A superb performance by a much changed Ballymena team has gone some way to easing relegation worries, but with two games left there is still work to do. Their opponents on Saturday were UL Bohemian, also in danger of relegation, and after their defeat at Eaton Park find themselves one place from the bottom of the table, below Ballymena.
The home side fielded a much changed side from the one that has played for most of the season, but the traditional strengths of the teams coached by Andy Graham– determined well organised defence, solid scrummaging and lineout- were in evidence from the outset.Add to that attacking flair through Callum Patterson, Brett Herron, James Beattie and Captain Rodger McBurney an there were grounds for confidence that a win was on the cards. ULB were scarcely in the game in the first quarter and after seven minutes they conceded a try, initiated by Callum Patterson and finished by James Beattie. Brett Herron converted from wide out. After that flurry of excitement the game was played largely between the two 22 metre lines, but on 34 minutes Herron kicked a penalty to make he score 10-0. Ballymena increased their lead in the 33rd minute when they they turned the ball over near the touch line on the half way line and moved it quickly with a long pass from Stronge and one from Herron. Patterson collected his pass , took a couple of defenders out of the game and found second row Mark Foster in support. With an open field in front of him he set off the fifty metres to the line, outpacing the ULB cover for a great try, again converted by Herron to give his side a 17-0 lead. On 36 mins a attempted clearance by Ballymena was charged down and ULB mounted an assault on the home line. They could find no way through the defensive wall so out half Bourke put in a cross kick, which was plucked out of the air by right wing McDonald for an unconverted try. On the stroke of half time Ballymena worked another great position and Herron dropped a goal to give Ballymena a healthy 20-7 lead at half time.
Almost straight from the kick off a loose clearance by UBL was fielded by Herron who made ground. From the ruck the ball came to Marcus Rea who carved his way through the defensive line and made thirty metres down the right. James Beattie was in support , took Rea’s perfectly timed pass and raced in at the corner for Ballymena’s third try of the day. That made the score 25-5, and Ballymena seemed to be coasting home for a comfortable victory, but two quick tries from UBL, one of them converted, reduced the lead to 25-17. But Ballymena steadied the ship, and in the remaining thirteen minutes added a Herron penalty and dropped goal to close the game out at 31-17.
Next Saturday the team faces Dolphin, who are firmly ensconced at the bottom of the Division 1B table, but Ballymena have found in the past that there are no easy games in this division, so they will tread warily.
BALLYMENA 31 UL BOHEMIANS 17, Eaton Park
Scorers: Ballymena: Tries: Mark Foster, James Beattie 2; Cons: Brett Herron 2; Pens: Brett Herron 2; Drops: Brett Herron 2
UL Bohemians: Tries: Jamie McNamara, Adrian Enright, Harry Fleming; Con: Robbie Bourke
HT: Ballymena 17 UL Bohemians 5
BALLYMENA: Rodger McBurney; Dean Reynolds, Callum Patterson, Glenn Baillie, James Beattie; Brett Herron, Michael Stronge; Nacho Cladera Crespo, Adam McBurney, Chris Cundell, Mark Foster, Ben O’Ryan, Marcus Rea, Domonic Gallagher, James Gallagher.
Replacements: Josh Bill, James Taggart, Nathan Rankin, Matthew Norris, David O’Hara.
UL BOHEMIANS: Colin Ryan; Matt McDonald, Adrian Enright, Harry Fleming, Jamie McNamara; Robbie Bourke, Ian O’Connor; Joey Conway, Joe Bennett, Mark Bromell, Daragh Frawley (capt), Ed Kelly, James Ryan, Darragh O’Grady, Noel Kinnane.
Replacements: Keynan Knox, David O’Connor, Ian Condell, Brian Walsh, Mike Mullally.
Photos courtesy of Darrell O’Kane Photography