workman-like team overall. They rucked well.
Once again the difference was in defence and ball retention. Being honest, the St Marys’ tackling was weak or missing on occasions and, in the second half in particular, the handling was also undeniably fallible. We had again a weakness in the lineout and, although it took some time, our scrum found joy. It has to be said too that that Ballymena played 20 minutes of the second half with only 14 men as they received two yellow cards. The game had good pace throughout.
In our pack, Richie Halpin was to the fore in the loose, and led well, before having to retire in the second half. Ronan Watters was impressive all round and contributed very significantly in the lineout.
The half backs, although often under pressure were high quality, with Conor Dean kicking well, controlling and passing smoothly, while conjuring a fine try to give us the lead in the first half. His partner Cormac Foley was alert, bright and brave, he does the right things right, and with speed and accuracy. He was very good in both attack and defence, his timing of the pass was impressive and received the SoftCo MoM award. Marcus O’Driscoll played his part as skipper, and worked himself to standstill in his midfield role but he popped up everywhere, helping and supporting his teammates. However, the team performance would have to go down as less than required. It is not fair to shovel criticism onto a young talented group of players. It is almost like a formula 1 racing car, just requiring a number of slight adjustments and fine tuning to hum into high powered action. It is frustrating, but there is little doubt that it will all come together. The players are highly motivated, enthusiastic and willing to work hard at getting it right; and they will.
It is such a strange league this year, looking at the results this weekend is bemusing. It is almost as though the names were thrown into the air and allowed to flutter down, to indicate winners and losers; no pattern at all so far.
After two minutes of feel out play, we got a penalty near the halfway line and with a slight following breeze, Conor landed a lovely penalty. On seven minutes, a chip ahead was not cleared by Marys and following three or four pick and drives, the ball swung out and a missed tackle let Ballymena in under the posts. So it was 7-3. On 13 minutes after pressure on the line we won a scrum and Cormac timed his pass perfectly to Conor who slipped two tacklers and scored, he converted. 7-10. The lead lasted four minutes before a penalty against us made the score 10-10. Then an almost mirror image of the first Ballymena try, of multiple drives then a missed tackle allowing them to lead 17-10. A penalty for interference in the lineout extended their lead to 20-10, before a neat chip ahead on 27 minutes, forced the home defence to clear to touch, a good take by Ronan in the lineout led to a maul then, a series of picks and drives, saw Richie take a superb vector and dive in at the corner of the posts. Conor made it 20-17. We spurned a penalty close in, in the hope of leading, going in at half time but the scrum went awry and so it was 20-17 at half time
Two minutes into the half, they went to 23-17 following obstruction and on 50 minutes a missed lineout by Marys, gave Ballymena a chance to set up a series of drives and make it 30-17. Then on 56 minutes it was 33-17 from a penalty and 65 minutes a mix up in defence on a kick ahead, gave a man in black a chance to pick on our 22 and run in under the posts. 40-17. Credit to spirit and ability, Marys did not give up but mounted attacks. Eventually, in injury time a dropped ball in mid field by the home side, gave Mark Fogarty the chance to coolly tap ahead, control and kick on over the line, follow up and score a neat try, converted leaving the final score 40-22.
Next Saturday we continue our series of games against Ulster teams, with a home fixture against Armagh City. They put a big score on our conquerors of last week, Malone, so it could be a tough one. However we must feel confident and hope to keep our home record intact. Being the long, sort of Halloween weekend, we can expect fireworks. So, come along it is bound to be a cracker. Seriously, you are really needed. This is going to be a big game and a big performance from Marys. It is our fourth game and our start of something really promising. There is a big party night afterwards in the club, so you can make a real day of it. See you there
March with Modser
Team (Rolling Replacements X12) 15 D Fanagan, 14 H Conway, 13 C Kennedy, 12 M O’Driscoll (Capt), 11 M Fogarty, 10 C Dean, 9 C Foley, 8 M Fallon, 7 R Watters, 6 D Aspil, 5 D McDonnell, 4 L Corcoran, 3 M McCormack, 2 R Halpin, 1 T O’Reilly, S O’Brien, C McMahon, P O’Driscoll, M Kennedy, R Shields.