A trip to Limerick to play Shannon in the opening UBL fixture is not the easiest way to launch a league campaign, but travelling with as good a pack of forwards as we are likely to see in a Ballymena jersey this season, Ballymena were quietly confident that they could start with a victory. That confidence took a bit of a dent in the opening minutes of the game when Shannon scored a converted try. They had kicked off but had put the ball directly into touch which brought play back to the middle for a Ballymena scrum, which they won, but a loose pass from the base bobbled about in mid field allowing Shannon winger Mullane to hack ahead and get the touchdown for a try which McKenna converted. Not the best start, but five minutes later a great try from newcomer Mark Best, which he converted himself, levelled the scores. That was short lived, as McKenna kicked a penalty for a 10-7 lead, cancelled out by a Best penalty in the seventeen minute. Ballymena’s physicality never allowed Shannon to settle on the ball and once again the forwards set up a good position for Rodger McBurney to come into the line and carry four or five defenders across the line for a score which was not converted, making the score 15-10. Ballymena continued to give away penalties and McKenna was on hand once again to take advantage of the latest indiscretion bringing his side to within two points of Ballymena.
Shannon then enjoyed a period of possession, going through the phases, but when an attack broke down just outside the Ballymena 22, Jordan Foster snaffled up the loose ball, made ground down the right, eventually winning the race to gather his kick ahead and score at the posts, leaving Best with a straightforward conversion. On the stroke of half time Best kicked a penalty, putting Ballymena 25-13 ahead at the break.
Shannon came out in the second half with renewed determination and their pressure on the Ballymena defence yielded two penalties by McKenna, but they never seriously threatened the Ballymena line. More penalties against the visitors gave Shannon a couple of opportunities at a driving maul close to the Ballymena line, which the defence managed to hold out. Matthew Rea had been yellow carded just before this, so the defence by the seven forwards against the Shannon pack was a key factor in the result. Eventually Shannon made a mistake, knocking the ball on, and from a steady scrum John Creighton kicked to lift the siege.
The game finished with Ballymena once more back in Shannon territory, and while the failure to pick up a bonus point after three first half tries was disappointing, coach Andy Graham was more than happy with the win, stressing the part that his team’s physicality had played in securing a hard fought win.