Connacht Junior League Div 1A

By Clive Moore
BALLINA      39

Last weekend teams throughout the province set out in their quest for the Connacht Junior league title. Always a coveted prize this year the title has added value as the champions will earn automatic qualification to the All Ireland League which is the Holy Grail for all ambitious Junior Clubs in the country. Ballina made the long trek to Loughrea for their first league match and wasted no time in taking the game to their hosts. Early pressure from the Mayo men was rewarded when out half Ciaran Rouse kicked over a penalty when Loughrea infringed offside in desperate defence of their line. The 3-0 lead was stretched to 8-0 shortly afterwards when, following an excellent break from Stephen McCarron, quick ruck ball maintained the momentum of the attack and with good handling from both forwards and backs, the ball was spun out wide to flanker Conor Forde who crossed for the first try of the game. Ballina were very much in charge at this point, their set pieces were strong, winning their own lineout ball competently and having a definite advantage in the scrum, where the front row of Ciaran Melvin, Liam Lynch and Tom Tolan were on top. This produced a constant supply of ball for an eager and skilful backline which was a constant threat. The home side were still very competitive and contested particulary well at the breakdown. Loughrea’s number 8 Josh Hillas was an effective ball carrier, even from a retreating scrum, and centre David O’Loughlin was a very strong runner and the focus of much of the Galway mens attacking play. Ballina were playing against a strong wind and elected to move the ball wide at any opportunity, which was a tactic that promised to yield rewards given the pace and evasive skills of their backline, but when their execution was less than one hundred percent this gave the initiative to their opponents. It wasn’t long before Loughrea’s out half Michael Martyn punished a transgression in the ruck by Ballina with an excellently struck penalty to bring his side back into the game and shortly afterwards he scored a try when an attempted fly kick clearance following a handling error serendipitously ended up in his arms allowing him to run gratefully in under the posts. When he added the conversion the home side were in the lead 10-8 and growing in confidence. It was up to Ballina to respond and they did decisively and immediately, again after good rucking and quickly moving the ball wide, centre Chris O’Neill broke through and outpaced all for an excellent try. The conversion attempt was wide so the score was now 15-10 in Ballina’s favour and remained so until half time.

Ballina might have expected to push on in the second half but initially allowed Loughrea an opportunity to get right back into the game, losing possession in their twenty-two and conceding a kickable penalty which Michael Martyn uncharacteristically put wide. Had he got it the three points would have brought his side right back into the game, instead it was Ballina captain and scrum-half Michael Murphy, who made a break and showed great pace down the wing as he out-ran the home sides defence, scoring in the corner. The conversion attempt was wide so Ballina were 20-10 up and the game was slipping away from Loughrea. Ciaran Rouse was orchestrating play well at out half where he also put in a very brave defensive performance as he made an enormous amount of tackles. In fact apart from the one aberration in the first half the Ballina defence was rarely threatened and as the game proceeded they hardly conceded ground at all. Centres Chris O’Neill and David Newman proved to be a lethal attacking combination and full back Stephen McCarron was always in command at the back and a strong running counter attacking player going forward. Wings Francis Conroy and Nial O’Malley were difficult for Loughrea to deal with and Nial O’Malley was rewarded when he crossed for a try after a good build up by Ballina which saw the ball moved from wing to wing following good driving play and rucking from James O’Connor, Judd Ruane and Aidan McNulty in particular. The try earned Ballina the bonus point and when Stephen McCarron added the conversion Ballina’s lead was stretched to 27-10. Up front league debutant Liam Lynch was an effective contributor at hooker, always at the heart of the action and playing very well. Ballina used their subs throughout this period to give new impetus to their efforts, and introduced Rodney O’Donnell in the front row, second row Kieran Bourke and backrow Orrie Collins up front. In the backline Cory Brown came on at out half and Craig Culkin on the wing. Each player had an impact and before long Ballina scored again when Conor Forde crossed for his second try after a good driving play from the forwards followed by sure handling to put the flanker in again. McCarrons conversion brought the scoreline to 34-10, but there was more to come when another devastating run by Chris O’Neill saw him score the game’s final try. The conversion was missed so it was 39-10 to Ballina, whose defence couldn’t be breeched by Loughrea despite being reduced to fourteen men with a sin binning in the last minutes of the game. It was a satisfactory performance from Ballina and an away win in the first round of the league is a good result, but they will be aware that there is a lot to improve upon as they prepare for the game next Sunday with Monivea who are favourites to win the competition. It promises to be a tough and enthralling clash and Ballina will be expecting a large crowd in Creggs Road to witness this fascinating encounter which kicks off at 3pm.

BALLINA; Ciaran Melvin, Liam Lynch, Tom Tolan, Marc Healy, James O’Connor, Conor Forde, Judd Ruane, Aiden McNulty, Michael Murphy (C),  Ciaran Rouse, Niall O’Malley, Chris O’Neil, David Newman, Francis Conroy, Stephen McCarron, Rodney O’Donnell, Kieran Bourke,  Orrie Collins, Cory Brown, Craig Culkin, Michael Clarke.

LOUGHREA; Ronan Kilkenny, Daniel Barrett, Declan Larkin, Seamus Clancy, Colm Maher, William Cullinane, Artjons Sitars, Josh Hillas, Greg Glynn, Mike Martin, Mike Lennon, David O’Loughlin, Paul Wilson, Tony Keary, Rodney Cullinane, Michael Larkin, Ronan Kigran, Ray McMahon, Kieran Murray, Gerry Lyons.


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