A battling Ballinasloe side had to come from behind to take the spoils in this concluding round of the league at the Castle Grounds in Monivea on Sunday. In so doing they inflicted serious damage to the home side’s chances of taking the Div.1A title.

The scene had been clearly set; Monivea  were a point behind Connemara in the league table prior to going into battle. They needed all that they could muster from the game and then hope that they had done enough to take top spot from the Clifden based side. ‘Mona’ would have been fervently targeting a four try bonus point win to help them achieve their objective. Ballinasloe did not have the same lofty goal to aim for but were in pursuit of a win to bring the curtain down on what has been a decent league campaign for them and give themselves a major confidence boost for the remainder of the season.

In a closely contested game the high drama and excitement was really packed into the closing stages. With the home side leading 20-17 and having secured the bonus point by half time it looked like their target from the outset was about to be achieved. But they did not reckon for the steely determination and fighting spirit that has frequently bedecked Ballinasloe’s play throughout the season.

The locals had the winners under territorial pressure towards the end of the third quarter. While they were dominant in the scrum at this stage they just could not get any purchase out of a visitor’s defence that was fighting manfully to stay in the game. The Ballinasloe management then made a telling switch . They introduced big Mark Harrigan off the bench to take up a slot in the pack and the man suited the day. He gave real meaning to the term impact sub. The visitors forwards had received the tonic they needed and their scrum improved immeasurably. As the game moved into the final ten minutes they had the hosts in all sorts of bother inside their own 22. A huge Ballinasloe drive was just about held up on the Monivea line but illegally so according to the man with the whistle. The visitors opted for a scrum from the resultant penalty and were putting in a huge heave when it was collapsed. Play was held up for a number of minutes as the medical team attended to knocks to ‘Mona’ players in the scrum. Their front row must have been particularly affected because the upshot of it all was that with replacements on the field the game continued  for the final six minutes with uncontested scrums. Ballinasloe’s recently established ascendency in this facet of the game was now neutralised. However,they detected uncertainty in the Monivea ranks and drove on in the tight exchanges exerting all sorts of pressure on the hosts close to their own line. That likely Monivea win from earlier in the proceedings was  looking more precarious by the second and that opening swagger was now but a plod.  Then the inevitable came to pass. Yet another hulking Ballinasloe drive afforded prop, J.J.Carey, the chance to peel off with the ball. He had the presence of mind to attack their central defence, where they were a player down following a sin binning incident, and got in for the all important try without too much difficulty. It was  virtually the last action of the game as the missed conversion was only of academic interest.

This was nothing short of a nightmare finish for the locals. They had been unable to run down the clock and shut out the game. The bullish Ballinasloe side dictated matters at the business end of the contest and really Monivea did not have the answers when the hard questions were asked of them.

But it was all so different early on. Played in appalling weather conditions with a near gale force wind and driving rain, the hosts made an explosive start to proceedings and drove over the whitewash within minutes of the kick off. A repeat performance followed shortly afterwards and they were 10pts to the good after ten minutes. Both efforts were credited to their hooker, Padraig Mannion. Ross Keller’s long punting to touch took some of the early pressure off the visitors defence after that whirlwind opening and gave them a foothold in the Monivea half. They took advantage of this placement and with their back row of Robbie Wakefield, Kevin Gavin and Aidan Loughrey working overtime they turned their deficit into a 12-10 lead. Two push over tries courtesy of the aforementioned Gavin with the first one converted following a well struck kick from Keller had Ballinasloe back in the groove.

Each side’s fortunes chopped and changed as frequently as a child’s Santa’s wish list and just when Ballinasloe thought they were back on the horse they were struck with a double sucker punch. Monivea won a lineout inside the Ballinasloe 22 and carefully built the phases, moving infield, and when they had pulled in the visitors cover as they moved left, Calum Forde grabbed the opportunity to touch down for his side’s third try after 33 minutes. With the hosts moving 15- 12 ahead the pendulum had swung again and the locals were on the up. Minutes later that scoreline read 20-12 when they ran a ball from inside their own half for Shamie Fahy to take the final pass and dive over for their fourth try and that bonus point. Ross Keller was narrowly wide with a long distance penalty kick for the visitors on the stroke of half time.

It was looking good for Monivea at the break. They had played very well at stages, were 8pts to the good, had the bonus point in the bag and yet the feeling persisted that Ballinasloe had shown enough in those opening 40 minutes to suggest that they could yet upset the applecart.

The pitch began to churn up badly as the second period moved on.  Keeping things tight and stuffing that ball up the jersey was probably the best option in the prevailing conditions. Inside 55 minutes Ballinasloe clocked up their third try of the game following another monster drive with the scoring honours being claimed by Carey. Though Monivea held sway for the next twelve or thirteen minutes, a 20-17 lead was not a near enough comfortable cushion for them yet they did not look like creating another score during this period. There then followed that victorious Ballinasloe upsurge.

As it transpired, the Ballina-Connemara fixture was cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch and with Monivea now just a point ahead of the west Galway side in the table, the outcome of the re-fixture will be followed with greater interest than ever around the Castle Grounds.

BALLINASLOE: A.Mannion, Cian Loughrey, R.Cullinan, K.O’Neill, D.Burke, R.Keller, J.Kelly, J.J.Carey, A.O’Hara, T.Dolan, N.Staunton, K.Headd(capt.), R.Wakefield, K.Gavin, A.Loughrey. Replacements: D.Freeman, M.Harrigan, H.Reynolds, M.Tierney, C.Gormley.

Fresh from their winning of the league plate, Ballinasloe U18s pulled off a big cup win over Connemara at home on Saturday when winning by 43pts to 12. The first half was a real tit for tat affair with the sides level 12-12 at the break. The locals put in a strong second half performance to run out easy winners at the finish. They  face Corinthians next in the semi final at home on March 8th.

The U14s continued their rich vein of form when scoring a big league win over Castlebar at home on Wednesday evening last.

Liam Courtney , PRO Ballinasloe RFC.


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