Connacht Junior League Div 1A

Ballina   6

Westport 3

(Clive Moore in Heffernan Park, Ballina)

Ballina made it two wins in a row in their Connacht Junior league campaign last Sunday when they hosted old rivals Westport in Heffernan Park. It was a tense hard fought match which was largely played out between the two 10 metre lines as both sides struggled to definitively dominate the game. Although the game ultimately yielded no trys it proved to be an entertaining encounter that was contested right up to the final whistle. In truth both sides struggled to overcome the kind of handling errors that were commonplace in the difficult conditions as the wet and windy weather made holding onto the ball a hard job. Ballina dominated the set pieces with a much superior scrum and almost total control of their own ball in the lineout while causing a lot of problems for Westport on their throw in. An unfortunate injury to second row Marc Healy in the first minute of the game meant he was substituted for Stephen Dolan who went on to play very well in the heart of the Ballina pack. Up front prop forwards Ciaran Melvin and Paul Newell led the way in the scrum while their front row colleague Rodney O’Donnell was almost unerring finding Phillip Timoney and Connor Forde as Westport struggled to get to grips with the variations employed by Ballina in the lineout. From this steady stream of possession Ballina were able to exert pressure on the visitors with half backs Michael Murphy and Cory Brown trying to dictate the tempo of the game and establish field position for their side. Ballina number 8 Aiden McNulty carried the ball very well and when the ball was moved wide centres Michael Allen and Jerome Harimate looked threatening. Westport were well organised defensively however and good counter rucking from the Covies meant they were able to slow down the speed of the ball was emerging from the rucks for Ballina. Their enthusiasm sometimes pushed them over the border of legality however and 8 minutes into the game Westport conceded a penalty which fell within Cory Brown’s range. The Ballina out-half struck the ball very well and it bisected the posts to give his side a 3-0 lead. When Westport got hold of the ball they were well able to exert pressure themselves. Out-half Lyndon Jones kicked astutely out of hand and fullback Kevin Corcoran was a formidable threat going forward. Ballina had to endure pressure from the visitors after conceding a penalty which Jones kicked down the line to give his side a lineout in the home sides 22. It looked ominous for the Moysiders when Westport won the ball cleanly and set up a maul but a superb defensive effort by the Ballina pack was rewarded when they held the maul up, drove it back and won a scrum. The game continued similarly throughout the half with both sides guilty of mistakes when in possession of the ball. An example was when Phillip Timoney won a lineout on the Westport throw in, but his good work was undone as the ball was sloppily shovelled along the backline until eventually turned over just outside Ballina’s 22. A similar handling error by Westport under the pressure of Ballina’s tackling prevented them from capitalising on the opportunity. A Ballina player falling on the wrong side of the ruck 26 minutes into the game gave Lyndon Jones the chance to put Westport’s first points on the board but his penalty kick drifted wide. In the end despite much endeavour from both sides it remained 3-0 to Ballina at half time. The only change Ballina made at half time was prop forward Alex Lee coming on for Ciaran Melvin, and after the restart Ballina took the initiative once again with Judd Ruane prominent amongst others in his industry as his side sought to unlock Westport’s defence. Under pressure Westport yielded a penalty inside their half which Cory Brown attempted to kick over but missed. Within a minute Ballina had similarly given one away outside their 22 which Lyndon Jones put over to level the match 3-3. Within the next four minutes Ballina’s attacking play and their opponent’s indiscipline yielded Cory Brown two more chances to regain the lead for his team with penalty kicks, neither of which was successful even though the last and most difficult of these went agonisingly close. Ballina looked the more likely to engineer a try throughout the game with wingers Trevor Moore, Francis Conroy and fullback Andrew Moynihan counter attacking at every opportunity, and in the first period of the second half their side went particularly close twice. A good break by Michael Allen got Ballina position inside Westport’s half, Cory Brown and Michael Murphy kept their side going forward and when they got quick ruck ball for once and moved it wider Jerome Harimate showed good footwork to step inside and accelerate. The Ballina outside centre was hauled down just short of the line. Later when the ball was quickly moved wide after Aiden McNulty carried from the base of a Ballina scrum good handling by Harrimate and Allen put winger Trevor Moore away. The young man showed blistering pace and his powerful run brought him into Westport’s 22 with Michael Murphy in support, but as the desperate cover defence from the Covies closed in on the winger he passed inside to Murphy just five metres from the line. The Ballina Captain was at full stretch trying to hold the ball which just slipped from his grasp, had he been able to hold onto the wet and slippery ball it looked like a certain score but once again his sides efforts were thwarted by the conditions. Ballina made two more substitutions with Cormac Quinn coming on for Allen in the centre and Liam Lynch replacing flanker Judd Ruane. They both acquitted themselves well and their defensive mettle was soon tested as now it was Westport’s turn to exert some pressure in Ballina’s 22. Amongst others in their pack Westport flanker David Keane was formidable going forward and after a series of pick and goes Ballina began to infringe in the rucks giving Lyndon Jones two chances to kick at goal 25 minutes and 30 minutes into the half. This time it was his kicking boots that deserted him as he watched his efforts drift wide and having weathered the storm Ballina took the game back to the visitors. With Stephen Dolan and Alex Lee looking for work in the pack, Ballina put together enough phases of play to earn a penalty and this time Cory Brown struck the ball sweetly between the uprights giving his side the lead once more 6-3 with 10 minutes left on the clock. It set up a tense finale to the match and Jones had one more chance to grab an equal share of the points when Ballina were penalised for handling the ball in the ruck, but when his kick drifted wide of the posts it brought a cheer (as much of relief as anything else) from Ballina’s vociferous support. Westport had the ball and they were attacking for the last minute of the match but a resolute Ballina defence was impenetrable and forced the concession of a penalty for holding onto the ball in a ruck. The ball was kicked dead prompting the final whistle another cheer from the Heffernan Park faithful. Ballina will be pleased to have come through such a difficult challenge with a win but will know that they will have to improve in many areas of their game next week when they travel to Galway to take on a very strong OLBC side who are tipped to do well in this league.                

BALLINA; Andrew Moynihan, Trevor Moore, Jerome Harimate, Michael Allen, Francis Conroy, Cory Brown, Michael Murphy (C), Aiden McNulty, Phillip Timoney, Judd Ruane, Marc Healy, Connor Forde, Paul Newell, Rodney O’Donnell, Ciaran Melvin, Alex Lee, Liam Lynch, Stephen Dolan, David Brunker, Cormac Quinn.

WESTPORT; Kevin Corcoran, Mark Gillian, Eoin Joyce, Danny O’Toole, Jens Hellberg, Lyndon Jones, Tommy Ellard, Peter Corcoran, David Keane, Chris Ryan, Nick O’Neill, Tom Dever, Matt Walsh, Chris Dyra, Martin Polak, Adam Bourke, Hugh O’Malley, Marek Palamarczuk, Brian Keane, Kevin Kilkerr

REFFEREE; Shane McElwee.

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