(Clive Moore In Heffernan Park, Ballina)

From kick off until the final whistle the tension in this top of the table clash was palpable. In a game of inches every inch was hard fought for and hard earned. Ultimately it was heartbreak for Ballina who led at halftime and right up until five minutes from the end, but although great credit must go to the hard working Monivea side, who held their nerve and ground out a result, Ballina can take a lot from this game and can build on what was an excellent performance. Monivea applied the early pressure and held onto possession well with their big forwards like Number 8 Eoin Rooney and Second Row Willie Parker picking and carrying from the base of the ruck time after time. Ballina were patient, organised and disciplined in defence however and eventually Monivea were penalised for holding onto the ball in a ruck and Ballina were able to clear the ball to touch. An early blow for the home team came five minutes into the game when influential Out Half Cory Brown went off injured.

The backline was reshuffled with Andrew Moynihan moving to Out Half, Conor Dever to Full Back and substitute Francesco Lo Bartolo coming on the Wing. To their credit the individuals concerned adjusted quickly and set about their business confidently. It was the visitors however who opened the scoring when Monivea set up a driving maul from a lineout inside Ballina’s 22 which was eventually brought down illegally. From the ensuing penalty Out Half Ger O’Connor put over the kick to give his side a 3-0 lead. Ballina responded well and began to take the game to the Galway men. With Tom Tolan and Paul Newell working very hard up front the Ballina eight began to assert an advantage in the scrum which kept Monivea under pressure on their own put in. There was more mixed fortune in the lineouts with each side struggling to overcome the pressure being exerted in the competition for their own throw in, although Ballina’s Orrie Collins, Stephen Dolan and Phillip Timoney were providing good options and by and large winning ball. 25 minutes into the game Monivea were penalised for holding onto the ball in a ruck, and Francis Conroy attempted the difficult kick which was to the right of the posts 10 metres inside the half. It was struck well but drifted to the outside of the posts so the visitors held on to their 3-0 lead.

But Ballina were growing in confidence, and beginning to put phases together, looking to move the ball wide where possible and ask questions of the Monivea defence. Monivea conceded another penalty for the tackler not releasing and rolling away and this time Scrum Half and Captain Michael Murphy stepped up put the ball between the posts to level the scores 3-3. The pressure exerted by each side in defence was immense and errors were made by both sides in attack. Monivea were largely trying to carry the ball close to the ruck and Ballina were still looking to move it wider each side doing so with varying degrees of success. Ger O’Connor had an opportunity to restore his sides lead when Ballina Number 8 Aidan McNulty was penalised for a late tackle, but his effort drifted wide. Ballina continued to exert pressure on the visitors scrum which, along with the attentions of Michael Murphy made life very hard for Monivea Number 8 Rooney and kept Ballina on the front foot.

When Monivea were penalised for sealing off a ruck to retain possession Ballina’s Andy Moynihan found a good touch. Richard Kelly found Phillip Timoney with the throw in and the ball was played off the top of the lineout and quickly moved wide. Jerome Harrimate made a half break and set up a ruck. Connor Dever took the ball forward and made good ground before setting up a ruck. Paul Newell carried the ball forward and set up the next phase and Ballina continued to go the same way attacking with mounting menace as the play developed. Andrew Moynihan ran at the defence and passed to Flanker Phillip Timoney who accelerated into a gap, displayed some good foot work to evade the cover defence and raced in under the post to score a well earned try, much to the joy of Ballina’s large and vociferous support. Murphy added the conversion so Ballina lead 10-3.

Although Ballina knocked the ball on in the restart, Monivea were clearly under pressure and were penalised for delaying the put in to the scrum. Ballina finished the half on a high but the score at half time remained 10-3. Ballina continued to have the edge in the scrums, forcing a knock on at the back as Eoin Rooney and Scrum Half Darren Blade tried to cope with the retreating scrum but ironically when Prop Paul Newell slipped he was perhaps harshly penalised. Ger O’Connor put the kick over reducing the lead to 10-6. Monivea played one aspect of the game better than Ballina on the day (and particularly in the second half) and it was to be the deciding factor on the day.

The aspect in question was territory. Time and again after great defensive work Ballina kicked down field but Monivea’s back three of John Culkin, Rory O’Connor and Seamus Fahy were rarely caught out and they and Ger O’Connor put in some excellent territorial kicks which kept Ballina pinned in their 22. There was still some excellent endeavour by the Mayo men. A lineout on their line which was secured drove forward with excellent control and cleared well to touch by Murphy, a phase when Monivea started attacking on Ballina’s 22 and were repelled to the 10 metre line as aggressive tackle after tackle went in flooring the Galway sides ball carriers, and a phenomenal passage of play from Ballina Flanker Orrie Collins who put in four crunching hits in a row as Monivea tried to carry the ball around the fringes of the ruck before he earned a penalty when the ball carrier was isolated.

On another occasion Ballina had to defend right on their line after a maul off a lineout brought play right up to it, but the defence stood firm and forced a knock on which allowed them to clear their line with a kick down field. Fresh legs were introduced as Conor Forde replaced the hard working Second Row Stephen Dolan, and Barry McCarthy came on in the back row allowing Aidan McNulty to Second Row to replace Dolan’s equally industrious colleague Marc Healy. Ballina were spending far too long pinned in their 22 however and eventually the inevitable happened and they conceded a kickable penalty. The break was on for the home side as they ran it from inside their 22 (not as foolish as it sounds as they had a man over) but Jerome Harrimate was caught in possession and isolated giving O’Connor the penalty opportunity.

He kicked well and the margin was now just 1 point with 15 minutes to go. Ballina needed to respond and after the restart they did so through the sheer determination of Murphy when he gathered a kick out side his 22 launched a high kick and chased after it. It was gathered by Seamus Fahy for Monivea but his attempted kick downfield was spectacularly blocked by the Ballina Captain. As the ball rebounded into the Monivea 22 it was chased down by Aiden McNulty the visitors Winger Rory O’Connor was forced to scramble a kick to touch inside his 22. The lineout was scrappy but won by Ballina but when the ball was moved wide a penalty was conceded for holding on and Monivea could clear to touch. More fresh legs were utilised as Rodney O’Donnell replaced Hooker Richard Kelly who had toiled hard up front. After a patient build up by Monivea five minutes from the end they got a kickable penalty on the 22 when the Ballina tackler was deemed not to be trying to roll away (again perhaps harshly as he appeared to be held himself) and O’Connor put the ball between the posts restoring his sides lead for the first time since 30 minutes into the first half. Ballina responded again.

Connor Forde and Aidan McNulty blocked down an attempt by Darren Blade to box kick from a ruck in his 22. Forde came away with the ball, powered forward and set up a ruck. It was carried forward again and moved wide setting up a ruck inside the 22 in front of the posts. The Referee put his arm out indicating a penalty for Ballina. The ball was passed out as Ballina continued their attack until Francesco Lo Bartolo was tackled into touch. This one phase of play was deemed sufficient advantage for Ballina and the original penalty was not awarded by the Referee. With one minute on the clock Ballina still on the attack earned another penalty 1 metre from the right hand touch line inside the 22. Michael Murphy attempted the difficult kick and wasn’t far wide but that was to be Ballina’s final chance as within a minute time was up and a much relieved and jubilant Monivea team emerged victorious.

Ballina will take a bonus point from the game, but a lot more besides. The supporters of both clubs can hardly wait for the return league match in Monivea and an enthralling encounter awaits, but if Ballina are to be in a position to achieve anything when that match comes around they will have to retain their focus in all their remaining games. Next for Ballina is a difficult away match against Loughrea, the upwardly mobile side who beat them in two Semi finals last season. A worthy challenge, one that will refocus the Ballina players minds quickly.            

BALLINA; Andrew Moynihan, Conor Dever, Jerome Harrimate, Michael Allen, Francis Conroy, Cory Brown, Michael Murphy, Paul Newell, Richard Kelly, Tom Tolan, Mark Healy, Stephen Dolan, Orrie Collins, Phillip Timoney, Aidan McNulty, Conor Forde, Rodney O’Donnell, Barry McCarthy, Francesco Lo Bartolo, Tyrone De Silva.

MONIVEA; Seamus Fahy, Rory O’Connor, Brian McDonagh, Kevin Higgins, John Culkin, Ger O’Connor, Darren Blade, Ronan Coughlan, Bernard Ryan, Ger Fitzmaurice, Shane McHugh, Willie Parker, Pat Fitzmaurice, Mike Ward, Eoin Rooney, Paddy Devaney, Darren McNelis, Martin King, Ger Divilly, Colm Neary.

REFFEREE: Adrian Reavey (IPAS)

TOUCHJUDGES: Aaron Loftus, Kevin Coffey   


The Jes reach last four with last minute winner