Heartache at the finish for Ballinasloe

BALLINA  22——-BALLINASLOE  21                                                                       

Sport is challenging, can be character building and yet so often beguiling that it can bring a team to its knees in seconds. Such was Ballinasloe’s experience in this first round Junior 1A league fixture at Heffernan Park on Sunday last. Leading by 21pts to 15 as the game moved inside the final minute, Ballinasloe cleared their line with a kick for touch. Had the ball gone dead then the game was over but it was held up in the fresh breeze and Ballina passed it infield in a last desperate attack. Their Australian centre, James Coppens, got possession only metres from the Ballinasloe line before touching down between the sticks and then adding the conversion for a last gasp home win. It was the only time in the eighty minutes that that Ballinasloe were in arrears. To lose by the narrowest and meanest of margins in the last second was certainly character building for this Ballinasloe side and one could understand their bewilderment at the end. Did not some famous coach once say that he only ever wanted to be one point ahead when he heard that shrill final whistle. Ballina would empathise with his sentiment, no doubt.    

Yet before that emotional sapping conclusion, both sides served up a hard tackling no nonsense game of rugby on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Ballina opened brightly and with a strong scrum had Ballinasloe on the back foot early on. However, the visitors registered the first points when Keelan O’Neill comfortably landed a forty metre penalty in the 8th minute. The locals equalised minutes later with a similar score from the boot of Andrew Moynihan before O’Neill restored the visitors lead with his second penalty. Ballina had a player yellow carded in the 18th minute and Ballinasloe took advantage when John Hayes sniped his way over for a try with the conversion being missed. Andrew Moynihan pulled three points back for the hosts with his second penalty of the afternoon to leave the score 6-11 in the visitors favour.   

Ballinasloe were improving as the half progressed. As they attacked the Ballina line the locals had a second player yellow carded, James Coppens being given a cooling off period for dragging down a Ballinasloe maul. This was the precursor to a penalty try for the visitors with O’Neill converting. Over elaborate passing on the half way line by Ballinasloe allowed the locals to intercept and when Conor Forde kicked hopefully ahead, Cian Loughrey did well to get back and avert the danger. The visitors took an 18-6 lead into the tea break.

Ballinasloe were the eager beavers in the opening exchanges of the second period with young Andrew Mannion growing in stature at fullback and Hayes together with Kevin Gavin driving the pack forward. A kick in behind the Ballina backs in the 50th minute caused consternation in their ranks but the ball beat both the on rushing Cian Loughrey and David Freeman to the dead ball line. O’Neill was narrowly wide with a penalty  effort after 55 minutes before the hosts posted  the first two scores of the second half when the impressive Coppens landed two penalties shortly afterwards. Both sides had their moments before O’Neill and Coppens traded further penalties. Ballinasloe’s James Dillon carried the can for his colleagues when he was the one singled out by the referee for a yellow card in the 73rd minute following a series of team indiscretions. Ballina would have been fully aware of his absence from the centre as the final drama unfolded.                                                           Ballinasloe Team: A.Mannion, D.Freeman, J.Dillon, R.Cullinan, Cian Loughrey, K.O’Neill, J.Kelly, J.J.Carey, K.Gavin, T.Dolan, N.Staunton, K.Headd, A.Loughrey, J.Hayes, R.Wakefield. Replacements: A.Wade, H.Reynolds, A.McGrath, M.Tierney, C.Johnston.                                                                          REFEREE: Jason Cairns, Connacht Branch                                                                                               

Ballinasloe have the opportunity to put this loss behind them when they take on Westport in round two of the league at home on Sunday next. Kick off at Graigueawoneen is at 2.30pm

Liam Courtney,                                                                                                                                                    PRO Ballinasloe RFC


Gallery: HT minis – Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Corinthians and Dunmore