Ballina 23-22 Corinthians
An outstanding encounter between two very evenly-matched teams went Ballina’s way at the Sportsground as the Mayo club claimed the Connacht U18.5 Cup on Sunday.
The victory owed much to the boot of Craig McCormack and it took an outstanding team effort to deny a very talented Corinthians outfit.
Ballina were playing all of the rugby early on and led 3-0 thanks to a McCormack penalty on 10 minutes.
Eoin Pritchett then produced a moment of magic as he received the ball on the left flank and went on the outside before dinking a grubber kick in behind and touching down for a magnificent score. McCormack landed the conversion and Ballina led 10-0 after 14 minutes.
Corinthians finally gained a foothold near the 20-minute mark and enjoyed a spell in the Ballina half but the Mayo men were soon back on the front foot after some excellent work at the breakdown.
Full-back Bradley Nealon then made a super break down the left wing for Ballina but his offload didn’t go to hands and Corinthians were able to clear.
The Galway side got off the mark just before half-time as they forced a penalty and chose the sensible option with Declan Gill kicking his side’s first points to make it 10-3.
A big carry from Cian Huxford from the restart saw Corinthians end the half on the front foot but trailing by seven points.
A superb break from prop Brian Boland saw Ballina move into the Corinthians half shortly after the interval but McCormack saw his penalty drift left and wide.
Nealon then thought he had crossed for Ballina’s second try after a break down the left but a foot in touch was well spotted by the touch judge and Corinthians were off the hook.
A yellow card for Dylan Tierney after a high tackle saw Corinthians reduced to 14 with a second McCormack penalty moving Ballina 10 in front.
14-man Corinthians battled back brilliantly and when Jack Whyte kicked a penalty into the corner, Huxford emerged with an excellent score a the flanker was driven over the line by his team-mates.
Gill landed the conversion and the game was back in the balance at 13-10 with Corinthians soon back to their full complement as Tierney returned.
Ballina responded like true champions as Billy McVann grabbed an intercept try after a superb piece of anticipation with McCormack’s conversion making it 20-10.
The impressive Garry Columb was the architect of Corinthians’ next score as his weaved his way through the defence on the left before being stopped just short with Ciaran Wheldon sniping over from close range to reduce the gap to just five.
McCormack, who was outstanding throughout, kicked the crucial score as the game entered the final five minutes as he nervelessly slotted a penalty from the left as Ballina moved eight in front.
Corinthians battled until the last and Harry Donnelly crossed in the last play with Gill landing the conversion but there was no time remaining as Ballina secured the win by the narrowest of margins.
Ballina: Bradley Nealon; Oisin Smith Rouse, Ian West, Connor Bowse, Eoin Pritchett; Conor McCormack, Niall Keane (C); Shane Herbert, Billy McVann, Brian Boland; Stephen Gibbons, Ian Kearney; Neal Moylett, Luke Sweeney, Patrick Howley.
Replacements: Nathan Herbert, Chris Healy, Niall Carden, Sean Tracey, Javier Beldarrain, Michael Cribben, Daragh Murray, Luke Gilmartin, Jack Maughan, Finn Stephens, Davis Purins, Ryan Donellan Hegarty, Michael Collins, William Stephens.
Corinthians: Ciaran Wheldon; Gary Collumb, Harry Donnelly, Declan Gill, Rian Heaney; Dylan Tierney, Jack Whyte; Ronan Ipek, Jake Gallagher, Lorcan Roche; Aodhfinn Broderick, Dara Nee; Cian Huxford (C), Jack Nevin, Maitias O'Griofa.
Replacements: Niall Carney, Sean Maughan, Aonghus Devane, Tiernan Dowd, Macdara O'Duibhir, Oisin O'Flatharta, Ben Lavelle.