- Result: Galwegians Firsts 19 - Ballymena 32
- Venue: Eaton Park on Sat Oct 29th 2011
- Competition: AIL Division 1B
Galwegians were desperately unlucky to come away with nothing from their Ulster Bank League fixture away to Ballymena on Saturday when they lost out in a seven-try thriller. After their best performance of the season, the Blues could easily have won this game and yet emerged with not even a losing bonus point to show for their efforts.
The match was preceded with a minute's silence as a mark of respect to the sad passing of one of the great Galwegian players and former President Sean Healy. Wegians made an excellent start, dominating the opening exchanges. Their powerful pack soon asserted their dominance, and having opted for a scrum penalty deep in the opposition 22, a powerful surge saw Wegians maul towards the Ballymena line, and veteran lock Beano McClearn went over for the opening try. This was converted by Tadhg Leader to give the Blues a 7-0 lead.
Unfortunately it did not last long, and the hosts responded well by going on the offensive. Their lively backline served notice of the danger they posed when they created an overlap which saw winger Alasdair Frazer squeeze over in the corner for a well-taken try. An excellent touchline conversion by John Semple levelled matters. Both teams found the poor conditions difficult with a number of errors, however it was Ballymena who fared better and they went in front for the first time in the 26th minute with a Semple penalty.
Wegians responded well, and they had their chances to level but were off target with two penalty efforts into the difficult breeze. Instead it was the Ulstermen who took their chances, and they scored next when some good possession followed by three phases led to a second try out wide for Semple. The same player converted with another excellent kick from the touchline, giving Ballymena a 17-7 half-time lead.
Wegians had scrum-half Dave Moore in the sin-bin, but despite being a man down they started the second-half on the offensive, only to come up against some sterling home defence to keep them at bay. And crucially it was the Braidmen who struck next, with their backs again causing the damage. This time it was full-back Ricky Andrew who broke through in the 53rd minute to run 40 metres and score a superb try in the corner.
22-7 in arrears, the game looked out of reach for the Blues at this stage. But they deserve enormous credit for the manner of their response. They quickly went on the attack again, and this time they were rewarded when prop Jamie Stephens finished off a move with a second try, which was converted by Leader to reduce the margin to eight points. Semple then stretched the hosts’ lead to 25-14 with his second penalty of the day. But the see-saw nature of this context continued yet again when more pressure from Galwegians led to a series of pick and go moves near the Ballymena line. And on 70 minutes scrum-half Moore atoned for his earlier sin-binning when he squeezed over for a third try for Wegians.
Although the conversion was missed, at 25-19 down the Blues were now within bonus point territory. The hosts were getting nervy having seen a big lead eroded, and the Blues scented blood, going in search of a dramatic win. It looked on the cards when a backline move brought them right up to the visitors line, but young Leader was penalised for holding on under the posts after running into traffic.
It was a defining moment as it allowed the hosts to clear their lines, and with time running out they made the game safe and secured victory, when no. 8 Stephen Mulholland grounded the ball over the line for their fourth and bonus point try. It was cruel luck on Wegians, but the reality is that after four games they remain rooted at the bottom of Division 1b with no points on the board. However coach Colm Rigney can take heart from a number of aspects of this performance, and the Blues hope to open their account when they face yet another Ulster side Dungannon at Crowley Park on Saturday November 5th (2.30pm kick-off).