All Ireland League Round-Robin: Clonmel 10-6 Ballina

Lineout action from Ballina’s clash against Clonmel on Saturday. Photo: Declan Dunphy

Lineout action from Ballina’s clash against Clonmel on Saturday. Photo: Declan Dunphy

Courtesy of Michael Gallagher

The savage sense of disappointment in the Ballina dressing room in Clonmel on Saturday afternoon said a lot about the progression of our First XV. Two seasons ago we were battling relegation in our domestic league in Connacht and this afternoon we were temporarily devastated after being edged out by the champions of Munster on their prized home patch.

The Mayo side went into today’s AIL Round Robin encounter in Tipperary as rank outsiders in everyone’s eyes except those with a deep love for and knowledge of the team in green.  Clonmel have been involved at this level of competition for a number of seasons and seasoned observers expected that the home side would get this campaign off to a winning start without much trouble. That assumption was incorrect!

Ballina travelled south with a lot of confidence and backed that up with a top-class display, and could easily have left with victory in their luggage. The Moy boys began confidently with the pack showing what they were made of in the set-pieces and the backs tackling like tigers and attacking at every opportunity. Fine play from the pack yielded a penalty midway through the half and Ballina had the chance to hit the front. Up in the stand, some of the small but vocal band of visiting fans weren’t able to look but Darragh Whyte made no mistake from 30 metres and the scoreline read 0-3.

The guests continued to drive forward but early injuries to Sam Liebezeit and Richard Morrow were worrying and would prove pivotal later in the game. Clonmel eventually found their feet and put serious pressure on the Ballina try-line but all they could manage was a converted penalty as the Mayo men defended defiantly. In truth, the best chances of the opening half were created by Ballina. A great break by Calum Quinn sent Chris O’Neill racing through but he was held up over the line and prevented from touching down for a try. From the subsequent scrum, Mickey Murphy unleashed a move off the back and a try seemed imminent but a knock-on saved the home side.

Then, just before half time came a critical and controversial moment. Ballina harried and hounded the home side and when the Clonmel out-half attempted to clear his lines the ball was blocked down by Fergal Tully and as everyone hesitated, Fergal reacted quickest and touched the ball down. The referee awarded a try and the Ballina supporters celebrated a pivotal moment. However, as Darragh Whyte hurried to add the conversion one of the touch-judges intervened and informed the referee that the ball had actually gone dead before Fergal touched it down and the try was correctly ruled out.

That left the score 3-3 at half time and Clonmel came out fighting after the break but Ballina settled and when Darragh drilled over a penalty from 40 metres the home side trailed 3-6 and were getting a little worried. They came looking for an avenue back into contention but Conor Mason, Richard Kelly, Daniel Molloy, Michael Allen and their colleagues refused to bend the knee.

Instead, Ballina went looking for more scores but midway through the half the home side struck a killer blow. The guests were camped in opposition territory but a turnover gave the home side possession and a quick counter saw the ball hoofed into the Ballina half. The slippery conditions saw two Ballina men fail to gather and the ball fell into the path of the raiding Clonmel man who slid over between the sticks. The conversion was added and the scoreline read 10-6.

Once again, Ballina refused to roll over and die. Time and again they drove forward looking for a way back but the Clonmel defensive line was hard to breach. At that stage, the injuries to Morrow and Liebezeit also left their mark as possession from the lineout was almost impossible to secure, even on our own throw.

The wind was catching efforts to the back of the line and the turnovers meant it was hard to build momentum. However, the guests never took a backward step and were looking for the winning try until the very last moment.

There was severe disappointment afterwards but that will soon pass and now all thoughts turn to next Saturday’s crucial encounter against Omagh in Heffernan Park at 2.30pm.

More details on this encounter later, but make no mistake, you are all required to man (and woman) the sidelines for this pivotal match. Finally, a word on behalf of the trusty band of followers who made the trip to Tipp. We were so proud of the effort and application of our team. It was a pleasure and an honour to witness the battle at first hand.

Ballina: Paul Newell, Richard Kelly, Gary Kavanagh, Sam Liebezeit, Richard Morrow, Fergal Tully, Daniel Molloy, Aiden McNulty, Michael Murphy, Calum Quinn, David Brunker, Michael Allen, Ciaran Rouse, Darragh Whyte, Chris O’Neill, John Keavney, Conor Mason, Shane Clarke, Andrew West, Alex Corduff.

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