Playing with quite a stiff breeze in the first half, Ballymena took the lead after ten minutes with a try wide out by scrum half Dave Shanahan. It wasn’t converted, but the early breakthrough seemed to be a sign of better things to come. That is not the way it worked out, because Barnhall defended resolutely, clawed their way back into the game with a penalty and just before half time kicked another penalty, to lead Ballymena 6-5 going into the break.
The breeze was still blowing strongly, so Ballymena were faced with the task of finding a way through the Barnhall defence to give them a chance of the second promotion spot that was still up for grabs. News filtered through from Cork that Derry were beating UCC, but the home side’s chances of taking advantage of that seemed to have evaporated when an ill-judged attempt to catch a Barnhall kick which was over hit and was going dead gave Barnhall a five metre scrum. The Ballymena scrum had been pretty solid all day, but this time it buckled and Barnhall scored a push over try, which was converted to give them a 13-6 lead.
This Ballymena team has shown throughout the season that it is prepared to battle to the last, and despite being 13-6 down with about twenty minutes to go, facing a strong breeze, it began to put its game together and attack Barnhall through the pack. A key factor was the entry of Ian Caldwell into the fray, and his ball carrying gave his team a momentum that had been missing. It was Ian who scored the try that brought Ballymena to within a point of Barnhall, and another strong run by him paved the way for a try by David Whann. Both tries were converted, so Ballymena now held a 19-13 lead with not long to go, but long enough for a converted try to spoil the day.
The pack continued to drive a t Barnhall and with the clock running down won a five metre scrum. Dave Shanahan, surely one of the finds of the season, darted round the blind side, drew the covering defence and sent Darrell Montgomery scampering across the line for the final try of the day to close the door firmly on Barnhall.
The bonus point victory was sweet, but in itself would not have been enough to secure promotion but the news from Cork that Derry had beaten UCC, meant that Ballymena would return to Division 1B, after just one season in Division 2A.
Man of the Match- Ian Caldwell
Gallery (Harry Cook TV)