olbc1-350OLBC closed their 2013-14 season opener in fine fashion, but not before Junior 1A newbies Ballinasloe shook them to the core.

Ballinasloe, returning this winter from a short stint in Connacht junior rugby’s second-tier B competition, took an 11 point lead into the second half over the visitors on Sunday afternoon. Compounding OLBC’s worries (as if an 11 point gulf wasn’t enough) was the fact the 2012 Cawley Cup champions hadn’t registered a score on the board 40 minutes in.

Ballinasloe may not have set the game alight for style and flair, but they were clinical in basic execution, securing and retaining go-forward ball and meeting Boys Club inch-for-inch in the contact situations. This ability to contain Boys Club – a longtime feature of first division furniture – will stand them in good stead given Boys Club’s performances against other heavyweights Monivea, Tuam and Ballina in recent years.  

Keelen O’Neill drew first blood converting an OLBC offside infringement into three points, and bullocking eight John Hayes shot through Boys Club’s defence to send winger Conal Gormley over in the corner. O’Neill pushed the attempt wide. Ten minutes later O’Neill adjusted his radar and the scoreline another three points in Ballinasloe’s favour following a lineout penalty.

Four minutes short of halftime Dave Reilly for Boys Club earned a yellow for a dangerous tackle, the victim – talismanic John Hayes – joined him on the sideline unable to continue.olbc2-350

While disappointing for the hosts, Hayes’ absence was not the turning point as his colleagues tore into the second half well aware they were in the driving seat 11 points clear. The fact Ballinasloe failed to ram home their healthy advantage is cause for some concern but to storm out to such a lead and maintain pressure for the first 20minutes of the second half suggests any improvements hereafter need not be too drastic.

Boys Club on the other hand struggled to gain a foothold and settle into any rhythm from the outset, but when they did 60 minutes in they looked every bit the class act their cast-list suggests.

That the inside back and midfield trio scored all the points attests to the potent combination coach Ambrose Conboy has moulded since his arrival at College Road in 2010. 

olbc3-350Co-captain Conor Mulligan (13) slipped through from close-in halfway through the second spell, fellow skipper Dave Prior (12) closed the gap to four with the conversion. The ever-vocal Donncha Carey at 10 took advantage of a momentary defensive lapse and snuck through for Club’s second on the 70minute mark, Prior again on-song with the extras. He chased up both conversions with a third just before full-time converting his own try after a break from 45m out.

Club may have spent too great a portion of the game finding their feet, but the fact they scored all three in just over quarter of an hour and pressed hard for a fourth with a ferocious assault in the final four minutes suggests neither fitness nor doubt under pressure pose major headaches for Conboy. With the All-Ireland Junior Cup beckoning in October, such foundation this early in the picture bodes well.

Boys Club meets Tuam this weekend in Galway, the N17ers falling short by a point (11-12) against Westport this weekend.

Luke O’Donnell

photos: Jonathan Curran/Sporting Occasions

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