RUGBY: Ballymoney end year with a win

Ballymoney Centre, Martin Irwin, scores the first of his brace of tries against Malone in their Conference League match. PICTURE: Uel McDowell
Ballymoney Centre, Martin Irwin, scores the first of his brace of tries against Malone in their Conference League match. PICTURE: Uel McDowell

The JKC Sponsored Ballymoney RFC 1st XV played their last game of 2017 against Malone 2nd XV in the conference league and in an entertaining game came out 33-22 winners at Kilraughts Road.

Ballymoney were without the services of Daniel Ramage, John McFetridge, Ian Moxen, Matthew Steele and Aaron Brown for this fixture which meant they were able to give a start in the back row to Neil Mulholland and a first start in the 1st XV at Scrum Half to Matthew Dunlop.

Michael Armstrong returned after injury to take up a spot on the wing.

The game started off with some pressure from a strong running Malone team where a few handling errors from their winger prevented an early score. Ballymoney repelled early pressure from Malone in their 22 resulting in Malone only coming away with three points for the visitors to take an early 0-3 lead after 10 minutes.

Ballymoney went on the attack and from good line speed centre Martin Irwin charged down a clearance kick which he then gathered the loose ball to score below the posts. James Cleland added the conversion to make the score 7-3.

It was Ballymoney who scored again with a second try for Martin Irwin. This time number 8 Neil Mulholland showed some good skill with an excellently timed pass to put Irwin through the gap in the defence.

With the fullback to beat he unleashed a wicked sidestep leaving the fullback stranded and resulted in Martin Irwin going in below the posts for the second try. James Cleland again added the extra two points for a 14-3 lead with 30 minutes played.

Ballymoney soaked up some pressure at the end of the second half with some great work by James Bleakly and Michael Allan to stop the visitors scoring.

The pressure did earn the home team a yellow yard and with the forwards down a man Malone put pressure on a five metre scrum and were rewarded a penalty try on the stroke of half time for a deliberate wheel by Ballymoney.

With this the final play of the half the whistle blew with the score 14-15 to Malone.

Ballymoney started the second half strongly with some strong running from Andrew Stevenson and Thomas Hunter.

From a penalty James Cleland put the ball in the corner and the catch and drive was good with Peter Irvine driving over for a try. James Cleland again added the conversion this time from out wide to give Ballymoney the lead again 21-15.

Ballymoney were on the offensive again and back in the opposition 22 with the player’s eager to finish the year off with a win in front of the strong home support.

A series of drives for the line seen prop Andy Brown go close and then Andrew Stevenson crash over for the fourth try. Again the conversion was good from James Cleland to give Ballymoney some clear breathing space at 28-15.

However this experienced and physical Malone team wasn’t going to lay down and came back strong with their back row and centres carrying strongly.

They worked their way up to the Ballymoney line and their number six who had caused problems all day, got a deserved try as he crash over under the posts. With the conversion successful this now closed the lead to 28-22.

It was Malone who continued on a purple patch as they kept the ball well, however the Ballymoney defence was growing in confidence and some big hits from Irwin, McAneaney and Irvine allowed Ballymoeny to clear their lines.

A break resulted in some fast ruck ball which seen a second try for Andrew Stevenson as he bumped of a number of defenders to crash over in the far corner. The tired legs of James Cleland pushed the ball just wide and the score therefore finished at 33-22 with Ballymoney running in five trys in a very physical and entertaining game.

"We thought that we showed again some great character in defence and were able to halt a number of the Malone attacks," said the coaching staff after the game.

"Malone were a well organised and very physical side and our guys matched this in defence and I think showed more invention in attack.

"We were under some pressure in the scrum at times but generally our set piece was strong again and was good to get another try from the maul.

"We had a number of guys unavailable this week mostly due to carrying knocks or sickness so it was a big squad effort today and as we enter the second half of the season if we are going to be successful it will be down to the strength of this squad.

"We picked up injuries to Rory Strang (hamstring) and Matthew Blair (Elbow) and will have to see how these guys respond to physio this week before we confirm selection for the Towns cup game at home against Larne on Saturday 6 January."

Maine Gym Man of the Match: Andrew Stevenson and James Bleakly