Shannon v Ballymena
Photography from Dermot Lynch!
Our Firsts kicked off their league campaign this weekend welcoming Ballymena to Thomond Park. Shannon had a strong team on the day, featuring Ty Chan, Barrie Duggan, Riley Winter and Keith Kavanagh who all made their AIL starting debut for the Senior team on a day that provided great conditions for a match.
Shannon kicked off but we were unlucky to see the ball go out on the full and Ballymena were awarded a scrum. The number eight took the ball from the back of the scrum and made to pass wide to his scrumhalf, the pass went awry and Richard Mullane, displaying fantastic speed, shot up and got a boot to the ball on the ground. He chipped ahead, turning the Ballymena line and overtaking them in the process. A second chip from Richie saw the ball move away from the side line and cross over the try line; Ronan McKenna finished the job, grounding the ball. Ronan then slotted over the conversion leaving the score 7-0 after only 2 minutes.
Not to be outdone, Ballymena re-organised quickly from the kick-off and attacked up the middle of the pitch. Shannon were deemed offside in defence and Ballymena opted to kick the resulting penalty to touch. They took a solid line-out and continued to attack in pods, sneaking up the pitch yard by yard. They got as far as the five meter line and a quick ball from the back of a ruck, combined with the Ballymena 12 running on at pace saw him fend off tackles and go in straight under the post. He then converted his own try levelling up the scores after 5 minutes.
A Ballymena turn-over saw them kick for touch and Shannon took the next lineout. Captain Lee Nicholas showed his strength in the air and got secure ball down which we spread wide through the backs. Ballymena came in off their feet and we were awarded a penalty that Richie Mullane put into touch on the Ballymena 22. Again we made sure of the lineout, and Lee gathered at the back. The ball was shipped out wide with the forwards linking in between the backs; newcomer Riley Winter showed his worth by filling in and making big carries whenever he got a hand on the ball. Shannon were awarded a second penalty for Ballymena not keeping their feet, allowing Ronan McKenna his first penalty shot leaving the score 10-7 at ten minutes in.
Ballymena were looking strong in attack after this, with their out half dominating their back line and directing their attack at each stage. Ballymena worked their way to the Shannon line and were attacking hard. This time Shannon were guilty of being offside and Ballymena took the penalty, slotting over the kick and levelling the score again; 10-10 after 14 minutes. Brian Downey retired from the match due to injury at this stage and Niall Mulcahy stepped up and into his first Senior AIL.
Two minutes later saw Ballymena on the attack again; their centre chipped through to the waiting hands of Stephen Fitzgerald, who brought the ball into contact finding the forwards in support. Lee was next to carry the ball and Shannon were awarded a penalty in the ruck for Ballymena not holding their feet. After the lineout on the Ballymena 22, Shannon were attacking intensely with the backs and forwards linking up well but were unlucky to knock the ball on in contact. Ballymena were awarded a penalty in the following scrum for a bind drop on Shannon’s part and their 12 kicked them to our 22. Ballymena threw to 4 in the line-out and got quick ball out wide to their centre who managed to evade our defenders and went over in the corner breaking tackles as he went. This went unconverted and left the score 15-10 to Ballymena at 19 minutes.
Ballymena kicked off and Stephen Fitz gathered bringing it into contact. Our forwards then took the ball on, attacking around the corner and making the hard yards. The ball was spread wide to Niall Mulcahy who did well to chip the ball on, hitting a Ballymena hand before going into touch. It was Riley’s turn to take the lineout this time which he did with ease and Shannon mauled forward. The ref gave a penalty against Shannon here and Ballymena opted for a scrum. They attacked through the backs and Shannon were solid in defence, making the one on one tackles as needed. A penalty was awarded to Shannon as a Ballymena player led into contact with his elbow and Richie again kicked us to touch, awarding us a lineout on the Ballymena 5. Riley went up again and set a solid maul that was driving towards the Ballymena line. Ballymena joined the maul illegally from the side and the ref awarded a second consecutive penalty to Shannon. Ronan McKenna was unlucky to miss this and the score remained 15-10 at 27 minutes.
Stephen Fitz gathered the kick off and launched a great attack from deep breaking the line with options either side. The ball was held in the following ruck and Ballymena took another scrum. Conor Glynn was detrimental to the Ballymena front row here and after the scrum collapsed twice we were awarded another penalty. Ronan made sure of this one and slotted over a great penalty leaving the score 15-13 to Ballymena on the half-hour mark.
Three minutes later, it was Bellymena’s turn to be awarded a penalty at the scrum and they took a shot at goal, missing. Ballymena kicked off and sent their winger on a galloping case. Riley got the upper hand, disrupted the winger and getting a boot to the ball. The ref thought this to be a knock on and awarded Ballymena the scrum. They got the ball out quickly from the back and Shane Mullally did really well to shoot the line and put in a great tackle. Ballymena attacked the blind-side channel towards a waiting Lee Nicholas who bundled them into touch. We took the next lineout quickly and the ball was shipped to Stephen Fitz who broke the first tackle and made another great break. He was tackled but managed to get the ball back and we went forward again using the space, edging our way into the Ballymena 22. Ballymena were quick off the mark and obtained a turnover in the next ruck, Ronan McKenna then sniped in and turned the ball back over to Shannon. As we spread the ball wide out through the hands it was dropped and gathered by the Ballymena 14 who took off at a gallop, chipping the ball ahead, gathering and running in under the posts for a try. This was converted on the 40 minute mark; 22-13 to Ballymena. There were a few extra minutes played and within these Ballymena were awarded a penalty for offside and slotted it over leaving the score 25-13 at half time.
The second half started minus Stephen Fitzgerald who took a knock in the dying minutes of the first half. Stephen was replaced by Ben Sargent and we also welcomed John Andress to the pitch for his first senior appearance. Ballymena kicked off and gathered, chipping ahead to Shane Mullally who was put under pressure by their rapidly approaching defensive line. He kicked to touch and after their lineout, Ballymena kept the attack tight but knocked on the ball in contact. We took the scrum and the ball was shipped to Richie who put up a great kick, taking us to the Ballymena ten meter line. They got quick ball off the top of the lineout and spread it to the out-half who launched a kick that went out on the full. Ballymena gained possession again minutes later, and were spreading it out wide when they dropped the ball. John Andress was quick off the mark, recovering the ball and launching a Shannon attack; Robbie Deegan found himself in possession and while running into contact was high tackled and had to receive medical attention. Shannon were awarded a penalty and McKenna again slotted it over, 25-16 after 45 minutes. Two minutes later Ronan’s efforts just fell short when Shannon were awarded another penalty for Ballymena being offside.
We recovered the ball from the kick off, and attacked tight, making good ground. Ballymena were again penalised for the third time in six minutes, this time for not rolling away. Ronan McKenna made sure of this one and gained another three points in the 50th minute bringing the score to 25-19. Richie Mullane then left the field due to injury just after this to be replaced by Sean Markham. Ballymena gathered the next kick off and brought up the attacking line quickly; Riley Winter put in a crunching tackle that they were lucky to get the ball back from. A maul was set up and when it didn’t get much momentum they tried to get the ball out, dropping it in the process. Ty Chan was ready and scooped up the spilled ball and led the Shannon charge. We kicked ahead here but Ballymena anticipated, collecting the ball and launching a counter attack Shannon’s way. Not to be outdone by his second row partner, it was Barrie Duggan who took his turn to put in a massive hit. Shannon turned over the ball off the back of this, Ben Sargent received and managed to break three or four tackles by the time he was grounded. Ballymena’s back-row crept in at the right opportunity however and won a turnover enabling them to place a well executed kick into touch.
Ballymena overthrew the resulting lineout but the scrumhalf was on hand to gather the ball and get the pack moving forward in pods. The continued this process of picking and going for a few minutes when Shannon were awarded another penalty for Ballymena hands in the ruck. Ronan kicked us to touch and we took the lineout. The ball went to the backs and we kicked ahead, Ballymena gathered and attacked through their backs. The referee awarded Shannon yet another penalty at 59 minutes for hands on the ground and after one too many penalties their number 8 saw a yellow. After the penalty we had a line-out on Ballymena’s ten, Ty Chan hit Riley who got quick ball down to Keith Kavanagh and out to the backs. Ben received clean ball and took off on another great run, again a strong option in attack. The ball was then recycled to Niall Mulcahy who took off on an equally good run and made great ground passing the ball back in. We were unfortunately pinged by the ref for playing the ball on the ground in the next ruck.
After the kick, Ballymena took the line out on the halfway line and took the ball into contact. They were penalised for hands on the ground and McKenna kicked us to their 22. Riley took the ball in the air and we set up a maul. The forwards showed fantastic support employing many pick and goes but were unfortunate to knock on the ball in contact. The following Ballymena scrum showed fantastic work from Shannon and we were awarded a penalty. A spot of foul play saw stern words from the referee and Ronan kicked us to the corner to Ballymena’s 5. Lee was the option this time and did fantastically to get the ball securely down. A ruck was set up and Conor Glynn came around the corner at pace. He was very unlucky to be held up going over the line. We took the scrum back, and had to reset after a collapse. Ballymena were then penalised yet again for an offside infringement.
On the 70th minute Ronan kicked for touch, we took the lineout cleanly in the air but were unlucky to knock on the ball in the next carry. As the number 8 came back on after his sin bin, Ballymena packed down for a scrum on their line. Ballymena put up a clearing kick from the back of the scrum and Shannon fell back for a line out. Lee took the ball but Ballymena were determined and managed to upset it, luckily when it fell, it went back. Shane Mullally took on the ball and made good ground, supported by the forwards. Lee made some fantastic carries and Shane got around and made himself available to attack the Ballymena defence again. Shannon took the ball into contact but were unfortunate to get isolated and we were then caught holding the ball in.
Ballymena kicked and the line-out took its mark just inside the Shannon half. They kept their attack short and made sure of their carries, going in pods and picking and going. The Shannon defence stood strong, and eventually we turned over - having to put a pressure kick out giving Ballymena a line-out on our 10. At 77 minutes they were awarded a penalty for a Shannon infringement in the maul and took a tip and go; penalised one minute later for hands in the ruck. Ronan kicked us to outside their 22 and we got quick ball off the top of the line-out and out to the backs, we were again unlucky to knock the ball on. Ballymena picked and went off the back of the scrum and Ben was straight up to stop the attack. Ballymena kept the attack tight and Shannon were penalised for not rolling away. Ballymena kicked to our 10 and mauled from the lineout. They got quick ball out and kicked the ball into touch ending the match with a final score of 25-19.
While were were disappointed to come away from the match without a win, we secured a losing bonus point. The ten points Ballymena scored just before half time proved detrimental to us on the day but that being said, Shannon dominated large parts of this match and were unlucky to have a try held up. Ballymena didn’t get a score in the second half and the high penalty count made for frustrating rugby. It was a closely fought affair, Shannon never took their foot off the pedal and the momentum never faltered. It’s evident that a hunger exists amongst the lads this season and this is translating into periods of really exciting rugby. Well done to our lads who put in their first appearances, the first of many hopefully and best wishes and a speedy recovery to any of our players who picked up knocks! On wards to Buccaneers next week - come along and give the lads your support!!