- Result: Galwegians Firsts 27 - Ballina 18
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Dec 16th 2023
- Competition: AIL Division 2C
In a dramatic weekend of fixtures in AIL Division 2C, Galwegians take the lead in the league standings with a victory in the Connacht Derby, beating Ballina 27-18 in the final game before the Christmas break.
Galwegians’ starting XV saw a significant reshuffling of the pack with six changes from the previous round at Omagh, with a second-row duo of Mike Loughlin and Oisin Halpin returning to action as Hugo Gens came in at the blindside.
International call-ups for regulars Shane Mallon, Hugh Gavin and Finn Tracey required changes for the backs, as Mickey McGiff and Rob Deacy formed a pairing at centre while Josh Munn got into the match day squad after some solid performances for the Seconds.
It only took two minutes before Ballina got up and running with an early penalty from Cody Chilcott earning the visitors three points already.
Galwegians delivered the next blow with a try just five minutes later. A well-worked lineout routine from a few metres out was enough to haul themselves over the line for the opening try, with Ryan Smith collecting the plaudits. A superb conversion from Tiarnan Neville gave the Blues a 7-3 lead.
With a strong breeze blowing in the favour of Ballina in the first half, they worked themselves upfield and after a few phases, second-row Thomas Hannigan got over for Ballina’s opening try of the game to give the visitors momentum heading into the second quarter. Chilcott’s conversion made it 7-10.
Galwegians enjoyed some bright spells for the remainder of the first half and should have scored on a few occasions with two five-metre lineouts and a scrum in front of the posts, but indiscipline and some handling errors scuppered their chances and went into the break with just one try.
The start of the second had a similar theme with a crooked delivery to the lineout enabling Ballina to work themselves higher up the pitch once more, winning another penalty in the process. Chilcott continued his accurate kicking with another three points, 7-13.
Galwegians seemed destined to score and finally got off the mark in the second half when Darragh Kennedy broke through for their second try of the afternoon. Hammering away at Ballina’s try line, Wegians found the space on the left and in a carbon copy from Kennedy’s try against Clogher Valley two games ago, they made it a one-point game.
Oisin McKey helped to apply the pressure shortly afterwards with an extraordinary 50-22 kick into the corner flag, winning a lineout just a few metres away. In frustration, Darragh Whyte kicked the ball to prevent a quick lineout and was sent to the bin for ten minutes.
On the back of the subsequent lineout, Galwegians kept ploughing away at the Ballina line but were just held short. Spotting an opportunity on the right, Andrew Sherlock spun the ball out to the right-hand side where Josh Munn scooped the loose ball to leap for the try in the corner. The hosts now led 17-13.
Galwegians were finally hitting their stride and scored the bonus point after the hour mark. Another break from Kennedy put Oisin McKey with space on the left to surge his way over the line, using his power and strength to break away from Ballina’s tackles. The wind was making conversions difficult and another just went wide to keep the score at 22-13.
Ballina threw down the gauntlet and provided late drama in the 73rd minute with another try to apply the pressure on the Blues. An excellent cross-field kick from Chilcott was collected by Ian West and went in for a late score.
But Galwegians ensured there wouldn’t be a dramatic comeback in the dying moments as they added their fifth of the afternoon to seal the game. Liam Angermann slipped past the tackles of four Ballina players and broke away into the 22 and offloaded to Andrew Sherlock who just edged himself over the line to round off another strong showing in Crowley Park.
Their fifth bonus point victory of the season was enough to propel them to the top of the league. Clogher Valley, who were embroiled in their own local derby against Tyrone natives Omagh Academicals, lost their second game in succession to lose the top spot heading into the break.
Galwegians head coach Brendan Guilfoyle was delighted with the result, knowing that two bonus point wins would be needed after the Clogher Valley game:
“We set out for the last couple of weeks to finish this half of the season with two five-pointers after losing to Clogher Valley.”, he said. “It was huge to keep the momentum going and we’re delighted to get five points today and finish off this half of the season”.
“In terms of Clogher Valley, we were quietly confident that we would beat them up there and have a chance of chasing them down in the run-in at the back end of the season. Certainly didn’t think we would expect to be heading into Christmas to be top of the table, but we could only stick to our task which was to get ten points from two games.
“I think the team we were more concerned about was Enniscorthy, but them losing today as well is huge. So we are top of the table, it sets a new challenge coming into the new year and hopefully, it instils a lot of focus for the lads as we have something to hold onto now”.
Galwegians will return to action in the reverse fixture at Ballina on January 13 where Galwegians will now have the challenge of holding onto the top spot for the remainder of the campaign.