- Result: Galwegians Firsts 34 - Ballymena 35
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Nov 12th 2016
- Competition: AIL Division 1B
For the third game running, it was a cruel sense of déjà vu for Galwegians as they rack up more bonus points courtesy of their attacking flair, yet are unable to defend a lead as they are yet again reeled in by the opposition in the second half. However this loss will have hurt more than their recent reverses against Old Wesley and Ballinahinch, as they had done the hard work to regain the lead twice in the final quarter, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a pulsating contest at Crowley Park on Saturday.
The Blues continued their recent good habit of starting impressively and they made a dream start, when lock Marc Kelly squeezed over in the corner after their opening attack for the game’s first try. Out-half Mitch Lam was wide with the difficult conversion into a swirling breeze, and likewise with a penalty attempt from distance in the seventh minute. However the Blues were looking very impressive early doors and a surging 10th minute break by full-back Aidan Moynihan was finished off by the in-form Cormac Brennan for try number two. This time Lam converted to put his side 12-0 to the good.
The visitors soon settled into the game and were using their forward bulk to create a platform. Out-half Richie McMaster opened their account on 16 minutes just moments after missing an earlier effort. And at the start of the second quarter they hauled themselves right back into the game with their first try. Referee Eddie Hogan-O’Connell was starting to regularly penalise the Blues, and when McMaster launched a huge touch-finder to the corner, a well-drilled lineout maul saw the visitors seemingly over the line and about to touch down. Despite this Hogan O’Connell bizarrely opted to award a penalty try. The easier conversion for McMaster was ultimately to prove hugely significant to the outcome.
Wegians responded well and within four minutes they had restored a nine-point advantage, when an excellent backline move went through several hands before captain and centre Brian Murphy took a reverse pass to scorch over under the posts, with Lam adding the extras to make it 19-10. Still the penalties continued to mount against the hosts, with the tally reaching 12-2 in favour of the visitors at one point, and hooker John Moloney was binned on 37 minutes.
The Blues seemed to land a significant blow when they repelled an onslaught on their line before half-time. However the good work was undone almost straight from the restart. When flanker Ronan Moore was penalised after making an initial strong surge, the Ulstermen went for the corner again, and this time hooker Adam McBurney was mauled over for their second try. McMaster landed the conversion, and moments later he added on another penalty to put his side in front for the first time in the match at 20-19.
This signalled a remarkable final thirty minutes of rugby, and all told the lead changed hands an incredible five times in the second-half. The visitors seemed to strike a decisive blow in the 50th minute when centre Mark Best intercepted a pass on halfway and ran unopposed under the posts, giving his side an eight-point advantage.
However Wegians coach Brian McClearn will have been really pleased with the response of his charges. Despite almost everything now seemingly going against them, including a sudden squall which certainly didn’t suit their style of play th, they took the game right back to the opposition. Having set up an attack in the Ballymena 22, patient play resulted in winger Matthew Quinn crossing in the right corner on 53 minutes for what was at least a guaranteed bonus point. Lam’s conversion into the swirling breeze agonisingly rebounded back off the post, however the gap was now back to three.
With their gander up, the Blues then scored the try of the game in the 66th minute when a break from inside their own half saw Quinn again charge up the right flank, which ended with Moynihan finishing with some style and no little determination under the posts, despite the attentions of three defenders. Lam’s tap-over had the Blues now back in front again by a four-point margin.
Almost inevitably this signalled another fightback by the visitors. Just when the Blues appeared to have dealt with an attacking maul, winger Jonny Rosborough suddenly found himself in space and managed to avoid the attentions of his marker all too easily to squeeze over in the left corner, putting his side back in front for the second time of the game.
The final ten minutes were frenetic as the see-saw nature of this absorbing contest continued unabated. The Blues were throwing everything at the visitors and Ballymena full-back Rodger McBurney was binned in the last minute of normal play for deliberate obstruction. However the Blues were undone when a clean lineout take was penalised by Hogan O’Connell. Despite that, they won back a penalty moments later following hands in the ruck, and Lam hit a superb penalty from the 10m line to put the Blues back in front.
Yet there was to be one final act. When Wegians knocked the ball on following the restart, a huge Ballymena scrum won a penalty in front of the posts. McMaster duly stepped up and split the posts in what was the final act of a dramatic game. Sport is cruel and Wegians really deserved better, and the visitors know they got out of jail to emerge with five points.
However the fact is that the Blues have not won a game since the end of September. Despite this the coaching ticket will take much encouragement from this performance which belies their lowly position third from bottom of UBL Division 1b. Next up for Wegians is the daunting prospect of a visit to high-flying Buccaneers on Friday night at Dubarry Park.
Aidan Moynihan; Matthew Quinn, Cormac Brennan, Brian Murphy (capt.); Alan McMahon; Mitch Lam, Barry Lee; Jason East, John Moloney, Dominic Robertson McCoy, Anthony Ryan, Marc Kelly, Ronan Moore, Paul Hackett, Jack Dinneen.
Ja Naughton, Doron McHugh, Matthew Towey, Peadar O’Beirn,