Report by Calum Neeson, Photos by Ryan Crooks
Ballymena 44 – 25 MU Barnhall
A cold and wild wind greeted both teams for this All Ireland League Division 2A match. Both sides arrived in good form with three wins and one loss each, however better results placed Barnhall higher in the standings. A big early season match up in tricky conditions ensured an interesting affair.
Stealing the ball straight from kick off showed early intent from Ballymena and soon found a kick into the corner. Another mistake from the line-up would give Ballymena an early lead when Jonny Browne crossed the line from a close range ruck. A Tim Small conversion made it 7-0 to the home side after only two minutes. The Kildare side looked to respond quick but some spirited defence stopped anything coming from a few breaks. Despite this the pressure eventually became too much as Barnhall forced their way over and converted to level the score.
Ballymena were quick to respond this time, as a penalty allowed them to play a lineout in the corner and find James McCormick for another try in what has already been a great season. The wind proved too much this time and the try went unconverted. Ballymena looked to be struggling again, however after some pressure a converted penalty seemed a small price maintaining a now smaller lead at 12-10. Both teams seemed more settled in the game now as the physicality increased along with some of the quality seen by both teams. Ballymena seemed intent to hold on for the remaining twenty minutes of the half, but unable to escape their own half a converted penalty would eventually put Barnhall ahead for the first time.
The fans in attendance need not worry however as a brilliant pickup from Mark Thompson allowed him to play in Roger McBurney for another try. Wind and the start of some rain would not help as Tim Small failed to convert. As the rain got heavier so did the task to see out the half as Sam Millar picked up a yellow for taking a Barnhall player out off the ball. Another converted try from Barnhall restored their lead in a half played on a knife edge. Intent on putting this right, a series of great runs resulted in a James McNabney try, although this one was a team effort involving Tim Small who would also convert to eventually end the half at 24-20.
The second half was evenly contested early on and as it began to pick up steam, a head injury to Paddy Browne seemed to slow things done while he was wrapped up. Barnhall then picked up where they left off trying to force through the Ballymena line. This pressure once again became too much when after a close call, Barnhall spread the play and crossed over for an unconverted try.
A brilliant kick resulted in a goal line dropout from Barnhall, Ballymena would capitalise after a good run from Mark Thompson when Adam Lamont slipped through, followed by a successful conversion to restore a healthy lead and guarantee a bonus point.
Keen to ensure more than a bonus point, Matthew Corr claimed an intercept from a miss pass , picking the ball up around the halfway line and ran it in for another try much to the pleasure of the Ballymena crowd. A successful conversion brought the score to 38-25. Again, the half would become quieter in terms of score but not action, a crucial penalty from a scrum would receive the loudest roar of the game, soon followed by an impressive conversion.
As the match headed towards the last minutes the weather continued to take a turn for the worst, impacting the match and slowing the game down. A first yellow for Barnhall was agreed by both sets of fans after an accidental dump tackle, with another converted penalty to finish the match. Final score 44-25 to Ballymena RFC.
After the game, Nicky Fullerton got the thoughts of John Nicholl, Tim Small and Rodger McBurney