- Result: Galwegians Firsts 22 - Ballymena 23
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Nov 1st 2014
- Competition: AIL Division 1B
A last-gasp penalty by substitute Tim Small saw Ballymena snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and thus end Galwegians’ unbeaten start to the Ulster Bank Division 1b campaign at a rain-sodden Crowley Park on Saturday.
Played in dreadful conditions with incessant rain throughout, both teams clearly struggled to gain any sort of foothold early on, although both were making a fair fist of ball retention. The home side had the wind advantage in the first-half, and should have taken the lead after 5 minutes when awarded a penalty 30 metres out, but out-half Dave Clarke was wide of the posts.
The game remained scoreless in the first half-hour with chances few and far between, however the visiting pack began to assert themselves more and more as the game wore on, especially in the scrum where Wegians were missing injured props Ja Naughton, Jason East and hooker Ross Fitzgerald. The deadlock was broken after 31 minutes when good continuity play took the visitors deep into Wegians territory, and centre Paddy James crashed over near the left-hand corner. Out-half Ritchie McMaster landed what ultimately proved to be a crucial touchline conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Moments later Wegians prop Paul McCreanor was binned after the home scrum was creaking, and McMaster added three points with his first penalty attempt to put the visitors 10-0 in front, and looking comfortable going into the half-time break. However this Wegians team is made of stern stuff, and they showed their mettle when scoring two tries either side of the break to haul themselves right back into it. The opening try came from a penalty to the corner, and following clean line-out ball, prop Doran McHugh got on the end of a well-worked maul to dive over for his second try in successive games and give his side a lifeline.
If that was a shock to the visitors, they were left reeling one minute after the restart when Wegians full-back John Cleary latched onto his own clearance garryowen near halfway. And in a sublime piece of skill, he not only claimed the high ball, but also left his marker for dead to sear home and touch down near the right-hand corner, and suddenly the sides were level again. McMaster soon restored Ballymena’s lead with a second penalty inside the 10m line, but with their gander now up and with their full complement restored, Wegians smelt blood and went on the offensive. This time it was the Ulstermen’s turn to have one of their forwards binned for persistent offending. And when the Blues again kicked a penalty to the corner, a near-replica of the first try led to veteran lock Beano McClearn this time diving over for a third try, which put the hosts in front for the first time in the game.
The visitors were clearly rattled by this turn of events, and just after the hour mark things went from bad to worse for Ballymena when winger Colin Conroy intercepted a pass on his own 10m line to race clear. Although he had a huge amount of work to do, the Fr. Griffin Road speedster showed great composure and no little skill to outwit his marker and cross under the posts for a bonus fourth try. Cleary landed the conversion, and suddenly the Blues had a 22-13 lead.
This signalled an inevitable fightback by Ballymena, however they met a sturdy and determined Wegians defence who held their line admirably. Then with time running out, the visitors were awarded a penalty which brought play deep into Wegians territory. Although their dominant scrum was wheeled by the Blues pack, referee Mark Connolly bizarrely saw fit to award the re-set to the visitors. This time they put the shunt on, and much to the consternation of the home side, the referee went under the posts to signal a penalty try. Replacement out-half Tim Small’s drop-goal conversion scraped over the crossbar to set up a grandstand finish.
One feature of Galwegians’ season is that every game has ended with an injury-time score, but unlike their two previous games against UL Bohs and Buccaneers, this time it went against the Blues. In the last play of the game, the visitors won another scrum penalty just inside the Wegians half, and up stepped Small straight off the subs bench to land an excellent penalty and seal a dramatic victory for the visitors. It was rough justice on Wegians who put a superb second-half showing, but credit to Ballymena who fought back from the dead to preserve their own unbeaten record, and leapfrog Wegians at the top of the table.
Wegians have the perfect chance to bounce back when they visit arch-rivals Corinthians this Friday night under lights at Cloonacauneen.
Replacements: P O’Donnell, K Kyne, M Dever, R Shaughnessy, R Moore