Ballyclare hold out against strong challenge from Enniskillen
Following last week’s home victory against one of the previous seasons promoted sides Carrickfergus, Enniskillen, also promoted from Championship 2 last season, visited the Cloughan. Ballyclare had been edged out in a close encounter 13-6, on 17th December in Fermanagh, another competitive game was expected.
Prior to kick off, Enniskillen President Norman Richmond and his travelling party were entertained in the clubhouse at a pre match reception sponsored by local estate agents Country Estates. Many thanks to Ronnie Simpson for his continued support. The match ball was sponsored by long-time friend of the club Councillor Jim Bingham. The man of the match award was sponsored by the clubs Youth Convener, John Wallace (FGFM).
What a difference a week makes in Northern Ireland weather! Last weeks near perfect conditions were replaced by persistent rain. On a pitch that had been covered in snow for a couple of days left conditions underfoot sticky and wet.
Ballyclare started the game with one enforced change in the front row, debutant Neil Kirk replaced injured Dean Jones, at loose head. Michael Rainey taking a spot on the bench was the only other change to the match day squad.
Early exchanges in the game were evenly contested. With 10 minutes on the clock, Ballyclare were awarded a scrum, just inside their own half, around the middle of the park. A strong shunt from Ballyclare sealed possession of the ball, scrum half Tommy Holland spread the ball left. Michael Kirk received a pass on the left wing and progressed play deep into Enniskillen territory. Kirk off loaded to the supporting Niall Lawther who ran in to score in the left corner from the 22m line. Robert Smith added the difficult conversion.
Enniskillen responded with some determined attacking play of their own, Ballyclare’s defence worked hard to keep their incursions into the home 22m at a minimum. Enniskillen had two penalty attempts at goal, both in front of posts from distance missed in the first period. The Ballyclare scrum was much more effective than last week and lineouts on own throw operated well. The referee’s interpretation of the new contact with the head laws saw Ballyclare loose two players in quick succession towards the end of the first period. Neil Kirk was first to the bin when the referee deemed his clear out at a ruck to be illegal. Robert Boyd saw yellow a couple of minutes later when his arm, which caught a ducking Enniskillen player in the middle of his back, rode up towards the Enniskillen players head. The referee showed no hesitation going to his pocket as punishment for the accidental offence. The remaining 13 Ballyclare players showed great determination and character to keep Enniskillen from scoring during their period of numerical supremacy. Neil Kirk returned to action just before the half time whistle. Ballyclare still up 7-0.
When back up to 15, Ballyclare enjoyed a period of possession in the Enniskillen but could not find a way through to increase the score line. The driving rain perhaps accounting for the odd ball slipping from hand at important times. Enniskillen progressed towards Ballyclare’s line on numerous occasions in the second period but again the defensive patterns of Ballyclare held strong. Midway through the half Enniskillen were awarded a penalty in front of posts about 10m out which they converted to pull 3 points back. 7-3.
The close score line contributed to an exciting finish to the game. At the final whistle Ballyclare celebrated the hard fought victory as both cold, wet, tired squads headed to the warmth of the showers. Neil Kirk was awarded Man of the match in recognition for his all-round effort and contribution to containing what is recognised as one of the strongest scrummaging teams in the league. Another excellent team performance which consolidated Ballyclare’s position in the top 4.
Ballyclare travel to play Dromore next week, Ards visit the Cloughan on 28th Jan.
Ballyclare 1-15; N Kirk, C Smith, A Boyd, R Boyd, G Bartley, R Tweed, G Weatherup, J McKinstry, T Holland, R Smith, M Kirk, D Clarke, R Reid, S Cusick, N Lawther.
Replacements; W Logan, M Rainey.
Also playing at home on Saturday, the 2nd XV entertaining AIL side, Queens University 2nd XV. The 2’s, comprehensively defeated at the Dub in December, put in a much improved performance. Tries scored by Matthew Coulter, William Stevenson and Colin Morrow as well as 2 conversions and a penalty by Gareth Byers, wasn’t enough, as they were edged out, 26-22.
The 3’s recorded a good win at home against Lurgan 2’s, 24-3.
The 4’s encountered their first defeat of the season in a close game away to CIYMS 3’s, 14-7.