It’s not the first game this season where Ballynahinch will be kicking themselves after a narrow defeat at Ballymacarn Park!
In the bowels of winter, the biting wind from the west straight down the pitch would give a huge territorial advantage if either team could harness its strength.
Neither could. Instead a contest of set pieces and close quarter arm wrestling ensued.
The visitors kicked off with the wind on their backs and Hinch were immediately closed down as they struggled to get away from their own try line.
A penalty turnover and Young Munster kicked to the corner. The line ball was cleanly picked off, maul set and Hinch battled to defend their line.
Three phases of forward drives and Tom Goggin battered his way across to score . Evan Cusack added the conversion and Hinch were 7-0 down in under 5 minutes. Bullet start from Young Munster.
Hinch shrugged off this set back and attacked straight from the restart. Some exotic handling from flanker Bradley Luney saw the ball land in the hookers hand who was unexpectedly manning the wing. McCall bulldozed his way to the try line and got Hinch off the mark. In this wind a Herculean effort was required to add the extras and unsurprisingly the shot fell short.
Hinch now settled and they showed some excellent composure on the ball, working their way upfield, choosing scrums over kicking whenever they won any penalties. Good tactics as the scrums were even with no pack demonstrating superiority at the put in and Hinch had the upper hand in the loose.
Young Munster replied with an occasional visit to the Hinch half and looked like they might extend their lead but again a mistake, the ball turned over and the confident home squad opted to run out from their own 22.
Some improvised juggled passes wide finished with Adair sprinted up the wing before attempting a long pass which was incomplete. Scrambled defence from Young Munster before another error set up an attacking scrum centre field in the red zone.
Crisp distribution from O’Donnell and his half back partner O’Hagan, set up Adair who squeezed home in the same corner as the hooker. Same wind, same missed conversion but Hinch were now in front 10-7 on 30 minutes.
Hinch stuck to their plan and their superior ball retention denied any useful possession to Young Munster, the morsels they did had were wasted with basic errors.
Another penalty against the visitors, for not rolling away, saw the ref reach into his pocket for the yellow card and now Hinch could put the squeeze on and it was under a minute later they had their third try.
From the scrum, eight picking up at the base before offloading to his flanker, Luney, who nailed the third try close to the posts. This time O’Hagan had a chance and he secured the conversion. 17-7.
Hinch were not finished with this half and from a poor clearance kick by Young Munster the ball was cheekily offloaded for Adair to get his second again post side. 24-7 as the ball sailed through the uprights.
Hinch were in cruise control totally commanding the game and I almost thought I could go home as I couldn’t see how Young Munster might turn this match around as they had been so poor and Hinch so good. What do I know ? May be Hinch thought with the increasingly strong wind behind them they could coast home, four tries and bonus point in the bag, job done.
However Young Munster had not read the script. They started to play fast rugby, securing ball and distributing quickly from the breakdown. On 50 minutes they earned their way to the try line and scored their second try. Cusack has the same difficulty with his kick and the score was only shifted by five, now 24-12.
Carbon copy play from the restart saw Young Munster go over again, this occasion the prop, Conor Bartley, ended up touching down under the posts making the conversion kick simple once Cusack had enlisted help from his captain to hold the ball steady on the tee. 24-19. Where have Hinch gone ?
Young Munster’s self belief now coursing through the team and Hinch need to get some possession and settle. But momentum is a powerful force and it was all in the visitors favour. They sensed they can win this game.
Hinch’s lock is sent to the bin for a high tackle just when they had some territory and now Young Munster are back midfield attacking wide. Cusack saw a mismatch in front and he side steps his way past the ragged Hinch line before hurtling unopposed to the try line under the sticks. Conversion good and finally and deservedly the visitors are ahead 26-24 at 72 minutes.
Can Hinch find something to steal this game back?
The clock in the clubhouse wall hits the 80 minute mark but some excellent work by the Hinch pack earn a penalty in Young Munster’s 22. O’Hagan points to the posts. He’s about 12 yards in from touch kicking across the following wind. It’s all or nothing now as the gravity of this kick is not lost on the exhausted players or boisterous crowd now all totally silent.
A huge moment as both teams are in dire need of a win. O’Hagan strikes the ball confidently and sends it forward. A few seconds of collective breath holding before roars of relief and delight ring from behind the posts from the Young Munster players and travelling support as the kick drifts wide, their jubilant embraces contrasting the despondent shoulder slumping of Hinch team.
How did Hinch lose that game. Such first half dominance yet so easily reversed in the second period. Much for Brain McLaughlin and his side to ponder once the shock and disappointment of this encounter fades.
Full time 26-24 to Young Munster and Hinch remain bottom of AIL 1A.
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