- Result: Galwegians Firsts 15 - Ballina 7
- Venue: Ballina RFC on Sat Feb 22nd 2020
- Competition: AIL Division 2B
Galwegians took a major stride towards securing safety in the Energia AIL Division 2B League game with this hard-earned win away to bottom club Ballina on Saturday.
After last week’s home draw against Dungannon, Wegians came into this game with some of their mojo back, but they were made fight all the way by their determined and plucky hosts. Ballina won the toss and opted to play with the aid of a stiff first-half breeze. The game was evenly contested early on, but the North Mayo side came close to taking the lead in the opening ten minutes when Chris O’Neill, playing at centre instead of his usual full-back slot, intercepted a pass on halfway only to fumble the greasy ball and knock it on.
After surviving that early scare, the remainder of the opening quarter was reasonably comfortable for Wegians who were keeping it tight and restricting the opposition to their own half for large parts. However an excellent line-kick from Ballina winger Bradley Nealon then set up an attack early in the second quarter, which led to successive scrum 5 penalties. Nealon then fielded a cross-kick near the right corner only to be tackled in the air by Sandile Sibande, who was binned by referee Grainne Crabtree. And from the next penalty, this time the hosts swung it left and good hands saw winger Joe Murphy cross for the opening try of the game. An excellent touchline conversion by Dylan Prendergast put the hosts 7-0 to the good.
Despite being a man down, Wegians defended well for the remainder of the half which they played into the teeth of a horrible squally shower. The pack worked hard and hooker Christy Reilly was deadly accurate with his darts despite the elements. That said, they were almost caught napping right on half-time when a long kick through saw full-back Conor O’Shaughnessy hesitate before gathering the ball near his try-line. Although he was turned over and the hosts grounded the ball, crucially the touch-judge had raised his flag at the corner, leading to another let-off for the visitors.
In the second-half the Blues came right out of the traps, and when awarded a close-in penalty, out-half Dylan Hamill took the three points on offer to reduce the gap. The unpredictable weather then kicked in as the heavy rain stopped and the wind died away, which all but eliminated any advantage the visitors had with the elements. This time it was the hosts’ turn to defend comfortably, and Wegians were struggling to make any impression or gain serious foothold in opposition territory.
The game turned on two key moments just before the hour mark. First the Mayomen wasted a great attacking opportunity when a penalty kick to the corner went dead. They were instantly punished when Wegians launched a deep 22 drop-out, forcing the hosts to return a garryowen which was brilliantly fielded on his 10m line by Wegians’ Diarmuid Kilgallen. The outside centre then broke the first tackle before setting off on a devastating run combining pace, power and determination to fend off two further attempted tackles before diving under the posts for a superb solo try. Hamill converted to make it 10-7.
The final quarter saw the return of the squally showers which made the home side’s task all the more difficult. The Blues took control of the game with half-backs Rory Gaffney and Dylan Hamill keeping the hosts pinned deep in their territory. They did throw the opposition one late lifeline when forward Anthony Ryan was binned on 70 minutes for a high tackle, not long after his introduction as a sub.
For all their toil, Ballina were unable to make any impression, and on 75 minutes the game was made safe when the Blues scored a decisive second try. Once more Kilgallen was at the heart of it, this time making a dash down the right wing before cleverly chipping infield behind the posts. Out of nowhere winger Hugh Lane emerged to outsmart the cover and win the race to touch down.
This knocked the stuffing out of Ballina who were unable to make any further impression on the scoreboard, which meant they ended up empty-handed yet again. However the cannier Wegians happily took the four points on offer, and this deserved victory sees them move fourteen points clear of the relegation play-off slot, currently occupied by Dungannon.
Next up for the Blues is an altogether sterner test, when they travel this Saturday (29th Feb.) away to face the in-form League leaders Malahide.