11.10.2008 1st XV v Ballymena (H)
St Mary’s College RFC V Ballymena RFC
11th October 2008
Although for us a home game and two months earlier in the year, there were many similarities between this and the equivalent encounter last season, not least the fact that we won, this time albeit with a bonus point. It was also a lovely day, perfect for rugby and the social interaction both before and after the game was warm and enjoyable.
The Lunch gathering was abuzz as our president, Eoin Quinn, welcomed the guests to our first lunch of the AIL season. He is fast becoming an entertaining and witty post prandial speaker and all there appreciated his words. Eoin also announced that the club had bestowed honorary life membership on Bill Fagan. He explained that this honour is extremely zealously guarded and only conferred in extremely rare cases and on those giving exceptional and prolonged service to the club. He said that Bill had joined the club in season 1947-48 and sat on the rugby, management and general committees for a continuous 40 years, he also served as club president and has been a prominent, active member for over 60 years, is much revered by all the membership, so it can be seen why he had bestowed on him such an honour. Ray Buchanan, Ballymena’s chairman, having received his St Mary’s club tie, replied with generosity and wit and then Rynner giving a comprehensive introduction, let loose the guest speaker, Terry (The Rat) Kennedy. Terry turned out to be a refreshingly bright speaker, as he irreverently recalled several of his amusing off field adventures as an international rugby player including some ornithological oddities, some aerial acrobatics and other rodent recountals. And so the scene was set.
The game showed in many respects the reasons we have such high hope this year and it appears to be a team which can, as all good teams must, happily accept this and deliver on the expectation. There is a balance in the squad which allows for flexibility of plan and play. We must remember too that today there was disruption before we started the game, as super skipper Phillip Brophy strained a hamstring in the warm up (he may miss next week too) and a team readjustment was necessary and of course his inspirational leadership and decision making were missed. It has to be said that Conor Mc Phillips moved from the wing and took over the 15 spot with great authority and skill and had a very fine game showing his pace, poise and perception repeatedly and when called on moved again to 9, when Matt D’Arcy had to go off in the second half. Again the halves were excellent, and it is these positions which often determine the outcome of games. On this occasion our Ten, Shaun Mc Carthy, was far ahead of his counterpart from the Blacks and Matt D’Arcy was again superb. Our breakdown play was improved and our error and penalty counts were greatly reduced. Our lineout was almost flawless with Matt Duggan supplementing his very fine loose game with quality throws and our second row pair of Logie and Macker, worked to dropping point, with Conor Mc Inerney commanding in the lineout and intelligently industrious in the loose. Our backrow worked tirelessly throughout the entire game, with Nasher superb, hard, fearless and skilled as he led, drove and toiled, he was without doubt man of the match, he was ably supported by his backrow colleagues and mention must be made of Hugh Hogan, coming back into the team, he showed his class and commitment and took on ball from a retreating scrum almost with ease and always made ground. Which brings me to the one worrying point, the scrum; for the second week we struggled, this aspect no doubt will be addressed by Smythy and Pottsy but it certainly needs remedial action. With the five metre law, the scrum is most important as an attacking launch pad and we cannot cede that advantage without suffering. Our backline once more showed skill and pace, one worry being the injury to the excellent Stephen Grissing early in the second half and he is unlikely to be okay for next week’s clash with Clontarf.
The first half started in tune with the day, bright and sunny and both sides spent the first ten minutes in attack and counter attack, with high levels of skill and pace and both sides showed good discipline and handling. Playing from the Road End at eleven minutes, after three phases the referee was playing advantage to us at the ruck when Matt D’Arcy picked the ball and sizzled through beating all cover to score and Shaun hit the ball nicely to make it 7 – 0. Then on 18 minutes the ball went from left to right then back in through Darragh Fanning to Logie and back to Shaun to give the ball to Grisso on the burst to score and it was 12 – 0. Confidence and adventure were growing and then we put pressure on more and more and when they tried to move the ball on the half way line Shaun skipped in to take a neat intercept and took off with their backline in hot pursuit but Shaun showed his acceleration and pace and kept ahead to score under the posts and it was 19 – 0; ecstasy. We conceded a penalty try, when, with our scrum in real trouble on our line, we collapsed it and it was 19 – 7 on 29 minutes, but on 35 minutes we were again pressing hard and looking good, going through the phases with forwards and backs involved, the ball was moved out wide on the clubhouse side by Shaun who after a neat pass to Macker he looped and took the ball diving over for a try which he did not convert so it was 24 – 7 and we had our four try bonus point. We went near again on 39 minutes but the ball was spilled and it ended 24 – 7 at half time and it was looking good, although Ballymena were competing well and by no means overawed.
In the 2nd half we might have tempered adventure with prudence and played a little more for position, as they certainly upped their tempo and intensity and near the end, not surprisingly, we seemed to tire a little. On ten minutes, Ross Condron made way for Louis Bourke and after 13 minutes Grisso got a knee injury when making a strong and important tackle, he was replaced by Mark Sexton. Ballymena got a penalty on 14 minutes to bring the score to 24 – 10. Then a scrum near their 22 on 18 minutes saw Hugh Hogan work the ball expertly to Darce standing off the scrum for space and he set off for the corner and beat all in front of him. Shaun converted from far out and it was 31 – 10. However the Blacks were not beaten yet and they turned up the heat, frequently using their big 2nd rower Ian Caldwell to good effect to clear paths and make space and after four phases they scored in the terrace side corner. It was 31 -15. Then Darce had to go off so Conor Mc Phillips went to scrumhalf, Louis Bourke went on to the wing, Darragh Fanning to fullback and Robin Copeland came into the backrow and Chops made way for Colm Mc Mahon in the front row and David Kilbride took over from Mattie Duggan at hooker. Then while under pressure near our own line Conor Donohue, who again showed his value today, was sin binned for not rolling away on 36 minutes and we were looking nervous especially when Ballymena playing with verve scored again immediately afterwards and it was 31 – 20. It finished that way as we held out and are proudly on top after two games.
So things to think about, but who can be but happy to be in the position we are. Next Saturday we need more than ever everyone’s support on the north side, across the Liffey, (get a visa for the day). We take on one of the big boys of the league, Clontarf. We will face it with optimism tempered with caution, we do need to get some of the injured back and sort out a few things but Smythy, Pottsy and Shaun will be putting their heads together to great effect. Ossie, Dougal, Will et al will also be busy, as will manager Terry and assistants Ian and Dave to have all ready for action. Shiner expects to be back for Cork Con.
Afterwards the club house was cheerful and full of happy faces and loud voices. It was great to see Steven Hennessy there, with Grimmer and Horgo, enjoying a drink and a day off after all the Saturdays he worked so hard with Smythy to get us safely to this season of hope. The Ballymena team and alickadoos came in and really enjoyed the chat and mixed well with all of us. Big Barry Bamber, who does so much for Ballymena, Ulster and Irish rugby was having a pint with John Pyne and Guy Mc Cullough, Ballymena’s Hon Sec for almost twenty years now, not a bad record and even longer than John himself. Nasher was alight with happiness to receive his Man of the Match award from the president and then the music started, with all there looking forward to Richard Sweeney’s 21st birthday party in the club later, what a night, and happy birthday Chips..
Team:- 15 C Mc Phillips, 14Paddy Brophy, 13 S Grissing, 12 C Donohue, 11 D Fanning, 10 S Mc Carthy, 9 M D’Arcy, 8 H Hogan, 7 R Condron, 6 P Nash, 5 C Mc Inerney, 4 G Logan, 3 R Murphy, 2 M Duggan, 1 Rob Sweeney.