WESTPORT 13
BALLINA     32
(In Carrowholly, Westport)
Ballina travelled to Westport to renew the rivalry between these Mayo sides last in an important league fixture last Sunday. It was a keenly contested and very entertaining game with the result in doubt right up to the final five minutes of the game, when remarkably Ballina pulled away from desperate defence on their line to score two tries and secure a bonus point win. The early pressure from Ballina lead to a penalty which gave them the opportunity to get the first points on the board, but Out Half Cory Brown’s kick drifted wide of the posts. Within two minutes of this miss however Ballina did score. The Moysiders winger Niall O’Malley did well to keep the ball in play when Westport attempted to kick a penalty into touch for a lineout. The ball was kept alive and ran back with some good interplay between backs and forwards and quickly recycled ruck ball gave young winger Francis Conroy the chance to put Prop forward Ciaran Melvin away on a storming run down the wing which ended only when he was tackled just short of the try line. Wing forward Conor Forde was in close attendance and his support play was rewarded when he grabbed the ball and dived over the line to score a try. Cory Brown put over the difficult conversion and Ballina lead 7-0. Westport responded immediately and from the restart they established themselves in Ballina’s half. They were able to hold on to possession and go through the phases until eventually Ballina yielded a penalty after straying offside from a ruck. Westport Out Half Lyndon Jones stepped up and put over a well struck kick to record his team’s first points, bringing the score to 7-3. Westport remained on top during this period and soon they were in Ballina’s half again when they had some excellent driving forward play with Michael O’Brien and Peter Corcoran to the fore carrying the ball. Lyndon Jones put in a neat kick over the top and the chasing players from Westport lead by Winger Joey Corcoran had Ballina Full Back Stephen McCarron under pressure close to his line. Eventually Westport regained possession which allowed the opportunistic Centre Danny O’Toole to touch down for a good try. Jones was unerring with the conversion so his side lead 10-7. During this period Ballina’s error rate was their undoing and soon had conceded another penalty which was in Jones range, again for offside, but this time his kick drifted wide. When Ballina did handle without error they looked very threatening. They were also faultless and even superior in the set pieces of the scrum and lineout, but too often they took the ball into contact and attempted off loads that weren’t on which resulted in the ball been spilled and their attacking play breaking down. When they set up quick ruck ball in the contact situation or better still passed the ball early before the contact they made great inroads and looked threatening. They managed to work their way into Westport’s half and earned another penalty kick opportunity for Cory Brown when desperate defence from the home side saw them penalised for straying offside at a ruck. Brown was wide with this attempt but within five minutes had another chance after similar play from Ballina and a similar infringement from Westport. A good kick from Brown levelled the score 10-10, but remarkably Ballina gave Westport the chance to regain the lead in the next passage of play through similar defensive indiscipline. Lyndon Jones put the kick over bringing the score line to 13-10 in Westport’s favour. Ballina did now seize the game by the scruff of the neck and upped their effort in attack. They increased the intensity and the tempo of the game and with strong running from Chris O’Neill, David Newman and Niall O’Malley in the backline and some charging runs from Tom Tolan, Phillip Rowe and Phillip Timoney up front they had Westport stretched defensively. With the visitors putting together the phases and bringing play right up to the Westport line the home side’s attempt to slow down the ball being recycled by Ballina in the rucks eventually incurred the wrath of Refferee Joe Doyne. Not only were Ballina awarded a penalty but Westport had a player sin binned. Ballina opted to run the ball even though it was within kickable range but play broke down close to Westport’s line with a knock on and the half time whistle sounded with the home side still leading. After the restart Ballina again opened the scoring. Again Francis Conroy was at the heart of the action when the young Ballina man gathered an attempted clearance by Westport and combined well with David Newman before drawing the final covering defender and putting Centre Chris O’Neill away who outpaced the scramble defence of Westport to score a try which Cory Brown converted. This gave Ballina a 17-13 lead. They had a chance to stretch this lead when further pressure from the visitors forced another kickable penalty from Westport, but Cory Brown’s effort just drifted wide. Soon he had another opportunity from similar circumstances and this time his kick from the right of the posts bisected the uprights perfectly to stretch the lead to 20-13. Ballina were now totally dominant in the lineouts with good throwing by first Rodney O’Donnell and then Ciaran Melvin finding their target every time. On Westport’s throw Phillip Timoney and William O’Connor challenged very successfully and the home team rarely had clean possession and very often the ball was turned over. Ballina captain Michael Murphy directed play well and ensured Cory Brown had good fast ball to set his backline in motion. The Covies did fight their way back into the game gradually, largely as the result of indiscipline from Ballina and again drove hard at their opponents up front. Ballina’s tackling was resolute and effective until Phillip Timoney was judged to have “dump” tackled an opponent and was sin binned. Ballina were suddenly under pressure as Westport kicked the ball to touch five metres from the Ballina line and from their launched wave after wave of attack. As the clock wound down into the final ten minutes Westport were camped on the Ballina line but the visitors refused to let them cross. With forwards and backs taking turns to make the tackles around the fringe of the rucks it was a period of resolute and remarkably brave and disciplined defending from Ballina. Westport got the ball to literally inches of the tryline but they were thwarted time after time by Ballina who eventually forced an error leading to a lineout from which Mark Healy did well to gather possession and drive forward. Subsequently Ballina cleared their lines with a kick down field. Westport knocked on in their attempt to field the ball and in the ensuing scrum conceded an indirect penalty which Cory Brown took and launched a huge Garryowen. Westport failed to gather the ball and Chris O’Neill raced onto the bouncing ball and stormed over to score under the post. Cory Brown added the conversion leaving the score 27-13, but Westport’s heads were down now and it was to get worse. From the restart William O’Connor gathered well and Ballina launched an attack which brought them right up to the Westport line. It looked ominous for the Covies as the visitors were restored to fifteen by the end of Timoney’s sin bin, and had a scrum under the Westport’s posts. Almost inevitably Ballina executed a pre-rehearsed backline move which lead to Full Back Stephen McCarron racing over and touching down for a try which secured the bonus point. Cory Brown was unable to add the conversion, but the final whistle sounded for an end to the game immediately after his attempt. It was a very dramatic conclusion to an excellent game. If Westport had crossed the line in the final five minutes they could have perhaps drawn the game 20-20 or gone on to do even better, but in a game defining defensive display Ballina’s determination and sheer bloody mindedness not only secured the victory but earned a bonus point which didn’t seem possible when the game entered its final phase. It was encouraging to note the progressive displays of players such as Francis Conroy, Kieran Bourke, Liam Lynch and Stephen Dolan who all made impressive contributions to their sides efforts. These players continue to develop and it bodes well for Ballina’s future. Next week the league continues as Ballina host Corrib in Heffernan Park their first home match this year. A good crowd of home support is expected for the 2.30 K.O. and if they witness as entertaining a match as those who travelled to Westport, they’ll be very happy indeed.

WESTPORT; Michael O’Brien, Chris Dyar, Pat Conway, Nick O’Neil, Fintan Morahan, David Keane, David Heraty, Peter Corcoran, Tommy Ellard, Lyndon Jones, Joey Corcoran, Owen Joyce, Danny O’Toole, Jody Gavin, Ryan Cafferkey, Martin Kennedy, Ciaran Jennings, Niall O’Malley, Mark Gillian, Marek Nalamanczvh.
BALLINA; Ciaran Melvin, Rodney O’Donnell, Tom Tolan, Kieran Bourke, William O’Connor, Connor Forde, Phillip Timoney, Phillip Rowe, Michael Murphy (C), Cory Brown, Niall O’Malley, Chris O’Neill, David Newman, Francis Conroy, Stephen McCarron, Mark Healy, Liam Lynch, Stephen Dolan, Kevin McCarron, Kieran Rouse.
REFFEREE; Joe Doyne.

Picture: Corraine Beattie Photography

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