The game at a damp du Barry Park started for Ballymena in the best possible way, scoring a try after just two minutes. Buccaneers kicked off, but conceded a scrum on the half way line when their forward got in front of the ball, and were then penalised for a scrum offence. Richie McMaster found a great touch about eight metres out from the Buccs’ line and Ballymena set themselves up for a catch and drive. Mark Foster, who was responsible for a lot of the good lineout ball that Ballymena won, took the ball and, with Mike McComish directing operations, the pack drove across the line for McComish to get the touchdown for a try which was not converted. Not long after that Buccs had their own chances for a catch and drive but on both occasions the Ballymena pack defended the drive and forced a mistake which allowed them to clear the danger.
They increased their lead on thirteen minutes through a sharp piece of opportunism by Stephen Mulholland, who capitalised on a sluggish clearance and charged the kick down for a try far out on the right, which again was not converted. However, Ballymena enjoyed a ten point lead and were dealing comfortably enough with the attacks that Buccaneers mounted. The midfield pair of Marty Irwin, who had a great game in attack and defence, and Paddy James closed down the space quickly and prevented the Buccs backs from taking advantage of the fair amount of possession they were getting. After eighteen minutes Ballymena conceded a penalty and the successful conversion reduced the lead to 10-3. That didn’t last long as just after the half hour mark Richie McMaster slotted over a penalty for a 13 -3 lead. In the thirty eighth minute McComish broke from a scrum, made ground a fed the ball to Irwin coming on to it at pace. His run took him to within metres of the try line and in trying to stop Ballymena the Buccs’ left wing conceded a penalty and was yellow carded. McMaster duly obliged with his easiest kick of the half, and Ballymena went into the half time break leading by 16-3
The first twenty minutes of the second half belonged mostly to Ballymena, who continued to move ball and make inroads in to the Buccs’ defence, but they had to wait until the twenty third minute to get the final, and conclusive, score. James Beattie, who had replaced the injured Darrell Montgomery, made a run down the left wing and when he ran out of room, chipped ahead. The defence failed to deal with it and Sean Taylor hacked it on and got the touchdown between the posts. McMaster converted, so with seventeen minutes left Ballymena were 23-3 to the good. A late surge by Buccs saw them attacking the Ballymena line and their efforts were rewarded with a try, which they failed to convert. Exchanges in the final ten minutes were fairly even and there was no further score, so that Ballymena ran out winners by 23-8.
This was a sound, disciplined performance from Ballymena, who as usual defended with the same determination they have shown throughout the campaign and attacked with real purpose when the opportunities arose. Needleless to say, Andy Graham was more than pleased with his side’s performance. “Any away win in this league is always good, and to get it against a good side like Buccaneers is a real bonus”, he said.