Ballyclare shine in Limerick.
Saturday saw Ballyclare travel to Limerick to play in the prestigious Ulster Bank All Ireland Junior Cup for the first time in the competitions history. Richmond RFC, who have played in the All Ireland League in recent seasons, were the opposition. A panel of 20 Ballyclare players travelled to Limerick on Friday evening to allow maximum preparation. Ballyclare supporters arrived at Canal Bank, the home of Richmond, as the teams commenced their warm-ups. The task at hand appeared to be quite daunting. The Richmond team were huge, perhaps the physically biggest side a Ballyclare team has ever faced. Each Richmond player had several stone weight and inches height advantage over their Ballyclare counterparts. It was set up to be a real “beauty and the beast” encounter.
The match kicked off in warm autumnal sunshine with Ballyclare defending against a stiff diagonal, left to right breeze. The pitch was quite small in comparison to pitches played on in the Ulster Championship. Ballyclare went behind to a penalty after getting caught off-side at a ruck within the first five minutes. Ballyclare scored the first of four well taken trys five minutes later. Fast recycling at the breakdown and quick distribution of the ball saw Willie Logan carry the ball towards the Richmond line. Passing right, Logan found James Greer with the pass, who quickly shifted the ball to No. 8 on the day, Jordan McKinstry who touched down in the right hand corner. Robbie Reid pushed the conversion against the wind, just wide. 3-5
Richmond were successful with one of two penalty attempts soon after to take the lead again. A break by Stewart Cusick showed great promise but the ball was knocked on by the pass receiver and was kicked to safety by Richmond. The heavy Richmond forwards dominant in the scrums in the early part of the match were being kept at bay in the loose by some determined Ballyclare defence. Richmond tactics seemed content to force their way into the Ballyclare half and kick at goal on the small pitch. Another attempt at goal just outside the Ballyclare 10m fell short.
A positional kick to touch from Reid took play to the Richmond 22m line. A superb take on the Richmond throw at two by Ryan Tweed, set the Ballyclare backs away again. Cusick broke through the Richmond defence, making ground and passing to his centre partner Clarke, who thundered over the line, just to the right of the posts. Reid added the conversion. 6-12
A kick downfield, behind the Richmond defence was chased by Michael Kirk, the Richmond winger held the ball desperately on the ground, waiting for backup as Kirk tried to retrieve it. The referee awarded Ballyclare the penalty, converted by Reid as half time approached. 6-15
Richmond pulled a converted try back before the break when missed tackles allowed their left wing to cross the Ballyclare line. 13-15
In the attrition of the first half, knocks to Jordan McKinstry and Dean Jones saw them replaced by Ross Johnston and Craig Smith respectively. Ballyclare ran the ball superbly early in the second half. Clarke powered up the pitch finding full back Holmes with his pass. Holmes passed inside to James Greer who rounded the posts to touchdown for an easier conversion. Reid knocked the conversion over to give Ballyclare a bit of day light and a 13-22 lead.
As the game entered the final quarter, a missed penalty attempt by both sides set the game up for a nervy ending. The home side worked their way deep into Ballyclare territory through a series of penalty kicks to touch and nearly broke free in the middle of the field but missed the opportunity to close the gap when the ball was knocked on. Moments later Richmond were awarded another penalty, Ballyclare offside at the ruck, in front of the Clare posts. This was converted leaving Richmond within touching distance of a converted try to win as the clock ticked down. 16-22
Michael Kirk finished another Ballyclare attack in the dying minutes, punching the air in celebration as he ran in from the left wing to score behind the posts. Reid’s final conversion sealed an excellent win and all round team performance. 16-29
A wonderful 4 tries to 1 performance by the team, in which all 20 were involved and played a vital role. Head Coach Mike McKeever and his team of Darren Best, Kris James and manager Stevie Crawford immediately turn their attention to the next big fixture, an away game in Coleraine next week, in the quarter final of the Ulster Junior Cup. The draw for the next round of the All Ireland was made on Saturday evening and sees Ballyclare away again, to last season’s and 2014 winners, Enniscorthy. This game take place in Wexford on 12th November.
Ballyclare 1st XV 1-15; R Henedrson, D Jones, A Boyd, G Bartley, W Logan, R Tweed, G Weatherup, J McKinstry, T Holland, R Reid, J Greer, D Clarke, S Cusick, M Kirk, J Holmes.
Replacements; W Rea, C Smith, R Johnston, M Robson, C Morrow.