On Saturday, Ballymoney First XV hosted their counterparts from Enniskillen in their second Qualifying League Two game of the season and were unlucky to lose by 19-23, writes Uel McDowell.
Owing to the unavailability of some key players, the Ballymoney coach, James Carson, had to make a few positional changes to the side that defeated Grosvenor the previous week.
From the kick-off, Enniskillen laid down their marker and hemmed Ballymoney back in their own half, but good defensive work by the home back row and backline kept the Skins at bay. Gradually, the Town men worked their way back into the Skins’ half with some good strong running by the midfield runners, notably James Cleland and Nat Steele, ably supported by winger John Gilkinson.
However, when one Ballymoney attack into the Enniskillen half was turned from defence into attack by the visitors, the Town found themselves 3-0 down, following an infringement on their twenty-two line which the Skins’ number ten slotted over the bar.
The home side did not allow this to upset their rhythm and hit back with an excellently worked try,when, from a Ballymoney ruck in midfield, the ball was fed quickly through the backs, with Chris Watson superbly releasing winger John Gilkinson who crashed over in the corner to score, giving the Town a two point lead.
With Enniskillen dominating the line-outs, they grabbed their good attacking opportunities to score a further two tries, one of which was converted, to leave the half-time score 5-15 in favour of the visitors.
From the start of the second half, Ballymoney emerged with a more positive and determined attitude, putting in a tremendous amount of effort to claw their way back into the game, exerting excellent pressure on the Skins’ defence, which rewarded them with two converted tries,the first of which was scored by centre Nat Steel, who took on the visitors’ defence with a very powerful run to touch down, and the second by second row Russell Blair, who, with the support of his forwards, crashed over in the corner to put the Ballymoney men 19-15 ahead. Both tries were converted superbly by outhalf Rory Strang.
With neither side having the upper-hand in what was a very open contest, the game was there for the taking, but when Ballymoney wing forward David McKeeman was yellow carded this handed the Skins a slight advantage. It was noteworthy that just before this card was issued, Ballymoney scrumhalf Matthew Steele was taken out at a ruck, off the ball, by their opponents wing forward , unseen by the referee.
With Ballymoney reduced to fourteen men, the incessant Enniskillen pressure began to tell on the home defence and they were unfortunate to lose second row Neal Mulholland to injury, further weakening the pack and giving the visitors the upper hand to score an unconverted try and another penalty to put them 19-23 in the lead.
In the dying minutes, Ballymoney, never once dropping their heads, threw everything they had at the Enniskillen defence but just could not cross the try line, leaving the final score 19-23.
This was a disappointing result for the Ist XV, whose coach, James Carson, commented “ We were good at going forward, but lost our composure at critical times. We had chances to win the game but just missed them”.
The team and supporters would like to wish Neal Mulholland a speedy recovery.