MALONE 18 BANBRIDGE 18
New Banbridge Head Coach Simon McKinstry was pleased to come away from Gibson Park with a draw from his side’s first game of the new season, with a share of the Ulster Premiership League points fairly reflecting the exchanges.
“We were maybe fortunate on a couple of occasions but Malone got the rub of the green for their scores too so all in all it was a fair result,” he said after the game. “Considering we had to make last-minute adjustments because of the late withdrawal of our main lineout jumper Chris Allen, I thought we did well up front. And I was well pleased with the effort all the players put in.”
Winners of All-Ireland League Division 2A last season, Malone are expected to make a big impression in Division 1B this season. But for this Premiership game neither side was able to call on any of their respective contingents of Ulster players, so there’ll be no read-across in either camp for the AIL encounters later in the season.
Malone enjoyed the early territory with a couple of try-scoring opportunities thrown away due to poor handling. But the pressure told on the scoreboard thanks to the boot of Jack Milligan, with the ex-Queen’s out-half slotting over two penalties for a 6-0 lead, despite the loss of flanker Ross Todd for 10 minutes after a tip tackle had earned the home skipper a yellow card.
By the interval Bann were on level terms with full-back Adam Doherty matching Milligan’s efforts off the tee as Bann finished the half strongly.
Ten minutes into the second half Bann centre Andrew Morrison was on the wrong end of a harsh high tackle decision which let Malone set up a five metre lineout. Initially the Bann defence held firm but with Peter Cromie’s work at a maul earning him a 10-minute break from the action, Malone made the pressure tell with a long pass putting Todd in for a try out wide. Milligan’s conversion took his side 13-6 clear.
Doherty’s downfield kick in the 62ndminute was gathered by Milligan inside his “22”. But when the out-half tried to run the ball out of defence Bann flanker Ethan Harbinson and Doherty combined for the latter to strip the ball out of the defender’s grasp and sprint the 20 metres to the posts before knocking over the conversion.
Five minutes later another piece of Bann ‘thievery’ at the tackle, this time from Morrison, put Doherty in possession just inside the home half. The full-back kicked over the defence and right winger Conor Field won the race to touch down, with Doherty’s conversion effort coming back off the crossbar.
Milligan made up for his earlier lapse when he was well up in support of a Malone attack off a quickly taken penalty to take a difficult pass before diving over in the corner. The failed conversion attempt and Doherty’s similar failure from a long-range penalty late in the game allowed the teams to share the points.
McKinstry was pleased with the way his team had finished the game. “We finished well and looked more likely to score in the last 10 minutes,” he said, “so I think that reflects well on our fitness levels. There’s a few things we’ve worked on in training and the lads tried to implement them. Maybe they didn’t quite come off the way we’d have liked them to but we’ll work on those.
“We need to look at the way we’re re-aligning – we were coming forward at times in ones and twos allowing Malone to make their play when we should have been pressurising them a bit more. But that’s a work-on. It’s the first game in and we can’t be too critical of that.”
The coach was well pleased with the contribution of a couple of players making their First team debuts. “Alex Megaw was a very late call-up and you wouldn’t have known that he wasn’t a Firsts squad player. He did well in the lineout and tackled well.”
With starting scrum-half Jason Gribbon forced to retire injured in the first half, last season’s RBAI pivot Niall Armstrong replaced him and McKinstry thought the youngster showed up really well. “He looked very sharp when he came on to replace Jason and I’m expecting a lot more from him.”
Bann travel to Upper Malone this weekend for the first of two successive games against Queen’s. This Saturday’s game is a first round Senior Cup tie, while a week later they’ll travel to take on the students with UPL points at stake.
Bann team v Malone:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Andrew Morrison, Ben Carson, Ross Cartmill, Josh Cromie, Jason Gribbon, Michael Cromie (Capt), Peter Cromie, Stuart Cromie, Matthew Laird, Alex Megaw, Ryan Hughes, Ethan Harbinson, Stephen Irvine. Replacements:- Ross Haughey, Matthew Shirlow, Nathan Moore, Niall Armstrong, Hugo Harbinson.