Ballinasloe hit the ground running for the New Year with a convincing win over Ballyhaunis in this Heineken Junior Cup first round match away on Sunday.

While the locals would have entered the fray as favourites, Ballinasloe dominated the exchanges and were full value for their 9 point win. Indeed had they taken all of the try scoring opportunities that came their way they would have been looking for the road home long before the final whistle.

Both sides swapped early penalties to get the show on the road. First Fergal Kelly kicked over for the hosts with Kealan O’Neill returning the compliment on behalf of the visitors.

Ballinasloe’s hard working second row, Donal Fenton, departed the scene after only fifteen minutes with a knock to the shoulder to be replaced by Kevin Dolan.

The Galway side now began to dictate the contest on their own terms with the action taking place deep in the locals red zone. They lost out on an almost certain try when Conor Johnston, after some good approach work, hesitated in off loading to a colleague who had a clear run to the line, as the tackle came in. Minutes later Rory Doolan was disposessed on the try line.

As half time approached Ballinasloe eventually crossed for an overdue try when Robert Ahern finished off a neat passing movement to leave the score 3pts to 8 at the interval.

Early in the second half Ballinasloe’s  Niall Staunton made a valuable nuisance of himself by forcing the hosts to concede a penalty under their own posts with O’Neill obliging to bring the score to 3pts to 11. He repeated the dose shortly afterwards as the visitors were creating all sorts of problems for the home side.

Ballyhaunis did get a lucky break in the fifty fifth minute when No.8, Finbar Crawley, took an intercept from his own line deep into the opposition’s twenty two where he was caught by the fast covering Conor Johnston. However, the ball broke kindly for the supporting Mantas Smirnovas to touch down for a try with the conversion flashing across the posts. Only 6pts now separated the sides.

Despite this set back Ballinasloe attacked at every opportunity. With John Hayes enjoying himself at No.8 and David Freeman making some strong charges in the centre, one felt some more tries were on the offing but a combination of over exuberance and last ditch defence by the home side kept the try fest on hold for another day at least.

Ballyhaunis were game to the end and they strung together a fine passing move, initiated by the lively Kieran McDermott, in the closing stages only for a knock on to let them down as they approached the visitors line. In a way it summed up their day.

Ballinasloe finished strongly and O’Neill completed a fruitful place kicking afternoon when he landed his fourth penalty. The locals had a player yellow carded for a minor misdemeanour in the last minute but it was not really that kind of a game at all.

The winners are away to Westport in the second round on Sunday next and the division 1A side will be a formidable outfit on their own patch.

BALLINASLOE: M.Tierney, R.Ahern, D.Freeman, C.Johnston, R.Doolan, K.O’Neill, C.Loughrey, J.J. Carey,  A.O’Hara(capt), T.Dolan, D.Fenton, N.Staunton, H.Reynolds, J.Hayes, A.Doorley. Replacements: G.Donellan, A.Wade, K.Dolan(used), A.Loughrey(used), B.Brophy, M.Gibbons.

Ballinasloe’s U15s were also in action at the week-end when they took on a Galweigans selection in a home league fixture. After some strong performances already in the campaign they were unfortunate to go down by 22pts to 7. They led at the break by 7pts to 5 but ‘Weigan tries early in the second half took the wind out of their sails and they found it hard to make any late headway against a well drilled opposition.

LIAM COURTNEY                                                                                                                                                  PRO BALLINASLOE RFC.


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