BANBRIDGE 41 BALLYMENA 7
Banbridge picked up their first competitive win of the season, running in six tries against visitors Ballymena to claim the bonus point. And after the game Bann Coach Mark McDowell expressed his pleasure with the outcome and the way performance levels are rising as the All-Ireland League looms. He said after the game that his squad’s focus in midweek preparation had been on speed. “We wanted to play with speed when we had the ball and indeed when we didn’t have it,” he said. “We wanted to play the game on our terms and not get sucked into a game that we didn’t want to play.
“There were a lot of attempts to slow the game down in various ways in the first half. The message at half-time was just to keep re-loading, keep re-setting and play the game that we wanted to execute. I was very pleased that quite a few of the things that we introduced in training this week seemed to come off, especially around our lineout and around our set piece.
“I was a wee bit disappointed in our scrum at times, however that’s something that we’re continuing to work on. We haven’t spent a huge amount of time on that yet as we’ve been trying to hammer the lineout.”
From the early exchanges it was clear that Bann had the edge in virtually every facet of play and four unanswered first half tries underlined that superiority.
Adam Doherty’s early penalty opened his side’s account and then Hugo Harbinson sliced open the Ballymena defence, surging through two defenders on a 30 metre run to the posts, leaving Doherty to add the extras. Three minutes later Bann were 15-0 up after a Ballymena knock-on was run back by Bann No 8 Robin Sinton and then moved to the left flank where Harbinson again finished off.
The loss of their hooker to a red card midway through the half only worsened Ballymena’s plight and from the lineout that followed Bann worked a tidy move to put Conor Field in for a try which Doherty bettered off the tee.
Ballymena managed a period of pressure on the home line towards the end of the half but their assaults were well contained by the organised Bann defence.
The bonus point was secured just before the break after Joe Finnegan carried strongly in midfield and hooker Peter Cromie’s pace down the left wing took him clear of the cover defence, with Doherty converting for a 29-0 lead.
Perhaps it was understandable that Bann’s foot came off the gas for periods of the second half. But they still did enough to run in two further tries. Andrew Morrison broke through the front line defence but Harbinson had to pick the centre’s pass off his toes to complete his hat-trick.
Doherty completed a 16 point haul by converting his own try after out-half Josh Cromie had broken through the Ballymena ranks off a ruck outside the visitors’ “22”.
The one area of play where Ballymena could claim better than parity was at the set scrum and their efforts in that department earned them the penalty try in the closing stages that would have offered scant consolation on a day when they were otherwise out-played.
McDowell declared himself well satisfied with the outcome. “I’m pleased with certain players’ performances – I think there’s a lot of guys held their hand up and the squad has a decent level of competition heading into All-Ireland in a couple of weeks.”
With a blank Saturday this weekend Bann have just one more SONI Ulster Premiership game to play, away to Ballynahinch, before the AIL commences with a trip to Old Wesley on 5th October. But the coach reckons that his squad is in a good place and ready for the test that newly-promoted Ballynahinch will present. “We expect a physical game at ‘Hinch and that’s exactly the challenge we need before we face Wesley.”
McDowell doesn’t expect to have any of Bann’s Ulster players available for either the game at Wesley or the home game against Highfield the following week. But he was looking forward to their eventual arrival to further bolster the squad. “When they do come back from Ulster duty those players will add real value to what we’re trying to do. They are good guys who are going to fit in, but with the players we have available I’m confident we can give a good account of ourselves.”
Bann team against Ballymena:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Joe Finnegan, Ben Carson, Hugo Harbinson, Josh Cromie, Neil Kilpatrick, Michael Cromie (Capt), Peter Cromie, Daniel Kilpatrick, Matthew Laird, Dale Carson, Ethan Harbinson. Replacements:- Tim Savage, Robbie Mathers, Ryan Hughes, Andrew Morrison, Aaron Kennedy