With a team shorn of most of the Ulster contingent, Ballymena made the long trip to Limerick to take on Shannon in their fourth AIL game of the season. They kicked off in perfect conditions, and after four minutes opened the scoring with another Rodger McBurney piece of magic, when a good pass from McMaster found him in space far out on the left on the half way line. A combination of sidesteps and change of pace left the Shannon defence for dead, and he crossed for a try which McMaster failed to convert from the touchline. The groundwork for the try was laid by some powerful carries by Connor Smyth, Matthew Harkness and Oliver Millar, making his AIL debut. Indiscipline by Ballymena saw Shannon being awarded a series of penalties close to the line and eventually they drove over for an unconverted try, to level the score at 5 -5. They repeated the dose when another penalty against Ballymena allowed them to set up a position close to the line and a well worked maul put them in for their second try, which was converted to give them a 12- lead. McMaster kicked a long range penalty from the 10m line to reduce the deficit to 12-8, which is how stayed until half time.
Shannon increased their lead with a converted try early in second half, when a dropped pass just outside the Ballymena 22 gave Shannon possession from the ruck, and their loose head prop picked up and sprinted in for a try with the visitors’ defence nowhere in sight. That was converted and with the Shannon lead now eleven points, the prospects of a Ballymena win seem bleak. But this team has shown in the past that they will not give up, and from that point they really upped their game, with the ball staying alive for long periods of play. Rodger McBurney looked to have scored another great try, only for him to be pulled back for a foot in touch, and Kieran Joyce seemed to have won the race for the touchdown but the referee didn’t award the try. The breakthrough came after a great passage of play in which nearly the whole team handled, giving McMaster once again the chance to put Rodger McBurney in space. He made the running and a perfectly timed inside pass found Kieran Joyce, who finished the movement off with a try that McMaster converted to make the score 19-15, and Shannon now within reach. In the dying minutes of the game a great tackle from Club captain Willie McKay let Adam McBurney in at the breakdown. He won the penalty which was kicked into the corner, and with seconds left on the clock Connor Smyth, with another impressive performance under his belt, drove over from the maul for a try which McMaster converted. With Ballymena now ahead and time running out, that seemed to be that, but in a dramatic last twist Shannon were awarded penalty on the Ballymena 10m line, but to the great relief of the small travelling contingent, the out half screwed it wide. That was the last kick of the game and Ballymena came away with a hard earned four points, and their fourth AIL win in succession. They still lie second in the Division 1B table, one point behind newly promoted Old Wesley.
Next Saturday sees the return on Cup rugby to Eaton Park, as Ballymena take on Banbridge in the quarter final of the Ulster Senior Cup.