- Result: Galwegians Firsts 34 - Ballina 19
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Apr 23rd 2022
- Competition: AIL Division 2B
It's advantage Galwegians after the first leg relegation playoff in the Energia AIL Division 2B at Crowley Park last Saturday, where the Blues emerged with a 15 point lead against their local rivals Ballina.
Played in glorious sunshine with a strong breeze blowing towards the sea, the large crowd witnessed an exhilarating start by the hosts. A well-struck Morgan Codyre penalty got the Blues off the mark in the second minute to settle the nerves. And when Ballina went on the attack in the 5th minute, a well-read intercept by centre Diarmuid Kilgallen on his 22 saw him use his strength and power to race home unopposed under the posts for the game’s opening try. Codyre’s simple conversion put the Blues 10-0 ahead.
This rattled the visitors who were struggling to settle, and it got better for Wegians with their second try on 11 minutes. Their threatening looking backline were causing damage, and when some quick ball found Rory Gaffney coming into the line, the full-back ignored an overlap outside him to cut through and score near the left. Codyre’s conversion was off target but this gave the Blues a healthy 15 point early cushion.
A shell-shocked Ballina conceded a third try before the first quarter ended when tight head prop Finn Wright showed devastating power and speed to burst through from the 10m line and shrug off the defence to score a third try under the posts in impressive fashion. Far less impressive was his unsporting gesture which led to an immediate substitution by his head coach Ja Naughton and a stern lecture from the referee.
Codyre’s conversion had the Blues 22-0 to the good and the visiting fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the tie was already done and dusted. However immense credit is due to the Ballina players who refused to read the script, instead rolled up their sleeves and went on to take a grip on proceedings and dominate the second quarter.
A lineout penalty just before the half-hour mark provided the platform, and following some hard yards by the forward pack the chance was created for young winger Liam Golden to cross in the left corner for an unconverted try. The Mayo men continue to dominate the rest of the half, but they met a resolute wall of Blue defence to keep them at bay, meaning that this was how it stayed at half time.
Ballina got off to a dream start after the break when hooker Billy McVann made a good read and intercepted on halfway to race home unopposed and dot down under the posts. Darragh Whyte’s conversion made it a 10-point game. Suddenly the visitors were looking well placed with a strong breeze behind them.
However this time it was Wegians who turned the tables almost straight from the restart, when a line break by centre Rob Deacy 30m out gave himself an opportunity. And although he had a lot of work to do, he rounded his man in determined fashion to score an excellent fourth try in the right corner. Codyre’s conversion sailed narrowly wide, but this brought it back to a 15 point lead for the Blues.
With the wind at their backs, Ballina used the elements wisely and dominated the rest of the third quarter. They were looking the likelier team to score, and when Wright was sin binned shortly after his reintroduction from the bench, the visitors smelt blood. A 5m scrum penalty saw them attack the depleted Wegians pack, and number 8 Dan Molloy did a pick and go from the base to score his side’s third try. Whyte curled over an excellent conversion to reduce the margin to 8 points, with the final quarter still to come.
The wind started to ease off marginally and although both teams were now emptying their expanded benches, players on both sides visibly tired and unsurprisingly mistakes started to creep in.
Both had their chances to tag on more scores, with the visitors dominating the territorial stakes, but Wegians were coping admirably with the pressure.
Then as the game entered stoppage time, a decisive and morale-boosting blow was struck when the excellent Deacy made another line break, this time from halfway. He drew full-back Whyte before finding the supporting Gaffney on his shoulder who took the scoring pass and dived over near the posts.
Codyre’s conversion was the final act and gives Wegians a crucial 15-point lead to take to Heffernan Park for the second leg this Saturday. It should be a fascinating game with everything still very much to play for. The side with the most aggregate points over the two legs will survive relegation to Division 2C.