- Result: Galwegians Firsts 22 - Ballynahinch 26
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Feb 14th 2009
- Competition: AIL Cup
Galwegians staged an astonishing comeback from the dead only to then snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Ulster side Ballynahinch on Saturday. Hinch are riding high in Division Two but their form has been patchy since their historic first Ulster Senior League win last month and their AIB Cup third round defeat of 2008 winners Shannon. Likewise Wegians's form has been inconsistent, with a good performance against Shannon leading to no reward, and more recently a sloppy performance against Buccs last week almost costing them victory only to salvage it at the death. But this time the boot was on the other foot as they let a semi-final berth slip from their grasp.
After a fairly even opening in which Wegians looked like they would have the upper hand, the game was effectively decided in the second quarter when the visitors bagged three converted tries to race into a 21-0 lead. The opening score came on 20 minutes when a 'Wegians attack broke down, and Hinch countered with numbers out wide allowing winger Stuart Morrow a clear run to the line to claim the game's first points.
Their New Zealand out-half Ryan Bambry added the conversion, but Wegians missed a chance to open their account on 25 minutes when full-back Rob O'Beirn struck a 30 metre penalty from the left-hand side against the upright. It got worse for the Blues five minutes later when a lightning break from full-back Adam Craig saw him waltz through some porous Wegians defence, and although he was stopped just short of the line, 'Hinch hooker Neil Hanna was on hand to gather and finish it off for try number two, with Bambury adding the extras.
Five minutes before the break, Craig did get his name on the scoresheet when strong forward pressure followed by simple hands in the backline caught Wegians short of numbers again, and he finished strongly in the right-hand corner. The on-fire Bambury landed a magnificent conversion to rub salt in the wounds and put the County Down outfit 21-0 to the good. However on the stroke of half-time, Galwegians managed to open their scoring account with a penalty from full-back Robert O'Beirn to give themselves a mere glimmer of hope.</P>
In fairness the Blues responded to the strong words of coach Eamon Molloy at the break, and it was a completely different game in the second half as the home side pinned the visitors back into their half and came up with some big plays themselves. They got their first try on 52 minutes following a sustained period of pressure when they camped on the visitors line. And after some 20 phases of play, lock Dave Nolan finally wrestled his way over the 'Hinch line to set up a comeback. Unfortunately O'Beirn again hit the upright with his difficult conversion attempt to leave the Blues 21-8 in arrears.
They were given real hope on 68 minutes when a delicate chip from out-half Cormac O'Beirne was gathered by South African centre Chris Brigl, and he offloaded in the tackle to his backline colleague Brian Murphy who crossed for a deserved second try, with O'Beirn landing the relatively simple convert to reduce the margin to just six points.
Wegians continued to pile on the pressure, and when 'Hinch had hooker Hanna sin-binned for the final few minutes, they sensed their opportunity. And it duly arrived on 77 minutes when a strong scrummage shoved the visiting pack over their line, with 'Wegians back rower Liam Casserly grounding the ball to score what looked like a decisive third try. O'Beirn's excellent conversion sent his side in front for the first time at 22-21, and the Glenina outfit were suddenly entertaining thoughts of a second consecutive semi-final.
But there was a sting in the tail as 'Wegians fell asleep at a crucial moment in one of the final phases of play. Ballynahinch created a break up the right wing and although the initial attack was repulsed, a quickly taken line-out caught the Blues defence napping, and full-back Craig was able to slice through and score out wide for the winning sucker-punch score to the jubilation of the large travelling support. The conversion was not needed as the referee immediately blew for full-time. So it's the Northeners who go into semi-final draw, and it's another case of nearly never for Wegians in the AIB Cup.