Bangor mistakes punished by Ballina
By Roger Corbett
Despite a spirited performance by Bangor, their mistakes proved costly as Ballina capitalised and ran away with a 28-46 victory.
In the dreadful playing conditions both sides had to contend with when they met at Ballina in December, it could be said that the home side were fortunate to get the win, with Bangor squandering some vital kicks for goal that would have certainly swung the result differently. Bangor were in need of some league points, having suffered a recent run of narrow losses. By contrast, Ballina were sitting clear at the top of the table and, with only one defeat all season, were looking the favourites for this match. This game also had particular significance for Declan Maguire as it would mark his final game for Bangor, having unexpectedly got news about his university course that necessitated an earlier than expected return to Australia. His ability on the pitch, and his good nature in the clubhouse will be greatly missed, but we wish him all the best in this next stage of his career.
As Ballina got the game underway, the Bangor supporters were hoping that their players would not succumb to the early setback they suffered at Omagh the week before, and from which they never fully recovered. Unfortunately, it was worse this week, with the visitors winning back their kick-off, then brushing off some weak tackles before Alex Corduff ran through to score with just one minute on the clock. Dylan Prendergast added the conversion to put Ballina ahead by 0-7.
If nothing else, Bangor are certainly resilient, and they seemed to put this early setback behind them and went on the attack. A clever chip by Liam Preston forced the Ballina full back to carry the ball over his own line before touching down, giving Bangor an attacking 5 metre scrum. Bangor’s scrum had already shown its power against their opposite numbers, so this was a perfect opportunity to make that strength count. Bangor kept their shape as they put pressure on the Ballina front row, forcing a penalty as they collapsed. Opting for another scrum, Bangor simply repeated the process, but this time more Ballina players went down forcing the scrum to collapse again. The referee had therefore little option but to award Bangor a penalty try, levelling the scores at 7-7 after 12 minutes.
Bangor were now in control, and attacking with determination. As all of the forwards were making ground, once more play moved ever closer to the Ballina line. Having been stopped by a solid defence, Preston threw the ball wide to the left, finding Mark Widdowson who had just enough room to dive over in the corner for a try. Gareth Millar judged the conversion perfectly, adding the extras to put Bangor ahead for the first time at 14-7 with 21 minutes played.
Bangor enjoyed most of the possession in the remainder of the first half, but unfortunately leaked a penalty close to their own posts on the 40 minute mark. Prendergast successfully made the kick, making the score 14-10 as the sides turned around at half time.
Given the Bangor performance in the first half, the touchline supporters dared to think that an upset was on the cards. Alas, again within a minute of Bangor starting the second half, more missed tackles and lack of defensive shape allowed Chris O’Neill to drift through and score close to Bangor’s posts. Prendergast added the simple conversion, putting his side back in front by 14-17. However, in similar fashion to the first half, Bangor came back strongly and just 10 minutes later won a lineout inside the Ballina twenty two, on the left hand side of the pitch. Some ball juggling in the air by David Bradford eventually came down on the Bangor side, setting up a determined drive by Lewis Stevenson. Although tackled and stopped, he’d brought play towards the centre of the pitch, allowing the backs to swing it wide to Adam McCusker on the wing. His pace and strength saw him round the defenders and touch down for the try, which Millar also converted, putting Bangor back in front by 21-17.
With 30 minutes left to play, Bangor would have to be at their most alert if they were to close out the game and take the win. As it turned out, Ballina seemed to find another gear and played with an intensity and accuracy that had been missing in the first half. They took the lead again after 17 minutes with an excellent try by Dan Molloy after some fast, accurate and confident passing and off-loads. Now it was the visitors who had their tails up, and confirmed their resurgence through a lineout and drive that pushed Bangor back over their line before Molloy once again could touch down. With the lead now at 21-31, and the bonus point secured, Ballina went for the jugular as Bangor looked shell-shocked. Just one more minute had elapsed before another surge saw O’Neill add another converted try, putting his side safely ahead by 21-38.
With the prospect of not coming away with anything from the game, Bangor dug deep and, despite finding themselves pushed back into their own twenty two, managed to wrestle the ball back and think about a counter-attack. The key break was by Widdowson who made the space for McCusker to run clear down the left hand touchline. Although his route to Ballina’s goal line was blocked, his well-timed pass inside to Phil Broderick seemed to herald a certain score. However, Broderick appeared to be tripped, which halted his run, but the Bangor pack were quickly in support, most notably Craig Burton who then pushed forward for the final few metres. With the try looking certain, Ballina were forced to concede what they may have thought was only a penalty. However, the referee considered the move to be deliberate and denying a likely score, and indicated the penalty try for Bangor, which secured a vital try-scoring bonus point.
With just 7 minutes left to play, and the score now 28-39, Bangor knew they had a chance to maybe grab another bonus point, if not the win. Ballina were wise to this and used Prendergast’s boot to keep play inside the Bangor twenty two. With time running out, Bangor started to take chances, playing the ball in their red zone and not simply kicking to relieve pressure. Unfortunately, as so often happens, their luck ran out as the ball was dropped, allowing Kieran Lindsay to pick up the loose ball and run through to score under the posts, and make the final winning score 28-46.
Bangor will be disappointed to have lost by such a margin, given the balance of play throughout the game. While the scoreline perhaps flatters Ballina, it is as a result of their being able to pick off Bangor’s mistakes, particularly at the beginning and end of each half. For Bangor to have picked up another bonus point will perhaps give some comfort, especially against the now run-away league leaders, and maintains their mid table position. With their next AIL fixture being at home against Seapoint in three weeks’ time, the coaches will undoubtedly be wanting to iron out the costly mistakes that put them under such unnecessary pressure, and repeat their away win in Dublin earlier in the season.