BALLINA         32
(In The Racecourse, Ballinrobe)
A determined and spirited, battling Ballinrobe side on a cold and windswept pitch at the racecourse grounds could not prevent Ballina progressing to the semi final of the Connacht Junior Cup last Sunday. It is great credit to both sides that they did not let the prevailing weather conditions prevent them from playing a very positive and entertaining game of rugby that featured many of the typical hall marks of a cup encounter. Ballina played with the strong gusting wind in the first half and as a result spent a lot of time in the Ballinrobe half. This advantage was mitigated by the difficulties in handling the ball in such strong windy conditions especially when Ballina threw the ball out wide as they frequently sought to do. A determined Ballinrobe defence were not going to relinquish a score easily and in the opening ten minutes Ballina’s best chance of an opening score was a penalty kick from Cory Brown which drifted narrowly wide. Thirteen minutes into the game Ballina got the opening score when Kieran Rouse touched down in the corner for a try. It came from a Ballina scrum in Ballinrobe’s 22. Aiden McNulty picked and drove to the right with the ball going all the way out to the wing where it was quickly recycled before being passed back along the line where Phillip Timoney and Aiden McNulty combined well again to keep the ball in play close to the left touchline. It was again swept wide with backs and forwards handling well culminating in second row Stephen Dolan generously passing to full back Kieran Rouse who touched down for the try. Cory Brown was unable to add the conversion so Ballina lead 5-0. Ballinrobe tried to carry the game to Ballina. With out half Stephen Rochford orchestrating his players, they carried the ball into Ballina’s half. Forwards David Harney and Martin Joyce were to the fore for the Robe siders, but ultimately Ballina’s well organised defence held firm, although Rochford did have a kick at goal during this period which was wide. In the set pieces both sides competed well in the lineouts which were reasonably well executed in very difficult conditions, but in the scrums Ballina had the upper hand. They home side was constantly under pressure and began to concede penalties. Ballina’s next score came when Ballinrobe were penalised for a crooked feed into their scrum outside their 22 and the visitors Captain and scrum half Michael Murphy took a quick tap penalty and attacked down the narrow side. From the ensuing ruck the ball was quickly moved wide and when the Ballinrobe defence afforded Ballina’s David Newman too much space the predatory centre couldn’t be prevented from crossing for a well taken try. Cory Brown did well to add the conversion which was the last score before half time. However Ballinrobe wasted no time eating into Ballina’s 12-0 lead in the second half. Taking advantage of the wind the home side gathered Ballina’s kick off and kicked long into Ballina’s half. Full back Kieran Rouse got isolated running the ball back and the swarming Ballinrobe forwards brought play into Ballina’s 22 where a penalty was eventually conceded. Stephen Rochford was unerring with his kick bringing the score to 12-3 and keeping his side very much in the game. It was nearly twenty minutes later before there was another score. Ballina had to keep the ball in hand playing against the wind, while Ballinrobe sensibly kicked the ball long into their opponents half at every opportunity. When they did winger Michael Clarke fielded the ball very well and counter attacked with strong running for Ballina as did Kieran Rouse. Eventually the breakthrough came. Ballinrobe were again penalised in the scrum and Aiden McNulty took a quick tap penalty and linked up with Michael Murphy and Cory Brown who put Francis Conroy away. The Ballina winger did well and linked up with Brown again who stepped saw a gap in the overstretched Ballinrobe defence and raced in to score his side’s third try. The conversion was missed so Ballina now lead 17-3. Shortly after this Ballina were reduced to ten men when a tackle by Phillip Timoney on Stephen Rochford was judged to be too high earning him ten minutes in the sin bin. The Ballinrobe out half recovered sufficiently well to put over the penalty kick reducing the deficit to 11 points 17-6. Despite being a man down Ballina now took control of the game as Ballinrobe found the tempo of the game played by the visitors hard to deal with and there was an inevitability to the next try which was claimed by centre Chris O’Neill following more excellent handling and strong running from backs and forwards, including number eight Aiden McNulty taking a good line off Cory Brown and making great inroads. The conversion wasn’t added so the score was now 22-6. Ballinrobe worked their way into Ballina’s 22 but with Ballina restored to 15 the visitors won a scrum against the head and when the ball was passed out to Chris O’Neill the fleet footed Kiwi ran the length of the field to score again in the corner. Cory Browns conversion attempt was narrowly wide so it was 27-6 and the final score came in the next play with Phillip Timoney powering up the middle of the field before linking up with his support. The ball was put through the hands before finding Niall O’Malley who had come on for Ballina on the wing. He wasn’t to be denied as he raced over for the game’s final score as the try was unconverted. The final whistle followed shortly afterwards finishing up 32-6 in Ballina’s favour. It was a very solid performance from Ballina in very testing conditions, and against competitive and spirited opposition. They have now earned themselves a place in the semi final of the Junior Cup as well as a Cawley Cup final appearance against Sligo. They are playing an entertaining brand of rugby and will be determined to work hard in the coming weeks so they can produce the performance that will earn them a place in the Junior Cup final, and ultimately to winning silverware this season. It’ll be a big ask but based on their performances so far it’s a very achievable goal.            
BALLINROBE; Marcin Mikolajewski, Chris McHugh, Brendan O’Toole, David Harney, Anthony Coleman, Martin Joyce, Shane Kelly, Patrick Moylette, Oisin Gill, Stephen Rochford, Dave Reilly, Robert Holian, Brian Lynskey, John Walsh, Trevor Nally, Damien Burke, John Flannery, Eamonn Cunningham, Patrick Guckian, David Nestor.
BALLINA; Ciaran Melvin, Rodney O’Donnell, Paul Newell, Stephen Dolan, Mark Healy, Connor Forde, Phillip Timoney, Aiden McNulty, Michael Murphy, Cory Brown, Michael Clarke, Chris O’Neill, David Newman, Francis Conroy, Kieran Rouse, Liam Lynch, James O’Connor, Kieran Bourke, Niall O’Malley, Craig Culkin.
REFFEREE; Joe Doyne.


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