Super show from Ballynahinch

Super show from Ballynahinch

6 December 2017

IT was a clash of the top two in Division 1B at the halfway point in the season, with the winner guaranteed to be top of the league before the fixtures are reversed.

The home spectators were anticipating a close match and leaders Shannon clearly expected great things from their young team as they brought a bus load of spectators all the way from Limerick.

Neither side was at full strength with injuries particularly taking their toll on the ‘Hinch forward pack.

Open side Olly Loughead is out for the season and was replaced by Connor Phillips and blind side Aaron Hall picked up a knock on his Ulster debut last week, so Brian Howard continued to deputise.

Ulster’s Peter Browne was a welcome presence alongside Keith Dickson, who is playing the best rugby of his life at lock forward.

‘Hinch backs were at full strength and that turned out to be crucial as the game unfolded.

The game kicked off with some cagey early exchanges as ‘Hinch locked horns with a hugely physical Shannon forward pack.

Rangy centre Rory Butler set the tone for the afternoon with a stunning try from 40 metres out as he beat his man in midfield and then torched the cover to score under the sticks with Johnny McPhillips adding the extras.

This seemed to stir the Shannon ball carriers and they went through multiple phases in ‘Hinch territory to win a penalty, converted by Richie Mullane, for a 7-3 scoreline.

Ballynahinch went through the gears again, playing a superb brand off high paced offloading rugby to dominate play.

McPhillips backed himself to score on the blind side after Shannon ran out of numbers following some relentless carrying from the forwards.

He nailed the touchline conversion for a 14-3 lead and his team should have been out of sight before halftime but made a couple of mistakes with the line at their mercy.

Firstly, Phillips couldn’t hold on to Stuart Morrow’s offload after picking a great support line and then left wing Richard Reaney knocked on in open country after McPhillips threw a great long pass to beat the Shannon cover. 

The Limerick men gathered themselves and used their forward power to force their way upfield and score an unconverted try through scrum half Keith Kavanagh after his forwards had destroyed a ‘Hinch scrum.

Despite missing the conversion and a kickable penalty moments later the Shannon coaching team were certainly happy to reach halftime just six points adrift at 14-8 with their forward power looking ominous.

Brian McLaughlin had strong words for his charges during the interval and they clearly had the desired effect as his side cut loose in the opening stages of the second half with 21 unanswered points.

Firstly, it was full back Connor Kelly’s turn to out pace the cover to score after initial ‘Hinch pressure almost put Reaney over in the corner.

Then hooker Zack McCall finished off a long range move started by Conall Boomer and carried on at pace by Kelly and skipper Aaron Cairns.

Finally Kelly went in again after Dickson turned over Shannon in midfield. Fast hands sent a charging Browne through the middle and Kelly was on hand to finish in front of the clubhouse, much to the jubilation of the home fans. McPhillips converted all three to take the lead to 35-8 after 55 minutes.

Rarely has Ballymacarn Park seen such a display of attacking rugby and this young side are to be lauded for the fearless nature of their play and the speed and accuracy involved.  

The game went a little flat after the ‘Hinch pyrotechnics and the home side lost their shape a little after McLaughlin sent on his bench with the points secure.

A shell-shocked Shannon gained some respectability when replacement Aaron Hehir went straight through a ruck and finished well from 30 metres out, but Ballynahinch completed a superb afternoon’s work when the veteran centre Morrow picked his usual punishing line from five yards out to score at the posts.

A quirk of the fixture list means that ‘Hinch must travel to Shannon this week for the return fixture, so they must prepare for a backlash from an extremely proud club.

British and Irish Cup fixtures this weekend mean that as many as eight players from their starting 15 could be unavailable, but ‘Hinch will relish the opportunity retain their position at the top of the table as the league breaks for Christmas.

All support will be very welcome at Thomond Park.

Ballynahinch 42

Shannon 15