Ballymena V Shannon
Last minute try sees Ballymena through.
Our Firsts had a long haul up to Eaton Park this weekend to take on third in the table Ballymena. Still missing every player who went off against UL Bohs, and a few who were carrying injuries before that match, Shannon took to the pitch with another changed team. From the kick off Shannon were chomping at the bit and the first minute looked like we were going to get an early score. We took advantage of some Ballymena disorganization and were looking dangerous. A knock-on saw Ballymena take possession and after a penalty against Shannon, Ballymena were first to put points on the board with a penalty at the five minute mark. Ballymena retained possession from the kick off and were attacking from deep, utilizing their first center who was eager to take the ball into contact to take a chance at breaking the line. They knocked on the ball and Shannon took the scrum, Ballymena’s bigger pack shone here and they pushed Shannon off the ball gaining a penalty. This was repeated in the next scrum. Ballymena opted to kick for the posts again but missed this.
We kicked off from this and Ballymena recovered, attacking tight with short passes. They were moving the ball quickly, and chipped to Tadhg Bennett who returned the kick and chased, to put in a great follow up hit. Shannon got a penalty here for Ballymena off their feet. Richard Mullane kicked this to touch outside the Ballymena 22 and we took a line-out. Captain Lee Nicholas took the ball at the back and was awarded a penalty after being taken out in the air; Richie stepped up to kick us down the pitch. Again, Lee took the ball and once his feet touched the ground, he was safely sacked by the Ballymena second-row. Our forwards rucked over, picking and going, and Stephen Fitzgerald found himself with the ball in hand; passing to Will Leonard who was tackled. The tackler failed to roll away and Shannon were awarded a scrum. This scrum was much better from Shannon and we held our own easily. Lee picked and went off the back of this with good support from Tadhg, the ball was spread wide and Ballymena were again penalized for being off their feet at the breakdown. Tadhg kicked to the corner and Aaron Broderick took the ball in the line-out. We got quick ball off the top and our forwards again attacked. The ball was unfortunately lost in a pick and go, gifting Ballymena a scrum on their own line. They kicked from the back of this leaving Shannon with a line-out just inside halfway. The line-out was unfortunately crooked and Ballymena opted for the scrum. They got quick ball off the back of this and spread the ball wide to the winger who broke up the pitch. Shannon put in a good cover tackle to take him to ground and when the ball was passed, Ollie Lyons pulled off a great intercept and made a break. Ballymena were in hot pursuit and the ball was lost back in the motion of passing, and unfortunately rolled into touch.
Ballymena had a lineout on the half-way, and spread the ball to the backs with the forwards offering support in the rucks. The Ballymena center was crying out for the ball and at 23 minutes he broke tackles and spread the ball back into his second center who scored a try which was converted, leaving the score 10-0. A Ballymena kick returned the ball to Shannon after the kick off, and Shannon attacked through the backs with good forward support. We were making the hard-yards down the pitch, when we knocked on the ball giving Ballymena a scrum. The scrum-half got quick ball to the out-half, who kicked into Shannon hands but again, we were unlucky to knock-on. From the scrum, the Ballymena scrum-half passed the ball out to the backs and was quick to rejoin the line putting up a kick that was blocked down by Tadhg, who was held back as he tried to give chase; Shannon were awarded a penalty. Richie kicked this and got touch inside the Ballymena 10 meter. Paddy Kearns took the ball in the air and we spread it out to the backs, Stephen Fitzgerald kicked and Ballymena returned putting the ball out on the Shannon 10 meter. We spread the ball to the backs from the line-out and got another penalty for Ballymena being off their feet. Tadhg kicked this leaving the score 10-3 after 33 minutes.
Two minutes later, Ballymena were in possession in a line-out on Shannon’s 10 meter, they mauled off this with the scrum-half breaking off the back. Luke O’Halloran was quick off the mark in anticipation and put in a great hit. Ballymena were attacking wide, but the ref brought the game back for an earlier penalty. They kicked to touch and took a line-out on Shannon’s 5 meter, mauling the ball over the line to touch down for their second try with no conversion. The score read 15-3 at 36 minutes. The remaining four minutes saw Shannon in possession with our backs taking the ball up, and David O’Donovan taking a quick penalty for Paddy Kearns being taken in the air. We had Ballymena under pressure to the left of their posts and Tadhg kicked the ball to touch. The ref called the lineout crooked and Ballymena chipped to touch to end the half.
The second half started off scrappy for Shannon, an early knock on saw Ballymena in possession in the scrum on Shannon’s 22. We got a penalty here but missed touch and Ballymena returned. We caught this, and brought the ball into the ruck but were unfortunate to knock it on. Ballymena took the scrum, and Shannon were penalized for a high-tackle as the ball was passed out to the backs. They took a kick at posts but missed. We took a quick kick-off after this, and the ball was kicked over-and-back until Ballymena took up the ball, attacking through the backs. Luke O’Halloran again put in a solid hit ensuring that Ballymena gained very little if any ground. We got a penalty at the breakdown for hands in the ruck, and Tadhg kicked for posts slotting over the penalty to leave the score 15-6 after 46 minutes. Two minutes later we got another penalty for holding on, and Richie kicked us to inside the Ballymena halfway. A knock-on saw Ballymena take the line out and maul it, the scrum half took the ball from the back of this and kicked to Richie who had no time to get his bearings before he was tackled and unfortunate to lose the ball forward. Ballymena took the scrum in which Shannon were penalized for dropping the bind. They kicked to Shannon’s 22 and attacked through their forwards. Shannon were fantastic in defense here and made each hit count. Ballymena were awarded a penalty and put it between the bars after 55 minutes with the scoreboard reading 18-6.
We kicked off and Ballymena dropped the ball forward, gifting us a scrum. We attacked off the back of this and were awarded a penalty two minutes later, for Ballymena killing the ball on the ground. Tadhg kicked this and the scoreboard read 18-9. Ballymena kicked off and Paddy Kearns did well to take the ball in the air, getting the ball to Dave Evans who kicked, with Ballymena catching and taking the ball back up. They spread it wide and knocked it on in attack. We got the ball to Tadhg from the scrum and he put up a great kick, which Ballymena returned to the waiting arms of Dunny, who spread it out to Stephen Fitzgerald who was running onto the ball at pace and managed to grab a try in the corner. This was converted by Tadhg to leave the score 18-16 at 60 minutes.
Ballymena kicked off and again Paddy Kearns was sure of the ball as he went up and under. The ball was spread to Tadhg who had plenty of time to judge a good kick to Ballymena’s 10 meter. Ballymena took the ball with no contest from Shannon, and were slower than they had been at getting the ball out. They knocked on the ball and Shannon took the scrum. Dunny took the ball blind off the back of this and found Stephen Fitz who chipped, but Ballymena recovered and kicked, missing touch by a hair. Four minutes later Ballymena were in possession of a lineout on Shannon’s 10 meter. They mauled the ball off this but the maul collapsed, with Ballymena not getting the ball out, and Shannon being awarded a scrum. Tadhg kicked off the back of this but Ballymena recovered and took the ball up. Shannon were off their feet in the next ruck so Ballymena kicked, and took a lineout on the Shannon 22. They got quick ball off the top of this to the backs, who shipped the ball again to the center who evaded tackles to touch down for a try that was converted leaving the score 23-16 at 71 minutes.
A knock on apiece after this saw Shannon in possession in the scrum and Lee did well to get the ball out under pressure. The scrum was reset by order of the referee and Lee again did the necessary and got the ball to Greg O’Shea. Shannon were attacking from side to side here when Shane Mullally made a great break and was unfortunate to pass the ball to a Ballymena player who immediately knocked on. Out of nowhere Brian Downey appeared in free play and recovered the knock-on finding Tony Cusack who sailed over the line scoring a fantastic try, converted by Tadhg leaving the score 25-23 at 78 minutes. A two minute injury break here saw additional time played and Ballymena kicked off the ball, Stephen Ftiz gathered this and returned the kick to touch giving Ballymena a lineout. They mauled off this and kept the attack tight. In the 82nd minute the ref blew up for a Shannon player entering the maul from the side and Ballymena opted to kick to Shannon’s 5 meter where they scored a try off a the resulting maul from the line-out, converting in the last second to leave the score 30-25 at full time.
Injuries have plagued the First in recent weeks and credit must go to the lads who have stepped up with no question to fill the slots. They have performed every bit as well as the lads who had the jersey before them and it is evident to see the depth of the squad. There is talent in abundance here and the squad maintains a never say die attitude in every match they play. A special mention must go to Conor Barey too on his first senior appearance. This weekend our Firsts take on St. Marys in Thomond Park at an earlier kick off time of 1.30pm. The league is by no means over and there is still plenty of great rugby on display. Come out and support the lads in the final matches, they still need the support as much as they have done all season!
Photo by Darrel O'Kane photography