Ballymoney made the long journey to Clogher Valley on Saturday for their last fixture of the season and in a close contest Clogher ran out deserving winners scoring two late tries to win 36-17.
Although the pitch was cut up conditions generally were good with the rain and wind staying away for most of the match. Early exchanges were even and Ballymoney set a good pace to the game from the kick off. The forwards showed their intentions by dominating the early exchanges in the scrums and at the rucks. This early pressure resulted in the first score when a dropped ball was pounced on by Ballymoney’s young winger Ewan Strang. He showed great skill and pace to collect the ball on the half way line and out sprint the chancing Clogher players to score below the posts. McCartney added the 2 points and Ballymoney led 0-7 after 10 minutes of play.
However Clogher soon responded when the first period of play in the Ballymoney half resulted in a some loose tackling by the Toon back allowing the Clogher centre to break the line and his pass found the winger who divided in at the corner. The kick was missed so Ballymoney still lead 5 – 7 after 15 minutes.
The physical nature of the game was clear to see as both teams were holding nothing back in the tackle and the rucks. It was Ballymoney who was to strike next when some excellent off loading by Ramage, Clyde and Campbell broke the gain line. The forwards through Platt, Richmond, Houston and Surgenor were carrying the ball well and giving Nelson quick procession to get his back moving. The ball was moved from left to right and then as space opened up, Henderson and Watson carved through the back line to feed captain Cleland. With the fullback to beat the skipper backed himself and divided over in the corner to score a great team try. The conversion went wide but the lead was now extended 5 – 12.
The defining moment came at the end of the first half. Ballymoney spilled the ball in contact and the Clogher scrum half immediately kicked it in the corner. The chase was good and a mistake gave Clogher the ball. Ballymoney defended the line well as Clogher picked though their forwards for the try. After 10 phases they moved the ball wide and an angled run from their centre created the overlap for the wing to go in at the corner for the try. The conversation was added and the scores were now level at 12-12 at the break.
The second half was won by Clogher. They capitalised on any Ballymoney mistakes and with a good kick chase game put the toon men under pressure. Irvine had to come off with a knee injury and was replaced by Bartlett. Although Ballymoney were winning the scrums a slip in the second rows allowed Clogher to get the wheel on 5 metres out and the number 8 picked to score in the corner. The conversion went wide and for the first time the home team had the lead 17-12.
Ballymoney kept putting on the pressure and played some good rugby, but every mistake they made was penalised by Clogher as they counter attacked well. As Ballymoney pushed for another score the game broke up and from 3 turnovers, Clogher ran in three trys to take the score to 36 – 12 and give the home team the bonus point they had been looking for. Ballymoney never gave up and finished the game strongly throwing the ball about and a sustained pressure on the Clogher line resulted in a Clyde pass to Hanna for him to crash over for the final score of the game and leave the result at 36 – 17.
Man of the match: Danny Platt
Team: Houston, Bartlett, Ramage, Clyde, Platt, Campbell, Surgenor, Richmond, Nelson, Henderson, Strang, Cleland, Watson, Brace, McCartney, Bartlett, Hanna
Coaches Comment: “We played some good rugby today but Clogher deserved the win. We did concede some soft scores at the end but we were pushing for tries and wouldn’t have normally conceded scores like that. Hopefully now we can finish in the top 4 and qualify for the AIL Junior Cup next year. At the start of the season with such a young team I would have been more than happy with a top four finish and to play the rugby we did during the year was excellent.”