- Result: Galwegians Firsts 3 - Ballina 15
- Venue: Ballina RFC on Sat Apr 30th 2022
- Competition: AIL Division 2B
It was incredibly close at the very end, but Galwegians Men's Firsts survived by the skin of their teeth to avoid relegation to Division 2C as they edged out their Connacht rivals Ballina by an aggregate score of three points on Saturday.
Wegians came into this game with a 15 point advantage from the first leg last weekend. However Ballina showed in that game that they were a serious threat and very much in this tie, and any notions that Wegians would have a comfortable afternoon were dispelled early on. The Blues made a very nervous start and were getting on the wrong side of referee Oisin Quinn, conceding 3 penalties in the first 5 minutes. The home side wasted no time in taking their opportunity, with their talented young out half Harry West kicking them deep into opposition territory. And they got off to a great start when the forwards punched holes before creating the opportunity for winger Ian West to score the game's opening try out on the left. Although his brother Harry missed the conversion, the tie was back to a 10 point margin and it was very much game on.
This settled the home side but had the opposite effects on the visitors who were struggling to impose themselves on the game. If anything the hosts looks the more likely to get the next score with young West dictating affairs from the number 10 berth on the 4G pitch. However Wegians got what a reprieve when they were finally awarded a penalty near their 10 m line, but which was then brought closer to halfway by the referee following back chat from Ballina. This was to prove crucial.
With most of the crowd expecting Blue out half Morgan Codyre to kick for the corner, Codyre backed himself to have a go at the posts. He struck it perfectly wuth the slight wind advantage helping the ball sail just over the crossbar to extend the aggregate lead to 13 points.
However the hosts were undeterred and set about dictating matters again. The visitors were yet again penalised at the breakdown, and when a quick tap and go was blocked by flanker Ben McGuinness, the youngster was promptly binned for his troubles. The Blues then had to absorb a spate of Ballina pressure, and just when it looks like they had repelled it with some excellent defence, they were undone on the half-hour mark with a replica try of their first.
The home pack yet again made the hard yards, sucking in the cover before creating space out left with winger Ian Quinn the recipient this time to dive over in space for their second try. West curled a perfect conversion over the bar, and suddenly the gap was down to 6 points with Ballina looking very well placed at this point. When McGuinness returned from the bin, the Wegians pack finally began to to impose themselves on the game.
Some well executed kicking out of hand by fullback Rory Gaffney helped create some territory, and just before half-time the Blues laid siege to the line. However they were denied when lock Niall Murray got white line fever by making a dart for the line, only to be held up under the posts. The chance was gone and Ballina took a deserved 12-3 lead at the break.
The miserable wet conditions intensified if anything in the second half, making ball handling difficult for both sides. Wegians made a much brighter start and threatened in the opening few minutes, only to be turned over in the opposition 22. A brilliant chip and gather by out-half West set up a counter attack which so nearly led to a third Ballina try, only for some desperate scramble defence to hold them at bay. It took the hosts until the hour mark to make further inroads on the scoreboard, when West went for the posts outside the 22mm line, and suddenly the gap was down to just 3 points.
This set up a very nervy and tense finale, and with the worsening conditions and the high stakes involved it was no surprise that mistakes started to creep in on both sides. However Wegians played the smarter rugby in the final quarter. Although playing against the elements they showed some good ball retention with Captain Kieran Downey, lock Eoin Tarmey and the ubiquitous McGuinness leading the charge up front. Winger Darragh Kennedy made some crucial interventions with some excellent breaks out of defence to buy his side some much needed time and and territory as they ran down the clock.
The Blues were closing out the game deep in opposition territory deep into stoppage time. Just when it looked like they were on course to seal victory they coughed up a late penalty which gave West a chance to clear his lines. This set up one last attacking opportunity, and suddenly Ballina captain Luke Sweeney looked as if he had space in front of him when charging forward near the 22. However some excellent cover defence denied him, and when the hosts were penalised at the breakdown, it signaled the final act of play as Codyre tapped and hoofed the ball dead, which was cue for wild celebrations from the large visiting support.
This game was probably destined to go right down to the wire, and could so easily have gone either way. But Galwegians just did enough over the two legs to earn the right to remain in Division 2B next season, and unfortunately it is the Mayomen who drop down to 2C.