Ballinasloe Slip Up

Ballinasloe  13-19 Westport

Now we all know, all the questions have been answered and a myriad of speculative outcomes as to what could be and ultimately what should have been are finally laid to rest. Ballinasloe’s eventual fourth place in Div1A is testimony to a season of hard work and rich endeavour from a wholly committed squad and dedicated management team.

Going into Sunday’s final league game the contrasting fortunes of the protagonists could hardly have been more stark. A positive outcome for Ballinasloe and a favourable result from the Monivea v OLBC fixture could have seen them into the AIL round robin series while Westport were haunted by the spectre of relegation to Div1B. The home side were in a comfortable position, the hard work already done. For the visitors it was eighty minutes to define their season. And each side’s approach to the contest reflected their standing.

Westport were definitely the hungrier team and their never let up attitude was just too much for the home side on a day where they never reached the intensity of their last three league matches (all away) when they pulled off three big wins. The tyres were a little flat on Sunday.

And so Westport opened in business like fashion where there was no waiting around. A big drive by the visitors in their first scrum of the afternoon saw the ball quickly whipped out to centre, Andrew McAleer, who drove forward at pace and beat two tackles before being taken down; it vividly illustrated his team’s intent for the day. Still it was Ballinasloe who posted the first score after eight minutes when Rodney Cullinan was fed the ball from a driving maul and he went in for a try, close  to the corner, that was not converted. Westport replied with a penalty two minutes later when Matt Dempsey landed a long distance kick. The visitors were beginning to take charge of affairs against a fitful home side and were unlucky to see flanker , David Keane, limp out of the action after a quarter of an hour to be replaced by Chris Ruane.

Ruaidhri Doolan was off target for the hosts with a thirty five metre penalty in the 20th minute but was kicking into a tricky wind. There was a noted improvement to Ballinasloe’s game as the second quarter progressed and the visitors were no longer having it all their own way. The locals went over for their second try in the 25th minute, mauling their way from a lineout inside their opponents 22 with the honours going to Kevin Gavin. Again the conversion did not hit the target. Just as after the first try the visitors responded with their second penalty two minutes later with Dempsey again doing the honours. Ballinasloe had their best spell in the ten minutes leading up to half time with Aidan Doorley to the fore. They were unfortunate not to score a third try before the break when, yet again, they mauled their way to the Westport try line but the referee spotted an infringement and awarded a penalty against them. Another try at that stage could have been decisive but it was not to be. The men from Mayo found themselves reaching the interval, having played the more structured rugby yet trailing 10-6. With the wind to their backs for the second period, Ballinasloe would have felt confident at the tea break.

Westport made a high octane opening to the second half, taking the game by the scruff of the neck. Though playing into a fresh breeze, they pinned their hosts inside their 22 forcing them to concede three penalties and a yellow card could not have been far away. They made this pressure period pay when Chris Ruane got over for a try but the conversion was kicked wide.

With the visitors upping the tempo and physicality stakes, Ballinasloe looked in trouble. Despite great fighting spirit they could not find a way through a strong and well drilled Westport defence. As the visitors held their line, the expected response from Ballinasloe was just not forthcoming. They brought  on three fresh players off the bench but their impact did not translate into scores.

In the 65th minute the home side were awarded a  kickable penalty that could have put them back into the lead but, surprisingly, opted to kick to the corner with no material return accruing. The sharpness of recent weeks was now noticeably missing.

Westport worked their way into the locals half in an effort to put the game to bed and when Dempsey landed a close in penalty he had his team 10-14 ahead. As the game entered the closing stages they went for the knock-out punch and when the alert McAleer spotted an opening he sliced his way through for a try and though the conversion was missed it was game, set and match to the visitors. Ruaidhri Doolan did eventually land a last minute penalty for Ballinasloe but their season had been long defined by that stage. Fourth place in the league and qualification for the All-ireland Junior Cup for next season; I think they will take that.

BALLINASLOE: D. Burke, J. Dillon, D. Freeman, R. Cullinan, Cian Loughrey,  R. Doolan,  R. Sheppard, K. Gavin, A. O’Hara(capt), T. Dolan, N. Staunton, K. Headd, A. Loughrey, J. Hayes, A. Doorley. Replacements: J.J. Carey, M. Harrigan, H. Reynolds, R. Wakefield, M.Tierney.

In other games over the week-end, the club’s second team lost out 14-11 to Corinthians in their league semi-final, away, on Friday night. Trailing by 14pts early on, it looked as if the city side would romp to victory but Ballinasloe steadied  the ship with Kealin O’Neill kicking a penalty before half time. He was on the mark again in the second half and a penalty and try left only 3pts between the sides as the game kicked on but the locals had enough in the tank to hold out.

BALLINASLOE:  A. MANNION, J. Carrig, D. Maguire, K. O’Neill,  N. Burns,  M. Tierney, R. Sheppard, G. Donnellan,   A. Wade, J. Curley,      T. Freeman, H. Reynolds,  K. Dolan, E. Clogher, A. McGrath,  Replacements:  A.  Moloney,  M. Harrigan,  P. McCormack,  D. Tierney,  A.  Naughton.

The U15s made the long trip to Ballina on Sunday and came away with a big 21pts to 7 victory in their cup quarter final. They led 14- 7 at the break thanks to two tries from Oisin Reilly and Kevin Manning, both converted by Jack Canning. The visitors forwards played a major part in this win with a big second half effort while Canning capped a fine all round display adding a try and conversion in that period.

Liam Courtney,  Club PRO. 

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