MALONE FOURTHS 10 BANN FOURTHS 20
The Fourths made the trip to East Belfast on Saturday riding the crest of a wave as they were beginning to put together something which looked a little like a winning streak, a testament to their consistency in selection and commitment to training. However, in another week in which selection was extremely stretched, they found themselves with an unusually high rate of unavailability. Jack Macauley came into the back row to play his first game in nearly a year, Alister McDowell and Jordan Mullan were late call-ups from the Mighties, and managers Andrew Fulton and Michael McKee were forced to take the field, both playing their first games in a number of years. The squad was completed by Mark Magowan, returning from injury, and John Mullan, who answered a call in the 11th hour, meaning he spent the afternoon juggling his camera and boots.
The game got under way with the home team kicking off in the glorious autumnal sunshine. Unfortunately the heavy rain during the week meant that the conditions overhead were the polar opposite of those underfoot. It didn’t take Bann long to realise that, if they wanted to keep their run going, they were going to have to fight exceptionally hard to protect it.
Malone came at them in the opening 10 minutes with a combination of aggression, pace and power, and at times the visitors defence was stretched very close to breaking point. However, they managed to weather the storm and eventually got their lines cleared. Just as the Fourths were beginning to work their way into the game, one of the stand-out performers of the season so far, Nathan Martin, had his afternoon ended prematurely by a nasty looking leg injury as he fell victim to the aforementioned underfoot conditions.
This saw McKee thrust into action a lot earlier than he had anticipated, but it wasn’t long before he was causing havoc with big hits in defence and strong carries. The pressure soon told when, after some great build-up play by the pack around the fringes, Niall McAlinden bundled his way over for his second in two games, in what was a fantastic display of footwork and power, leaving at least four would be defenders in his wake. Jordan Mullan was successful from the tee and the score stood at 7-0 to Bann with just over 20 minutes played.
This lifted Bann spirits further and they had several excursions into the Malone “22” during the next 10 minutes with none of them coming to fruition. The Malone out-half put their first points of the day on the board with a long range penalty attempt, leaving the score 7-3 to Bann.
It was a quick bit of thinking on halfway from Jeff Dodds which started the build up to the next score, a definite contender for try of the season.The scrum-half took a quick tap penalty and fed the ball to winger Jack Myles who had a bit of space in front of him, he proceeded on a jinking run into the “22” before being hauled to ground, with support play arriving in double quick time. The quick ball meant Dodds was able to feed his backline, via Cairns and Briggs, and a tremendous display of slick hands through Gareth Hutton, McAlinden, Ross Davis and Mullan saw right wing Ryan Armstrong go over in the corner, despite a bit of rough treatment from his opposite number. Mullan narrowly missed a great touchline conversion attempt, the score now standing at 12-3 with 35 minutes gone.
The half-time whistle was welcomed by many of the squad as they had been in an extremely physical encounter thus far. The message in the huddle was simple, ‘more of the same please’. Their attack was starting to click, and the defensive performance produced was the best of the season so far.
The bigger Malone team also got their much needed breather and came out rejuvenated at the start of the second half, battering the Bann defence. They threw the kitchen sink at the visitors but some ferocious tackling from Ross Semple, McDowell and McKee, amongst others, ensured the Banbridge line remained uncrossed. The defensive pressure started to take its toll on Malone, with the Red Sox losing their discipline. They were giving away penalties at will, and Bann made their way into the Malone half. A scrum to the left of the Malone posts, just inside the 22 provided a great platform for Dodds to get clean ball away to his out-half Hutton, and with a terrific dummy switch, switch move, it was time for yet another Ross Davis Special, as the burly centre broke two initial tackles and sprinted for the line, taking his stats to an impressive six tries in four games.
The conversion was narrowly missed but it was now a two score game, Bann leading 17-3 with 60 minutes played. This sparked the fight again in Malone and once more they took their powerful and pacey game to the Fourths. Just when it seemed like the defence was standing rock solid again, the Malone winger managed to weave his way over for a score which brought them back into the game, with the successful conversion pulling the score back to 17-10 with ten to play.
Bann approached the restart knowing that they should not be in this position and with a renewed determination to put the game beyond the reach of their hosts. They pressed hard and forced a turnover, before winning a penalty. Captain Briggs gave Mullan the nod to tee it up and close the game out. He duly obliged with a terrific kick and the game finished 20-10 to Bann.
So, yet another win for the Fourths and the run continues. They remain grounded though, recognising that much tougher battles lie ahead and that there is still a lot to work on in order to get their level of performance to where it should be. They will continue to put in the hard work in training before taking on a tough PSNI outfit in a week’s time.
There were many strong performances again throughout the team, with Mullan, Dodds and Semple putting their hands up for Man of the Match, but the award went to Jack Macauley who had a terrific game in attack and defence. The squad and management would like to send their best wishes to Nathan Martin, who looks to have suffered a cruel season-ending knee injury.