Ballymoney Firsts gutted as they are pipped at the post by Donaghadee

Ballymoney forwards win ruck ball.
Ballymoney forwards win ruck ball.

Ballymoney took on recent opponents Donaghadee, looking to reverse the 6-3 loss that the Toon men suffered in the run-up to Christmas.

With captain Peter Irvine suffering a setback in his recovery, coach Jimmy Carson led from the front, starting at loose head prop. Dave Watson made a return to action at hooker, and Aidy Graham returned in the second row. James Campbell was back in at fly-half, and Simon McCrea getting another run at fullback. There was also the welcome sight of Neal Mulholland returning from a long injury lay-off to take a place on the bench.

Simon McCrea makes the break

Simon McCrea makes the break

The somewhat greasy conditions created havoc early on. John McFetridge in particular suffered from a dose of the drops in the first few minutes. His misery was compounded a few minutes later, harshly seeing yellow after an over-the-shoulder pull on a Dee player, which was made to look a lot worse than it really was.

The continued possession and extra man gave Dee the chance to pile on the pressure, and a missed tackle by David Holmes allowed a visiting forward to canter in under the posts. A penalty shortly afterwards gave the visitors a 10-0 lead.

Despite injuries to Holmes and Carson, which brought Adam Smith and Neal Mulholland on, Ballymoney held out, and a rejuvenated McFetridge returned to the fray determined to bring some balance to the scoreboard. And the power of the Ballymoney pack would soon come to the fore, as the scrum began to dominate, with James Blair looking particularly dominant, and the line-out started to click into gear.

A score for the home side was inevitable, and despite exuberant breaks from McCrea and Chris Watson, it was a more agricultural forward effort that finally forced the touchdown. From a line-out maul, thrusts from McFetridge, Graham, and James Blair were held back, before finally Matthew Blair powered over for the try. Jamesy Campbell converted to make it 7-10 at half time.

Jamesy Campbell converts Matthew's try

Jamesy Campbell converts Matthew's try

The home side had momentum going into the second half, and coach Beggs demanded to keep the discipline and composure to see out the win. However the opening exchange of the second half was a microcosm of a frustating day, with a poor kick-off from Campbell bouncing right into the arms of a galloping Dee second rower, who went straight through the Toon pack, only to eventually be stopped by a textbook tackle from scrum-half Steele. Ballymoney gained the upper hand after an early exchange of penalties, and as the scrum started to really dominated, the pack got their just deserts on 55 minutes. Props Blair and Smith too control and marched the Dee pack back over the line for John McFetridge to touch down, taking the home side into a 15-13 lead.

Ballymoney seemed to do everything but score, as Donaghadee valiantly held on to their line, despite playing for 10 minutes with a man in the bin. Throwing everything at the fringes, Ballymoney managed to get turned over on the blind side with an overlap begging on the right.

Ballymoney continued to press for a decisive score but again mistakes crept in, as the normally reliable line-out went squint from 5m out, and the pack somehow contrived to lose the scrum advantage from earlier, as Dee disrupted. Indeed the defining feature after a long spell on the Dee line was the visiting number 8 picking from a scrum and making fully 25 yards, allowing the visiting side to once again relieve the pressure.

The frustration was starting to tell on the Toon pack, as a few silly confrontations threatened to boil over. And from a late charge on the opposite 10, Aidy Graham was shown the yellow card with 5 minutes to go, an incident which set the Dee pack into overdrive. And as Donaghadee piled on the pressure to the short-handed Toon pack, their experienced half-backs directed play two or three times into the Toon midfield, and created a big blind side up the left. The Dee back line flooded the space, allowing simple hands to create a last minute score in the corner.

Jamesy Campbell converts Matthew's try

Jamesy Campbell converts Matthew's try

As the clock ran out, Ballymoney pressed again, but were unable to connect the dots between the good phases to break down the opposition. The final whistle went from a turnover and penalty whilst on attack, leaving the players, coaches, and supporters frustrated and disappointed as defeat seemed to be snatched from the jaws of victory.

John McFetridge on the break

John McFetridge on the break