- Result: Galwegians Firsts 23 - Ballina 22
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Oct 2nd 2021
- Competition: AIL Division 2B
A competitive encounter from start to finish boiled down to a tale of two penalties, with Conor O’Shaugnessy splitting the posts and Darragh Whyte’s effort tailing wide in the final quarter to get Galwegians off to the best possible start in AIL 2B.
Ill discipline early on saw Ballina take a 3-0 lead, with the away side confident of victory off the back of a win over Blues in the Connacht League only a few weeks ago. This was a much improved ‘Wegians outfit however, and with 12 new AIL caps, they made up for in courage what they lacked in experience.
Captain Kieran ‘Dint’ Downey led by example with a barging finish after a super line from out-half Adam Cunningham almost led to a line break. That score was then complimented with a second try on the half hour mark, with both sides adopting an expansive game plan. Winger and one of the twelve debutants Darragh Kennedy sauntered over for the home side as they opened up a 12-3 lead.
Inevitably Ballina struck back, and despite being second best in terms of territory and possession, a lineout maul led to a try for prop Conor Mason. With the conversion missed, Ja Naughton’s side rallied straight from the off. Having regained possession, Matt Towey was tackled high.
Conor O’Shaughnessy made no mistake to knock over the three points, three points that were deserved on the balance of play. Ballina centre Callum Quinn had other ideas, and the score was soon tied up at 15-15 when he broke 2 tackles inside his own half to score a try that was eerily similar to his effort against ‘Wegians a few weeks ago.
As the wind picked up in the second half, the kicking battle became key. An attempted crossfield kick from O’Shaughnessy got caught up in the Atlantic breeze, and Ian West rose highest to intercept and give the away side the lead for the first time.
O’Shaughnessy set about atoning for that error, and a few minutes later he kickstarted a counter attack when he reacted fastest to a loose Ballina pass. Late call-up Ben McGuinness chipped through after good work from flanker Brian McSweeney, and the former dotted down to reduce the deficit to two points.
A dangerous lead.
With conditions turning abysmal, eyebrows may well have been raised when O’Shaughnessy took on a penalty from the 10m line. When Blues’ fullback struck it clean and true and put his side into a 23-22 lead, the eyebrows lowered, and the mouths opened in a mixture of disbelief and delight.
Wegians weren’t satisfied to win the easy way however, and when they were pinged off the restart, Whyte had a chance to make himself the hero. His scuffed effort tailed left and wide, highlighting not only the conditions, but the pressure.
Sweet victory for Blues in their first outing. Maybe even a sign that the 1B glory days may not be so far away, that they may not be so out of reach. Not quite a Tadhg masterclass, a piece of Murph magic, or the stuff of legend from Luigi, but a damn good place to start.