Ballymoney Youth Rugby
It was the busiest day of the season at Kilraughts Road on Saturday when five Mini practices, four Youth league games and four Senior league games were staged.
The growing youth section which, under the management of eight coaches and their assistants, has grown to include teams at U13, U15, U17 and U19 levels, was keen to put on a series of good displays for their first home league games of the season.
Playing a very strong Banbridge, the U13s, under orders from vintage coach Allistair Mulholland for the day, made an excellent job of their tough assignment.
The 32 – 17 defeat saw this very young and inexperienced side taking on some of Ulster’s best in dreadful conditions.
From the kick off Ballymoney played well to their strengths with excellent rucking and mauling which soon had the visitors realising that there was a match to be played. Up front Lewis Lyons and Phillip Beattie had good performances with ball in hand. Phillip Bellingham, Matthew Brown and the busy Adam Coulter also impressed.
The Culbertson twins, Stevie and Lee had great games at 9 and 10, linking the excellent forwards to a backline that is beginning to take a bit more shape in attack.
Jack Doak has improved with every game and it’s also pleasing to see several new players fitting in so very well: Allistair Eakin, Jack Finny, Jack Graham and Matthew Hemphill all played well. Ewan Noble and Jonathan McDougall were also impressive in going forward as was Deon McKay.
The focus for next week’s training, however, will be defence and with things improving in this aspect of the game, results will quickly begin to change for Ballymoney’s youngest youth
Alan “Rancher” Campbell’s Under 15s put in their most impressive performance of the season also in their exciting match which saw them lose narrowly by 17 points to 5.
Playing against the wind in the first half, the robust trio of Parkhill, Tommy Lee and Johnston ripped into the visitors causing panic and disarray.
The visitors’ response was to concede a large number of early penalities which, due to the horrible wind and rain were unkickable.
Even though Chris Campbell and James Wilkinson got their backs moving well, it was difficult to maintain field position in the conditions. Unfortunately it was a steadying and well drilled Banbridge who constantly returned Ballymoney to their own territory time after time through the boot of their tidy looking out half.
On just two occasions the visitors looked like scoring and, sadly for the brave Ballymoney defence, they did: two tries out wide with one wonder conversion, saw Banbridge close out the half as 12 nil leaders.
The second half saw a thrilling encounter with standards of handling and running higher than the conditions might have indicated. For Ballymoney Aaron Brown, Joel Gault and Andrew Young were magnificent in the backs. Gary Pattison was wonderful under the high ball with Jack Kane feeding off his super return runs. Returning to rugby, Robert Orr and James Wilson looked as if they were going to be important players in this squad.
James Wilkinson’s good kicking and robust runs again from Parkhill, Tommy Lee and Stewart Balmer, saw Ballymoney spending more time in the Banbridge 22.
On many occasions Ballymoney had opportunities to score but careless slips and some immature rucking let them down. When things were executed well, they were unstoppable and on one such occasion Matthew Johnston ghosted through the middle of a maul to score a well earned try.
The Under 15s have had a very frustrating start to their season which has been hampered by player absence and failure to turn up.
Coaches Whyte and Campbell have made it clear, however, that if this squad begins to train, work, play and think as a squad, there could be some very impressive results from Ballymoney who have been placed in a very difficult league this season.
Training for Under 13s and Under 15s continues on Tuesdays from 6 pm until 7.30pm and these growing squads are still very keen to recruit new and former members into their squads.
Jordan McCaw’s Under 17 team suffered another fairly heavy defeat, losing 34 points to 3 but the score did not reflect the graft and effort put in by the men in blue.
Not for the first time this season, players failed to turn up or even inform their coach. Such levels of inconsideration to friends and teammates never contribute to a recipe for success. The players who did play against the Ulster champions from 2010 -2011 on Saturday, were heroes!
The front row of Hewitt, Vauls and the hugely improving and more confident Ferris were awesome: making sure that in scrums and lineouts banbridge had to work for everything they got.
In the second row Matthew McNaugher and Andrew McDaid held firm. The superb loose three of McCaw, McFadyn and McDonald all had truely fine games.
In short, Banbridge had no answer to the Ballymoney pack who drove, rucked and spoiled their way through the game. Their backs were also excellent with James Ried having his latest best
game of the season providing great ball to the aver impressive Andrew Duff and Alan mcburney. Colin McVicker, who is really making that 15 shirt his own had another hard but enjoyable day and is now warming to the season. That’s great to see.
The only problem for Ballymoney was that they had to play the 15 men of Banbridge with 13 of their own. The game had two distinct coexisting patterns: when the vistors had the ball, they were expansive and took advantage of their superior numbers to great effect; Ballymoney possession saw their rampant forwards progressing through the phases but ultimately denied tries through lack of numbers.
The Under 17 players who played, should, indeed, be very proud. They should also look forward to seeing the improving Dean O’Boyle and the classy Andrew Duff returning from injury. At training on Tuesday night, they will, however, be perfectly within their rights to ask certain players why they let their team down when there was a genuine chance of pulling off a shock result against quality opposition.
On Saturday Ballymoney U19s fielded a strong side against their neighbours Ballymena and ran out eventual winners by 56-3.
Ballymoney started the game strongly with some hard running from their mobile forwards. Russell Blair, back from his impressive work with Ulster U18s, led from the front as captain for the day and linked well with his pack gaining valuable yards with each phase of play.
When the ball was released to the back line the running was equally as impressive with Ewan Strang directing play in the number 10 jersey.
Andrew McAlonan made a great break on the left of the pitch and was brought down only 10 yards out, great support play saw Jordan Munnis, also returning from Ulster duties, score the first try of the day below the posts, leaving an easy conversion for Strang.
This set the tone for the game as Ballymoney scored 3 more tries in the first half. Strong running and good support saw centre David Holmes, scrum half Simon McCrea and second row Blair all scoring unconverted tries to leave the half time score at 22 points to 3.
In the second half Ballymoney continued to dominate possession, and some great turnover ball from the back row trio of Munnis, McKirgan and Doherty allowed the team to create a feast of chances.
The score was added to early in the second half by Sam Kyle when he broke the line and stepped inside the covering tackle for a fine score beneath the posts.
Russell Blair then added to his tally with a strong run fending off several tacklers and using super footwork to score in the corner. Strang missed the conversion but redeemed himself soon after with a fantastic individual score which saw him run from inside his own half to step round the defence and cross the line.
The final score of the day came from good work from the wingers and full back when they applied pressure on the Ballymena back line forcing a fumble.
When the ball was hacked through it sat up perfectly for winger Matthew Dunlop who scored to finish off a great win for the Ballymoney boys.
This U19 squad has had a difficult start to its season but Saturday saw three vital components coming together.
The newly rearranged management team of Benjy van der Byl, Mark Culbertson and Ricky Gault has set out clear goals for this super squad of players.
The Ballymoney Executive have identified this team as the club’s heart and lungs for the next two to three seasons and in recognition has elevated its organisation and selection to senior club management.
Most importantly, and as a result of Saturday’s superb league performance against All Ireland Club opposition, the players themselves have realised the power and potential that they have in their collective form. Thanks are due to the fifth fifteen who rearranged their venue at short notice to allow the 19s to play their first league match at Kilraughts Road: much appreciated!
The season bodes well for the U19s and there seems to be a resolve from all at Kilraughts Road that will ensure progress is made with every training session and every game.
This week’s fixtures: U13, U15, U17 away to Carrickfergus U19 away to Ballyclare