BANN FOURTHS 41 BALLYCLARE FOURTHS 14
The Fourths took to the fields of Fortress Rifle Park on Saturday for the first time in over two months. During their tour of the province they had stumbled somewhat, with a dip in form seeing them lose two games on the bounce before securing a 0-0 draw in atrocious conditions a week previous against Academy. This poor run meant they now needed to do a job on an unbeaten Ballyclare 4th XV to keep their title dreams alive for the season. They benefitted once more from great consistency in selection, with Paul Cairns, Ross Semple and Stefan Patterson all returning to the fold.
Bann kicked off proceedings and it wasn’t long before they discovered they were in for a physical encounter, the Ballyclare team being the larger men right across the park. This did not deter the dogged Bann defence though and they stood firm as the ‘Clare men battered relentlessly. Big hits from Michael McKee, Dave Neill and Niall McAlinden kept the visitors in check and the defensive pressure finally told with Bann forcing the turnover. From the ruck the ball was shifted to the wrecking ball Sam Boyd who went on the first of his many rampages of the afternoon, breaking through would-be tacklers with ease to cross for the first try. The conversion was added by Philly Morrison and with little over five minutes played the score was 7-0 to Bann.
Bann knew they couldn’t afford to switch off now having learnt their lesson from earlier matches and paid the ultimate price. Once more they absorbed a period of heavy Ballyclare pressure before forcing a knock on, a few phases out from the scrum and the ball made its way to centre Ross Davis. From his own ‘22’ he scored yet another ‘Ross Davis Special’, using his incredible blend of speed and power to see off the visitors’ defensive efforts. Once more Morrison added the extras taking the score to 14-0 with 20 minutes played.
Bann were flying now, to the point where they lost the run of themselves slightly and were getting a little bit careless with possession. A combination of poor execution and ill-discipline at the breakdown gave Ballyclare their first visit into the Bann ‘22’ after 30 minutes. The Bann defence once again was incredible, with every man putting bodies on the line to keep ‘Clare out. However, the pressure eventually told and the ‘Clare prop crashed over from close range, a successful conversion making it a one score game once again, 14-7. Bann produced an immediate reply through the boot of Morrison following a ‘Clare infringement on the restart to take Bann 17-7 ahead.
There was no doubt the try had got the Ballyclare tails up a little, and they had a renewed wind in their sails heading towards half-time. It also served as a reality check for Bann who were reminded just how focussed they must remain in defence if they were to keep the ‘Clare behemoths at bay. Sure enough the defensive effort was taken up another notch and some great pressure placed on the ‘Clare backs saw them force a pass that wasn’t on, duly picked up by Davis and off the centre set on another ‘Special’, once more toying with multiple ‘Clare defenders on his 65 metre canter to the try line. Morrison narrowly missed the extras and the half-time score stood at 22-7.
In the huddle it was clear to see the monumental first half effort put in by the home side as boys were desperately trying to get much needed water on board and get running repairs sorted. From the re-start Bann wasted no time in securing ball and they set off on another adventure into ‘Clare territory. The bigger visitors’ team had clearly found a second wind in their huddle and a rejuvenated defence was making things difficult for Bann. In a moment of magic outhalf Morrison set off on a mazy run, outstripping the entire ‘Clare backline before drawing the full-back to send second row Ross Semple over for yet another try of the season contender. Morrison pushed the conversion just wide and the score was now 27-7 with 50 minutes gone.
With Bann securing the bonus point ‘Clare now knew they had to try and make things happen if they were to have any chance of taking points from this game. Once again they laid siege to Bann territory, pummelling away relentlessly, and a momentary lapse in concentration saw their scrum-half pick and go from the base of a ruck and make the try line without a single Bann hand laid on him. Their full-back added the conversion once again and after an hour of play the score was pulled back to 27-14.
Once more Ballyclare were buoyed by their try scoring exploits and it wasn’t long before they were back deep in the home side’s territory. As in the first half, the concession of a try refocused the Bann defence and they were hell-bent on battening down the hatches for the afternoon.
In a tremendous display of sheer grit, determination and pride they knocked ‘Clare back repeatedly for 10 minutes before the magnificent Jonny Murray won a turnover penalty in the shadow of his own posts. Morrison put in a great clearing kick, taking the lineout to near halfway. Clare managed to take the Bann lineout though, and just when it looked like the opportunity was lost, hooker Dave Neill, who put in a cracking shift thus far, manhandled his opposite number, driving him back 15 metres before saving him further embarrassment and putting him to ground.
As ‘Clare scrambled back they picked and went, only to be met by the ferocious Barney McKevitt, the prop managing to hold the maul up and force the turnover. A couple of phases later Boyd popped up again and swatted away three would-be tacklers as he charged 25 metres to score under the posts in a fantastic individual effort. Morrison was successful with the kick and the score, with little more than five minutes to play, was now 34-14 to Bann.
Bann soon found themselves back deep in Ballyclare territory as they looked to finish with a flourish. Just when it seemed like ‘Clare were going to hold them out, centre Niall McAlinden popped up and took a pass from makeshift scrum-half Ryan Armstrong, cutting a great line to go over from 10 metres out, taking two Clare defenders over the line with him. Morrison saw out the game with another successful conversion to leave the final score 41-14 to the hosts.
This was a tremendous effort from the Fourths, with every man from 1-18 putting in a massive shift in both attack and defence. It’s clear to see the training is starting to pay off as this was definitely their best performance of the season. The management had a tough job picking man of the match but eventually decided on fullback Jordan Mullan. The young 15 was solid as a rock all day, taking high balls at will, chopping down anything in ‘Clare colours which came his way and playing a terrific counter-attacking game.
We would like to thank all our players for a great effort in the first half of the season, and wish them all, along with the rest of the club, a very merry Christmas and best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019.