2019-20 All Ireland League 1A Ballynahinch RFC Clontarf RFC Club Rugby Men

Energia AIL 1A. Ballynahinch 11 Clontarf 10

Hinch, rooted to the bottom of AIL 1A, have only scored 8 points less but have haemorrhaged 70 points more than Clontarf who were sitting 4th before today’s match. Could this porous defence be corked and get Hinch some badly needed point?

The welcome return of Marcus Rea, Aaron Cairns and Kyle McCall from Ulster hopefully would bolster the squad. Clontarf’s 9,10,12 channel of Angus Lloyd, Gearoid Lyons and Matt Darcy will need careful management if Hinch are to win.

We’re on the lower pitch as the wind blew an upright down overnight and this ground is soggy, possibly an advantage for the home team as I’m advised Clontarf will not enjoy the soft going underfoot.

Sean O’Hagan drops the kick off deep in the Clontarf half and they play their way up the pitch, protecting the ball before 9 minutes later they win a penalty which out half Lyons kicks accurately to the corner despite the headwind. From the line out high tempo passing sucks in defenders allowing a gap to appear which the hooker, Dylan Donnellan exploited to batter his way across the try line and amazingly Lyons converted almost kicking sideways into the crosswind.

Dylan Donnellan battles over the line for Clontarf

Not the start Hinch needed and a forewarning of Clontarf’s effective game management. Frank discussion under the posts and Hinch get themselves into the match O’Hagan using the wind to kick his team into an attacking position. From a ruck on the Clontarf 22, O’Donnell slips the ball to his hooker Zac McCall, who takes the pass at pace but is abruptly stopped, illegally from a high tackle, and O’Hagan kicks the points. 7-3 on 17 minutes.

Sean O’Hagan kicks his team into an attacking position.

Clontarf responded with a maul driven up field before their backs were called into the attack almost eluding the scrambling Hinch line. They repeated this successful format and only resolute Hinch tackling, especially from flanker Olly Loughead kept Clontarf from scoring.

Both sides are making errors but it’s Hinch who take advantage when another high tackle, this occasion on winger Ross Adair, leads to a penalty enabling O’Hagan to narrow the differential to just a single point on the half hour mark.

The contest was then a bit spasmodic as each side tried to take the game by the scruff of its neck. Savage tackling from committed defences kept the play mid field but the ref thought Olly Loughead’s forearm was a bit too high in another brutal tackle and sent him off for a ten minute sin bin.

Hinch dug in and held on to half time with the score 7-6 at half time to the visitors.

Clontarf now had the wind but often if you have to play into it, you’re more considerate with your ball possession. Kicking the ball away isn’t an option and from a scrum centre park O’Hagan spotted a gap which he expertly exploited, weaving his way to the Clontarf 22. This began Hinch’s purple patch where they worked over the defence, side to side, recycling repeatedly, players interchanging before play finally was stopped when Clontarf scrambled the ball into touch.

Captain John Donnan stretched heavenward and claimed the line out giving his backs a platform to launch another assault, wings combining to end up with Aaron Cairns diving over in the corner to get Hinch in front for the first time. Attempting the conversion into the gale was a big ask and the ball was forced wide.

Try scorer Aaron Cairns takes on the Clontarf defence

Now 11-7 down Clontarf came out of the blocks from the restart and only an outstanding turnover from prop Kyle McCall averted a probable score. From the box kick clearance Clontarf’s right wing, Sean Kearns sprinted back up the pitch and only for a try saving combined tackle from Aaron Cairns and Paddy Wright, Clontarf would have been back in the lead.

Some change of personnel and Clontarf’s have an attacking scrum which leads to a penalty in front of the posts. They opt to take the points and the score now sits at 11-10 as we enter the last quarter of the match. I’ve seen Hinch lose from a lead of 21 points. Could they see this match out and get that much needed win?

Clontarf kick the ball downfield hoping that good field possession might yield a penalty or better but the smart thinking O’Hagan sees a chance and makes good ground to re-establish attack in the right end of the pitch. A mix up with the Clontarf wing and centre sees the ball spill sideways gifting the ball to Hinch’s lock, Callum Irvine, who smashes his way close to the try line. Hinch are in the driving seat and sense victory is close but Clontarf scrabble the ball away and we’re back mid field with a Clontarf scrum on the last play.

The ball goes in and there is one huge last surge from the Hinch pack. Clontarf thrust back and the front rows pop up. Whistle blows and the ref signals penalty – to Hinch as Clontarf are penalised for driving upwards. O’Donnell tidied up and belts the ball off the field and Hinch celebrate.

A first-rate, tense and passionate game of rugby between two accomplished sides and worth every penny for the watching fans.

The AIL continues to deliver great entertainment right on your doorstep at a very friendly and welcoming local club.

Quick interviews with Clontarf’s gracious coach Andy Wood and Ballynahinch Captain John Donnan in the videos gives their view of the match.

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