Match Report v Ballymena
Ballymena travel to Coonagh
This weekend saw our firsts take to the pitch in Coonagh to welcome third in the league Ballymena. Ballymena were the firm favourites going into the match, having won three from three of their matches so far. Ballymena started strong and were the first to cross the line after 2 minutes with their first centre dodging tackles and going over for an unconverted try. Following this, Shannon stepped up a gear and switched on. The scrum was solid and gifted Tadhg Bennett enough time to place solid kicks to touch. Stephen Fitzgerald was dangerous in attack and put up a very well timed kick and chase to put enough pressure on the Ballymena winger, forcing him to kick to touch very close to his own 22.
From this lineout Shannon got a penalty from Ballymena not releasing, and were quick to kick to touch when Ballymena were put back 10 for poor discipline. We had a strong maul from this lineout and were again rewarded with a penalty that was kicked to touch. Ballymena faltered here and due to Shannon pressure in a maul again, they conceded a penalty. Shannon were on the Ballymena line at this stage and prop Tony Cusack was the one to touch down in a great pushover try. This unfortunately went unconverted, but left the score 5-5 after 10 minutes.
Shannon took confidence from this and were looking dangerous in attack, we were however unlucky to lose the ball due to knock-ons. Our scrum was solid and we seemed to have the edge on Ballymena. Quick ball from the back of this saw Shane Mullally use his initiative and make a great break, the resulting tackle was high, and Shannon opted to kick to touch. The lineout was strong and the subsequent maul again saw Tony Cusack go over for his second try which was converted by Shane Airey. This was after 19 minutes leaving the score 12-5.
Minutes later, Ballymena were on the charge and were making yards down the pitch, a great Ronan McKenna cover tackle forced the knock on and Shannon were back in possession. After a penalty went our way at the scrum and the resulting lineout won, what followed was about a minute of aerial tennis back and forth, culminating in a Ballymena knock-on. After Ballymena overthrew their lineout Shannon were unlucky to lose possession at the breakdown. This time Shannon were guilty of a high tackle and the Ballymena out half slotted over the penalty leaving the score 12-8 in Shannon’s favour at 28 minutes. One minute later another penalty shot at the posts was missed by Ballymena out half after Shannon were off their feet at the breakdown. Shannon kept the pressure on and put in the important hits to shut down each Ballymena attack. After Shannon gave a penalty in the scrum, Ballymena kicked and won the resulting lineout. They formed a maul and to credit the Shannon forwards they all got in and held Ballymena who gained no ground. The half time whistle soon sounded leaving the score 12-5 to Shannon.
The second half stared as strong as the first and Shannon had good ball distribution thorough the backs. After 5 minutes Ballymena were awarded a penalty for another high-tackle. This was missed. Shannon were still dominating the lineout and were boosted on by a Luke O’Halloran chip over the top. Shannon gathered this and Shane Airey delivered a great kick to touch. Shannon kept the pressure on and Will Leonard kicked a good Crossfield kick after which the ref questionably decided it was a Ballymena ball. Minutes later, Conor Glynn displayed his skill in attack and got a great break-away try. This was converted by Shane Airey and left the score 19-8 to Shannon 17 minutes into the second half.
Minutes later Shane Airey found himself in the perfect position to intercept the Ballymena ball and was really unfortunate to knock it on. Ballymena got quick ball from the back of the resulting scrum and sent their first centre barrelling towards the Shannon defence. Brian Downey and Lee Nicholas showed great teamwork in doing what backrows do, with Brian putting in a great hit and Lee straight away turning over the ball. The ball was kicked and Ballymena used the space that was afforded them and got an opportunistic breakaway try. This was converted and brought Ballymena back into it with the score reading 19-15 to Shannon with fifteen minutes to go.
What followed was an awesome effort from Shannon, they forced knock on’s from well scoped garryowens and played a great defensive game, waiting patiently for Ballymena errors. With 2 minutes to go it looked as though Shannon were going to do it but the ref felt we were illegal in defence and awarded Ballymena a penalty which they kicked to touch. They took a line out on Shannon’s 5 meter and got a try with only two minutes remaining. This left the score 22-19. In the final minute of the match, Ballymena had a player sent to the bin and with not enough time to kick to touch Shannon were left with only the option to kick at the posts. The kick was from outside the half way line and it was always going to be a very difficult one to land. Unfortunately it was missed and the score remained 22-19.
It was a bitter pill to swallow but we should look forward with optimism. Shannon were written off this weekend and very nearly beat Ballymena, the performance was a complete turn-around from the one we witnessed the week before against St. Marys in Dublin. We are only a hairs breadth away from a win. With a week off this week our next fixture will be UL Bohs in Thomond Park on Friday 16th October.