BALLINA 15
O.L.B.C.    10
(In The Sportsground, Galway)
When conditions thawed enough to allow this match to go ahead last Sunday it was the Mayo side’s supporters who walked away with something to warm their hearts after the referee blew the final whistle. The match could not have been set up better, prior to last Sunday O.L.B.C. were just ahead of Ballina in the league (although the Mayo men had a match in hand) and the outcome of this match would determine which of these two sides was going to carry ambitions to win the league into the new year. Like teams all over Connacht, both sides found the recent inclement weather has made training and preparations for this game very difficult. The questions posed were which team was going to cope best? Which would be least affected by the enforced break in match practice? Who was going to have the belief, ability and determination to come out on top? Although pushed to the edge it was the visitors who came up with all the right answers when after trailing behind 10-3 for most of the game they drew level and pushed ahead in the last five minutes of the match to achieve one of their most satisfying and significant victories of recent seasons.
It was however O.L.B.C. who took the lead and lead for most of the game. The home side seemed to settle quicker, perhaps not surprisingly, into the rhythm of the game. Initially the penalty count against Ballina, particularly at the breakdown, was much greater. Eventually they conceded a penalty for coming in from the side of a ruck which was in Boys Club scrum half Greg Faherty’s range. The home side’s number 9 sent over a well struck kick which put his team into the lead 3-0. Up front there was a certain amount of parity between the sides, neither pack were over convincing in the lineout, while Ballina seemed to have a slight edge in the scrum. At the breakdown Boy’s Club excellent wing forward Derek Glennon made continuity hard work for Ballina, and proved to be a formidable force going forward himself when in possession, but Ballina’s back row of Phillip Lewis, Phillip Rowe and Aiden McNulty were equally impressive as a unit and individually, with Lewis perhaps just shading a man of the match performance ahead of his colleagues. When Ballina put the ball wide they always seemed threatening and only a tenacious and determined defence and managed to keep them at bay. The pressure did eventually yield a penalty which Ballina’s out half Cory Brown attempted to put over to draw the sides level, but his effort drifted wide.
Ballina were still conceding too many penalties and their indiscipline became most costly when wing forward Phillip Rowe (who had been a constant threat to O.L.B.C., getting behind their defence on more than one occasion) was sin binned. The home team took full advantage of their numeric advantage when Ballina failed to secure the ball in a scrum close to their try line. When the ball popped out the side of the scrum lively scrum half  Faherty reacted first and fed number 8 John Mullen who powered over for an excellent opportunistic try. Faherty added the conversion stretching the Galway City men’s lead to 10-0.
The visitors didn’t panic however and good leadership was shown by half backs Michael Murphy and Cory Brown who nursed their side back into the game through judicious kicking out of hand but also by moving the ball wide at every opportunity where centres Chris O’Neill and David Newman continued to threaten, as did the back three of Niall O’Malley, Michael Clarke and Stephen McCarron. A well placed kick from David Newman earned his side a lineout in Boy’s Club 22, and in the subsequent passage of play Ballina (now restored to 15 with the reintroduction of Rowe) secured possession and moved it wide where the home team were forced to concede a penalty in a ruck. Cory Brown put over the kick opening Ballina’s account and bringing the score to 10-3 which remained the scoreline when the referee blew the half time whistle five minutes later.
If Ballina finished the first half working their way back into the game, O.L.B.C. started the second determined to stretch their lead. A lack of concentration at scrum time by Ballina facilitated this and with Boy’s Club taking advantage, they eventually had a penalty within scrum half Greg Faherty’s range again, but this time his effort drifted wide.
Ballina knew that the more they kept the ball in hand the more pressure they were able to exert on the home side and with the tireless Tom Tolan and Ciaran Melvin carrying the ball forward to good effect and Phillip Rowe and Phillip Lewis providing the continuity Ballina began to secure some good “go forward” ball for their backline. Kieran Bourke came on in the second row and provided a new dimension to the visitor’s lineout where William O’Connor was constantly competitive on the oppositions throw. Also on in the second half was Francis Conroy who also proved elusive and enthusiastic on the wing.
As the pressure mounted on the home team they conceded a penalty which Cory Brown kicked narrowly wide, but soon the breakthrough was deservedly achieved by the mayo men. They kept the ball in hand and recycled it again and again, getting closer and closer to the O.L.B.C. with Chris O’Neill, David Newman and Stephen McCarron all making inroads. Eventually Chris O’Neill crossed the line out wide and touched the ball down for a very good try with five minutes left in the game. Boy’s Club compounded their problems by taking their frustrations out on the touch judge and having a player sin binned. Cory Brown showed great composure and no little ability to put over the most difficult of the day when he added the conversion from close to the touchline. This levelled the scores 10-10, and as a result of O.L.B.C.’s indiscipline Ballina had the luxury of a penalty from the half way line to restart the game. Stephen McCarron stepped up to attempt the long range kick to give Ballina the lead but his effort fell short. Ballina were relentless in their pressure however and soon Cory Brown had another penalty kick this time following the reckless use of an elbow on Michael Murphy as he chased up after a Garryowen. Brown missed the kick but Boy’s Club were reduced to 13 men as that indiscipline resulted in another yellow card. Already creaking defensively before this it seemed unlikely that the home side would keep Ballina out now and like a predator with the scent of blood Ballina stretched the home defence first one way and then the other, bringing play right up to the line before Cory Brown reversed a pass back into David Newman who side stepped and powered forward for the match winning try. The conversion was missed and bravely Boy’s Club finished up in the Ballina half trying to battle back but Ballina secured possession and from a scrum kicked the ball dead prompting the referee to sound the final whistle. It was a very satisfying win for Ballina, one which speaks volumes of the psychological strength of the side. They were certainly abetted by the self destructive nature of O.L.B.C. in the last five minutes of the game but this was largely down to the pressure being exerted by Ballina, who showed commitment and belief in their ability to play the game with the ball in hand and secure scores when they most needed to. Next Sunday they travel away to Portumna in the Cawley Cup, a game which will present new challenges to Ballina, and there is much to work on after what was far from a flawless game, but provided they maintain their commitment and self belief they have the ability to meet these challenges.        

BALLINA: Ciaran Melvin, Paul Newell, Tom Tolan, Mark Healy, William O’Connor, Phillip Rowe, Phillip Lewis, Aidan McNulty, Michael Murphy (C), Cory Brown, Niall O’Malley, Chris O’Neill, David Newman, Michael Clarke, Stephen McCarron, Rodney O’Donnell, Kieran Bourke, Liam Lynch, Francis Conroy, Cian Mullarkey, John Keaveney, David Brunker, Phillip Timoney.
O.L.B.C. : Mike Bourke, Liam Curran, Doran McHugh, David Hansbury, Jarvis Moran, Derek Glennon, Paul Walshe, John Mullen, Greg Faherty, John McDonagh, Donagh O’Sullivan, Noel Farragher, Dave Reilly, Eamonn Dowling, Shane Connors, Pakie Curran, Rob Lennon, Stephen Casserly, Killian O’Brien, David Gaul.
REFFEREE: S. Rogan.
Picture: Corinne Beattie Photography
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