BANN THIRDS 22 BALLYMONEY SECONDS 14
Bann Thirds battled their way through to the final of the Crawford Cup thanks to a dominant pack and hard-tackling backline.
Nerves were in evidence from the outset with the kick-off not going 10 metres, immediately putting the home side under pressure. But possession was soon turned over and some excellent driving from forwards Gareth Briggs, Ross Semple and Barney McKevitt provided Bann with a strong foothold deep inside the Ballymoney half. The continued pressure on the visitors’ defence resulted in a penalty in front of the posts which Jeff Dodds duly converted.
From the resultant re-start Bann managed to maintain possession through excellent rucking, particularly from Stuart Marshall who continued to hit ruck after ruck. A rare handling error from Bann provided Ballymoney with a scrum inside the home half. From the scrum ‘Money got a penalty and opted to kick to touch. Bann were penalised for an early jump, a quick tap penalty caught them off-guard and some poor tackling allowed Ballymoney to score in the corner, with the extras taking them 3-7 ahead
Banbridge re-grouped from the restart and continued to apply pressure through the pack with excellent carrying from Semple, Andrew Davidson, Andy Brown and Richard McElroy. From a ruck deep in the Ballymoney “22” scrum-half Dodds saw a small gap open up and he slipped through to score his side’s opening try, before narrowly missing the conversion.
Bann had further opportunities to increase the scoring, with full-back John Ferris spilling the ball in the tackle over the try line after a barnstorming run, before just falling short with a penalty attempt from the half-way line.
Ballymoney made a strong start to the second half, testing Bann in the wider channels where only some superb tackling from Geoff Thompson, Calum Boland, Adam Stirling and Shane Honeyford kept the visitors at bay. When Banbridge regained possession from a poor kick, Ferris was able to punish some ineffectual tackling by carrying for 40 metres before off-loading to Davidson. The No 8 continued on another rampaging run to win a penalty about 30 metres out from the posts.
Dodds stepped up to take the shot at goal but the kick drifted wide at the last second and struck the post. The Ballymoney players didn’t react and the onrushing Boland scooped up the loose ball and drew a defender before passing to Honeyford who still had a lot of work to do to score in the corner, with Dodds’ conversion taking his side 15-7 ahead.
The score from Banbridge caused Ballymoney to up their game and they went on the offensive. They again attacked Bann out wide but the home threequarters again proved themselves up to the challenge. Hard work at the breakdown from Brown and Alex Megaw won a penalty for a Ballymoney player holding on on the ground. Bann opted to kick for the corner and go for the maul. Ballymoney worked hard to stop the Banbridge maul which forced an error. But from the resultant scrum some poor handling put the Ballymoney scrum half under pressure and Neal Cochrane took the opportunity to make a great offensive tackle, forcing the pivot to touch the ball down over his own line.
Bann got the nudge on at the set piece to drive the Ballymoney scrum back with Davidson using his footballing skills to keep the ball under control. The pressure from the scrum left the ref with no option but to award Bann a penalty try which Dodds improved off the tee.
A poor restart saw Ballymoney regain possession and aided and abetted by poor tackling from the tiring home defence the visitors made excellent yardage through their pack. With Bann on the back foot even the defensive efforts of Brown, Alan Thompson and Megaw couldn’t prevent a converted try to leave Ballymoney just eight points adrift.
With five minutes to go Bann again found themselves working hard in defence to hold out the oncoming attacks. However an excellent steal by McKevitt at the breakdown turned over possession and Bann were able to see out the time remaining.
Some excellent all-round performances saw Bann produce one of their best games of the season with Dodds again showing his experience in controlling the game and every member of the pack showing a great intensity around the park.
Coaches Andy Craig and Stuart Wickie decided that the man-of-the-match award should be shared between Davidson and Ferris, both players having created havoc in the Ballymoney defence throughout the game and putting their team on the front foot every time they touched the ball
Bann now look forward to the Easter Tuesday final at the Kingspan Stadium against the experienced Ballynahinch Thirds side.
Bann team:- John Ferris, Shane Honeyford, Calum Boland, Geoff Thompson, Adam Stirling, Alan Thompson, Jeff Dodds, Barney McKevitt, Gareth Briggs, Neil Walker, Stuart Marshall, Ross Semple (Capt), Alex Megaw, Andy Brown, Andrew Davidson. Replacements:- Neal Cochrane, Richard McElroy, William Baird.