Loughrea 6

Ballina    11

(In Ballygasty, Loughrea)

At times to win is enough and on other occasions the quality of the performance is equally important. After the high tempo game against league leaders Monivea last week it was not surprising that Ballina found it difficult to replicate that form. However if the North Mayo men were to stay in the race for the title after last week’s defeat it was very important that they bounced back with a win straight away. If you add into the mix the fact that Loughrea beat Ballina twice last year knocking them out of both Cup Competitions, and the fact that every side that played them this season has struggled to come to terms with the style of game which Loughrea play, as they have mastered an effective forward orientated game which makes them a very awkward side to take on once they have secured possession, it all made Ballina’s task more onerous as they travelled to the play the Galway side last Sunday.

 The performance in the first half in particular was certainly below par. Playing against the wind Ballina were slow to settle into the game. Their set pieces of scrum and lineout were decidedly shaky and the error rate all over the park was far too high. Michael Murphy, Jerome Harrimate, Orrie Collins and Aidan McNulty were notable for their attempts to take control of the game and show leadership but at times the performance was far to lack lustre and when Loughrea earned a penalty inside Ballina’s half when the visitors were penalised for handling the ball in a ruck 4 minutes into the game it had an air of inevitability about it. Out Half Conor O’Reagan stepped up for the Galway men and put over a well struck kick to give his side an early lead 3-0.

There was a sporadic stop start nature to the game and which did not make it easy viewing at times and no real pattern emerged as both sides struggled to build phases of play for sustained periods. Loughrea were using the wind and their familiarity with their home pitch well to keep Ballina pinned back in their own half. The next attempt to record something again on the scoreboard was again from Loughrea as O’Reagan attempted a drop goal which drifted away to the left and wide.

A half break by Jerome Harrimate exploited an advantage Ballina appeared to have in the middle of the field and some good carrying and support play by Orrie Collins and Phillip Timoney kept Ballina going forward and eventually a penalty was awarded to Ballina outside Loughrea’s 22 about a metre to the right of the posts. Michael Murphy’s attempted the kick but his effort went wide so the scoreline remained unchanged until a minute later when in an passage of play that was typical of the errors on the day following a knock on a Ballina player played the ball from an offside position and a penalty was conceded outside the visitors 22 to the left of the posts. It was within Conor O’Reagan’s range and he duly added the points stretching the home team’s lead to 6-0. Ballina did manage to put a few coherent phases of play together and exert some pressure on their opponents following good lineout ball and when Loughrea were penalised in a ruck inside their half Michael Murphy was unerring with his kick leaving the score 6-3. Ballina were now beginning to play some rugby and when they did so Loughrea were under pressure.

When Murphy gathered and counter attacked following an attempted clearing kick by the home side it began a passage of play that brought play right up to their opponent’s line culminating in Francis Conroy being held up in a maul over the try line unable to ground the ball. Loughrea survived and when their Full Back Darren Griffin (by far their most potent player in the backline) gathered a ball that had been kicked long by Ballina and scythed through Ballina’s rather porous defence culminating in a series of pick and drive plays on Ballina’s 22 it was again the visitors who were under pressure. Ballina were penalised for holding on to the ball in a ruck and later for a loose kick which was deemed dangerous and on both occasions the kick seemed well within the range of O’Reagan. Surprisingly and luckily for the visitors on each occasion his efforts went wide so when the half-time whistle sounded Ballina only trailed by 3 points 6-3.

In the second half Ballina began much better. They began to dictate the pace and retain possession. Loughrea were on the back foot when Conor Dever made an excellent break for Ballina gathering a ball kicked down the wing and counter attacking with purpose, evading several would be tacklers before setting up a ruck outside the 10 metre line in Loughrea’s half. Orrie Collins picked the ball sold a dummy and broke, deeper into the Galway men’s territory. He was able to link up with Jerome Harrimate who brought play up to within 5 metres of the tryline before eventually being penalised for holding on to the ball on the ground. Loughrea failed to find touch with the kick from the penalty and Conor Dever gathered the ball and passed to Andrew Moynihan.

The Ballina Out Half passed out to Michael Allen and eventually Winger Tyrone De Silva was put away and the powerful winger couldn’t be stopped from racing over the line for a good try. Michael Murphy was unable to add the conversion but Ballina now led for the first time 8-6. Ballina were now exerting more pressure in the scrums and were a little more consistent in the lineout but still had a propensity to yield unnecessary penalties which kept their opponents in the game. When penalised for not releasing ball in a ruck inside their half well within O’Reagan’s range it seemed that once again they would surrender their lead, but uncharacteristically the Loughrea man put the kick wide and Ballina remained ahead. With the wind now in their favor, and some wonderful tactical kicking from Conor Dever and Michael Murphy, the Mayo men were able to keep their opponents pinned inside their 22 for most of the rest of the game.

There was a couple of missed chances to add to the try tally, including one when Conor Dever was unfortunate not to link up with Tyrone De Silva as the Winger cut back inside. If he had done De Silva was surely in for another try, but the pass went astray. On another occasion substitute Winger Francesco Lo Bartolo was unable to hold onto a pass when Ballina were executing a 3 v 2 with the try line in the Italian’s sights and once again the chance went a begging. The pressure did yield two more penalty kick opportunities for Michael Murphy the second of which he was successful with stretching his sides lead to 11-6 just before the final whistle. Ballina will be happy with the result, an important one for them as they chase down Monivea in their quest for the league title, but when they examine the performance they won’t be happy and will look for a big improvement when they host Ulster side Donaghadee in Heffernan Park next Saturday for the first round of the All Ireland Junior Cup.

A very large and vocal home support is expected in what is expected to be a keenly contested encounter in an excellent Rugby competition.          

LOUGHREA; Darren Griffin, Niall Greaney, Rodney Cullinane, Michael Martyn, Mike Lennon, Conor O’Reagan, Greg Glynn, Pat Mullins, Daniel Barrett, Chris McDermott, Seamus Clancy, Aidan Duane, Keith Flanagan, Willie Cullinane, Josh Hillas, Willie Kelly, Michael Larkin, Paul Wilson, Danny Murray, Duma Ntsikelelo.

BALLINA; Conor Dever, Francis Conroy, Jerome Harrimate, Michael Allen, Andrew Moynihan, Michael Murphy (C), Ciaran Melvin, Richard Kelly, Paul Newell, Aidan McNulty, Stephen Dolan, Conor Mason, Orrie Collins, Phillip Timoney, John Keaveney, Mark Healy, Judd Ruane, Francesco Lo Bartolo, Robert Melody.


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