Connacht Junior League Div 1A
(In Heffernan Park, Ballina)
By Clive Moore

Those lucky enough to be in Heffernan Park last Sunday were treated to an excellent contest between two proficient rugby teams, both of whom can expect to be in the running for the honours when the title is won this year. There was an edge and intensity about the game which was maintained from the kick off right up to the final whistle. Ballina started well with a scrum which had Monivea under pressure and a determination to carry the game to the current champions early on. Both defences were uncompromising with some shuddering tackles going in but it was Ballina who drew first blood when they were awarded a penalty by referee Karl Collins after the visitors went in off their feet in a ruck outside their 22. Ballina’s Out-Half Kieran Rouse struck the ball well and his side lead 3-0. Monivea are not the kind of team to allow anyone to dominate them for long however and soon they had parity on the scoreboard. Ballina had trouble securing lineout ball and pressure from Monivea meant that the home side had difficulty getting out of their half, eventually conceding a penalty at the breakdown which the visitors number 10 Ger O’Connor put over to level the score. The relentless competitive nature of both sides resulted in a constant ebb and flow of pressure, possession, dominance and ascendancy. Ballina got to grips with their lineout during this period as Conor Forde provided a good target when it was shortened, but now Monivea were putting pressure on the Ballina scrum. On their own put in however Monivea were still finding the Ballina pack a handful with Ciaran Melvin, Liam Lynch and Tom Tolan at the heart of it and throughout the park the fortunes of either side swung pendulum like in the competitive maelstrom. Centre Kevin Higgins was the focus of much of the Galway sides attack, but Ballina’s Chris O’Neill and David Newman were determined not to concede an inch in the midfield. Eoin Rooney and Shane McHugh were powerful carrying the ball for Monivea but Ballina’s Phillip Rowe and Judd Ruane put in some thunderous tackles. The pressure took its toll on the backline handling of both sides but the game never diminished as a spectacle as neither team curbed its ambition or endeavour, instead the intensity of the opposition seemed to spur each side on to new efforts. Monivea profited twice more in the half from Ballina’s indiscipline when Ger O’Connor put over two further penalties within his range giving his side a 6-3 and then 9-3 lead. The last penalty was particularly inexcusable, as Ballina had been awarded a scrum after defending well from a number of phases of Monivea attacking play, only for it to be reversed into a penalty to Monivea for an ill-judged comment or query from a Ballina player. With 10 minutes left in the half the game appeared to be slipping from Ballina’s grasp but they responded excellently. Kieran Rouse orchestrated play well and soon Monivea were calling on all the reserves their defence could muster. Twice the powerfully running Phillip Rowe was put into space by the sleight of hand of David Newman and Chris O’Neill. On each occasion the Monivea scramble defence did just enough to deny Ballina. The home side were now playing some excellent rugby with Full-back Stephen McCarron counter attacking from any attempted clearing kicks by Monivea who were forced to contend with wave after wave of attack from the Mayo men. A scrum under the Monivea posts had the visitors in all kinds of trouble but somehow they managed to get the ball away. They did concede a penalty for going straight in off their feet in a ruck which Stephen McCarron was unable to put over from a difficult angle. McCarron was then denied another score when following powerful charges by Tom Tolan, Aiden McNulty and Conor Forde who brought play right up to within metres of the line Ballina’s Captain and Scrum-half Michael Murphy got the ball out to the backline who moved the ball wide and seemed to have the numbers to score, but Seamus Fahy and Ger Divilly did just enough to keep McCarron out as he drove for the line. The score remained 9-3 to Monivea until half time, and Ballina brought in Cory Brown for Kieran Rouse in the second half. They continued harrying Monivea inside the visitors 22 as they had at the end of the first half and after 6 minutes they were rewarded for all the pressure they put on the Galway men’s backline when an ill judged pass from Ger O’Connor was intercepted by Stephen McCarron, and although the Ballina Full-back had a lot to do he finished superbly out pacing all to score a try. Cory Brown added the difficult conversion and Ballina were leading again 10-9. Monivea wasted no time getting back into the Ballina half and were back in front when, despite a huge defensive effort from the home side, when eventually they created an overlap which Centre Dave Prior exploited, showing great pace before touching down for a very good try. When Ger O’Connor added the conversion his side were back in front 16-10. Ballina now introduced Danny Carrabine in the Second-Row for Mark Healy and Flanker Phillip Timoney for Judd Ruane. The home side were fighting hard to respond with a score. There were many inspiring moments from players all over the park, Phillip Rowe was still a huge thorn in the side of the Monivea men, in defence Winger Francis Conroy pulled off a magnificent tackle on the big Monivea Number 8 Eoin Rooney which drew gasps from the crowd, but for all their enterprise and endeavour, Ballina were undone by the number of penalties they conceded at the breakdown. If some of them were contentious, many of them were not and all of them undermined their hard work. Eventually referee Karl Collins patients wore out and Ballina had a man sin-binned. Matches often hinge on small margins and during this period when Ballina were reduced to 14 men they managed to put Chris O’Neill away with good hands, the Ballina Centre just stopped a metre short of the Monivea try line by Full-back Seamus Fahy.  In the subsequent passage of play a ball fell loose from a Ballina attack and Monivea Winger fly kicked it ahead and showed great pace and excellent control to win the race for the ball, pick it up, and touch down for a try. Ger O’Connor missed the conversion but his side were firmly in the driving seat as they now lead 21-10. Ballina refused to give in however. Restored to 15 again they now introduced William O’Connor for Conor Forde and Kevin McCarron for Niall O’Malley and they continued to pressurise Monivea even as Full time grew closer. Their perseverance paid off when David Newman blocked down an attempted clearance by Monivea yards from their line and in the subsequent scramble after the ball it was Chris O’Neill who won out and crossed the line for a try. Cory Brown’s conversion from a difficult angle was well struck and just had the legs as it dropped on the crossbar bounced over to bring Ballina within 4 points, 21-17 with 2 minutes to go. Although there was further drama when Monivea failed to send the ball 10 metres from the kick off, they managed to hold out until the final whistle to end up deserving winners in a very entertaining game. Ballina will feel they had the potential to have got more from this game, but they do have a bonus point for finishing within 7 points of the victors and that is certainly no more than they deserve. In the end the experience of this excellent Monivea side told and Ballina will know they can compete at the very top of this league and can identify the areas they have to work on before they travel away to take on Tuam next Sunday.
BALLINA; Ciaran Melvin, Liam Lynch, Tom Tolan, Marc Healy, Conor Forde, Judd Ruane, Phillip Rowe, Aiden McNulty, Michael Murphy (C),  Ciaran Rouse, Niall O’Malley, Chris O’Neil, David Newman, Francis Conroy, Stephen McCarron, Dan Carrabine, Phillip Timoney, William O’Connor, Cory Brown, Kevin McCarron, James O’Connor.
MONIVEA; Cathal Divilly, Bernard Ryan, Garoid Fitzmaurice, William Parker, Shane McHugh, David Madden, Martin King, Eoin Rooney, Darren Blade, Gerard O’Connor, Rory O’Connor, Kevin Higgins, David Prior, Gerard Divilly, Seamus Fahy, James Walsh, Ronan Coughlan, Kieran Corcoran, Ian Murphy, Colm Neary.
REEREE; Karl Collins.


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