Ballinasloe left it late before coming from behind to overtake Ballina in a tense struggle for the points at Graigueawoneen on Sunday. On a day borrowed from high summer, both sides went about their business in keeping with the benign climatic conditions and the early exchanges were played out at a sedate pace.
Following an even enough opening, Ballinasloe had an opportunity to take the lead in the 8th minute but Ross Keller was just short with a long distance penalty that was from about the limit of his range. The locals pressed on and were languidly dominating territory but a direct run by Chris O’Neill, the lively Ballina centre, threatened the home defence when a knock on ended his ambitions. The visitors now became more active around the locals 22 and not surprisingly opened the scoring in the 28th minute when Mickey Murphy slotted a penalty.
The hosts were not helping their cause working with slow ball from rucks and trying to attack from static positions. Thus the opposition, playing well within themselves, were able to pick off the ball carriers at ease. The home side were further handicapped when their prop, Tommy Dolan, was yellow carded for interfering with Ballina taking a quick penalty shortly before half time. A single penalty on the scoreboard just about summed up the first half inertia as the half time whistle sounded.
A few fresh oranges, an insightful review of proceedings, an inspiring pep talk or whatever else occupies that half time break so often works the oracle. And so it did on Sunday. The home side emerged a rejuvenated outfit on the turnover. There was a greater urgency in their approach and dynamism in their play.
Ballinasloe were on level terms six minutes into the new period with a Keller penalty and just as they were about to get operations really moving they received their second yellow card; Conor Johnston was deemed to have been late with a tackle though he did appear to be committed to it as his opponent put the ball into the sky. The visitors were unfortunate to lose their flanker, Andrew Rynne, who was forced to limp out of the action. The hosts increased energy levels were now having the desired effect and a blistering fifty metre run by Andrew Mannion right through the middle of the field, evading a few bemused tacklers, was a real rallying call to his colleagues and Ballina were forced to defend resolutely in their own half. There was greater pace to the game as both sides now seemed to realise that there were vital league points at stake.
Some accurate punting by Murphy brought his side within striking distance of the local’s line and the same player took advantage of their territorial gain to land two well struck penalties and edge Ballina 9-3 ahead.
With Niall Staunton playing a leading role in the forwards and John Hayes prompting as ever, Ballinasloe were still in the mix but it would take something special to crack the Mayo side. And it arrived inside the final ten minutes. Young outhalf, Sean Horan, put in a delicate chip that had the Ballina backs floundering and he ran on at pace to gather the ball smartly and touch down by the posts for a well worked try. Keller added the conversion to leave only a point between the teams and time running out. The closing plays were tense and Ballinasloe missed a late penalty kick that would have given them some breathing space. BALLINASLOE: A.Mannion, S.Tierney, R.Keller, R.Cullinan, C.Johnston, S.Horan, Conor Loughrey, J.J. Carey, G.Donnellan, T.Dolan, N.Staunton, M.Harrigan, R.Wakefield, K.Headd, (capt.), J.Hayes. Replacements on the day: J.Curley, D.Tierney, H.Reynolds, S.Parker.
Ballinasloe U18s took on Galweigans in a home league game on Saturday morning and though understrength put in a battling performance before losing out at the finish.
Ballinasloe are away to Westport in the J1A league next Sunday. Kick off at 2.30 pm.


Gallery: University of Galway hosts Kay Bowen Cup