Connacht outfit Connemara made the five hour coast to coast trip to take on Ballyclare on Saturday afternoon at The Cloughan in the semi-final of the All Ireland Junior Cup. The visitors brought a good crowd of supporters with them, leading to a noisy walk of shame for me as I headed down to the far end of the pitch having arrived a few minutes late.
The noise rose a few levels as I made my way down the sideline just in time to see the Connemara 13 break through the centre of the Ballyclare defence for the opening try just over five minutes in and, with their 10 adding the conversion, the Clifton outfit had a 0 – 7 lead before I’d got sitting down and got the cameras out.
I had plenty of opportunities to photograph the Connemara attack in a first half which they dominated. They certainly liked to spread the ball, and their direct running, from all parts of the park, caused Ballyclare to scramble frantically in defence just to stay in the game.
The visitors could conceivably had the game put to bed in the first half but a tap tackle on their 13, who looked to break through for a second try, and a dropped pass from their number 8, meters from the line, kept Ballyclare in the hunt.
The home side continued to work hard and, despite going a man down for a tackle in the air, they got their breakthrough on 35 minutes when Ballyclare’s Scott Martin intercepted an ambitious counterattack in the Connemara half to sprint to the line. Mark Jackson added the extras to tie the game at 7 – 7 as the teams changed ends.
I’d thought the intercept may have limited Connemara’s attempts to play the wide game and it seemed to. However, they were no less effective punching the ball up the centre and they kept Ballyclare pinned in their own half for the bulk of the third quarter. The visitors finally got their reward about 55 minutes in when their No 7 ended up at the bottom of a pile up in the right hand corner for their second try. The conversion was missed leaving the score at 7 – 12 in Connemara’s favour.
Ballyclare looked to up their game and they started creating opportunities which kept Connemara in their own half an on the back foot. Martin had a kick chase chance out on the right before, the maestro, Joel McBride dummied and stepped his way through the Connemara defence to head under the posts for the equalising try. Jackson added the conversion to give Ballyclare the lead for the first time with less than ten minutes remaining, the score reading 14 – 12.
In their anxiety to get bac on the score board Connemara seemed to get on the wrong side of the referee giving Ballyclare a few easy outs. In truth, such was the tension, nothing was really that easy. The home side maintained their composure and their phenomenal work rate in defence to close out the game for a disserved win.
BALLYCLARE: Mark Jackson, Owen Kirk, Joel McBride, Matthew McCullough, Scott Martin, Matthew McDowell, James Creighton, Adam Barron, Matthew Coulter, Jack Black, Joshua Young, Grant Bartley, Ryan Tweed, Aaron Playfair, Jack Gamble. Replacements: Harry Mawhinney, Richard Lutton, Willie Rea, Ross Johnston, Matthew Robson, Angus Robson, Robbie Reid, Ross Patterson.