Ulster Premiership League - Malone 15. - 11 Ballynahinch
Malone finish 2017 with a win against Ballynahinch
Ulster Premiership League: Malone 15 Ballynahinch 11
Despite the recent inclement weather the ‘Prunty pitch’ at Gibson Park enabled this game to be played. It was interesting noting the selections made by both coaches with round 11 of the UBL recommencing next Saturday. Their focus was very much on giving game time to squad players as they both sought out a morale boosting win to take into 2018. For the two teams there was the opportunity to welcome back injured and unavailable players with Dave Cave returning for Malone and the two towering second rows of Captain James Simpson and the unavailable John Donnan for Ballynahinch. Having the presence of the two backs coaches on the pitch starting for their teams in Josh Pentland for Malone and Thomas Rock for Ballynahinch ensured that defences dominated the opening quarter of this match with play confined to between the twenty two’s. Malone had the win advantage on a cold afternoon and were expected to control the territory. This was not the case as Ballynahinch experienced in the second half.
Apart from a Peter Cooper 20 metre break up the touchline there was very little to excite the sizeable crowd that included Ulster players Jacob Stockdale and Alan O’Connor. You also sensed that it would taking a handling error to produce the first points of the game. Malone failed to deal with a loose ball on the halfway line. Ballynahinch winger Aaron Ferris pounced to hack through and score a try in the corner with Richard Reaney unable to add the conversion to give Ballynahinch a 5 – 0 lead against the run of play. All credit to Malone they responded with an excellent handling movement with winger Dave McMaster unable to secure the touch down. Another Malone opportunity was deliberately knocked on by Ballynahinch winger Aaron Ferris with Malone clearly having an overlap advantage. Referee Chris Lough had no hesitation in yellow carding the player. Malone used their numerical advantage to press the Ballynahinch line with the visitors defence holding tight.
Scrum half Connor Spence appeared to have made the line only to be held up once again by a determined Hinch regard. On the stroke of halftime Malone were awarded a penalty on the halfway line. Up stepped winger Mark O’Connor to strike the ball between the posts to reduce the Ballynahinch lead to 5 – 3.
Both teams made a number of changes during the interval with Shane Kelly replacing Connor Spence. Rory Campbell coming on to the wing with Dave McMaster moving to centre to replace Josh Pentland. Tiarnan Dillon came into the back row to replace Ross Todd. On the Ballynahinch side Joshua Donaldson replaced Conall Boomer at 8 with Rhys O’Donnell replacing Chris Gibson at scrum half. The game followed the same pattern as the first half with Ballynahinch forcing a number of penalties with Richard Reaney converting two to increase his teams lead to 11 – 3 with 30 minutes to play. Mark O’Connor then pushed a penalty opportunity wide as Malone started to control the territory and possession. Jonny Ogilby entered the action for Malone as the team went in search of points. The pressure told as the backs put together another excellent handling movement initiated by out half Callum Smith. Quick hands by centres Nathan Brown and Dave McMaster allowed winger Mark O’Connor to sprint in for a well worked try with the conversion just missed to narrow the Ballynahinch lead to 11 – 8. Davy Irvine who had joined the play was then yellow carded by the referee along with the Ballynahinch centre Tom Rocks after some arm wrestling as the game grew in its intensity and physicality with less than 15 minutes to play. Ballynahinch were having to dig deep in defence as Malone turned down kickable penalties in their search for the winning try. It was a case of the Malone pack dominating the collisions as they looked to build a platform for the backs. Winger Rory Campbell appeared to have scored a try with the referee ruling out the effort for a forward pass. The pressure was relentless from the Malone forwards with a knock on denying the backs a further try scoring opportunity.
With time running out you got the feeling the Hinch defence was going to win the day. When Malone won a scrum ten metres from the Hinch line, clean ball was picked up by number 8 Neil Alcorn and transferred through the hands of scrum half Shane Kelly to out half Callum Smith. With several defenders in front of him Smith showed his class to evade the Hinch cover and touch down behind the posts with O’Connor converting to give Malone a 15 – 11 lead for the first time in the match. With play in injury time Malone conceded a penalty from a kick that failed to find touch. Needing a try Ballynahinch kicked to the corner. Malone pressure forced a knock on. From the resulting scrum David Irvine was able to carry ball to near the halfway line. Time was up and Malone were able to clear the ball off the pitch to record their first win over Ballynahinch in several years.
This win was built on a solid second half performance from the Malone team and replacements in particular the commitment put in by the players after they went 11 – 3 down with 30 minutes to play. Head coach Paddy Armstrong along with his assistants Josh Pentland, Mark Taylor and Chris Henry have instilled in the players the belief to win tight games. What has impressed supporters is the confidence the players have on the ball. This is no doubt down to the work being put in on training nights and during matches.
The coaches and players will be looking to carry the momentum from this win into the return game with Queens Uni in the UBL at the Dub next Saturday. Two players, props Ben Halliday and Peter Cooper have epitomised the confidence this Malone squad have this season in their work rate both in the set piece and the loose with their ball carrying. As the season progresses injuries always impact on a playing squad. We have witnessed in recent matches how players including Neil Alcorn, James McAllister and Lee Barlow have stepped up from the seconds to make a big impact in the forwards. Dave Cave coming through 80 minutes will have pleased the coaches. In the backs Mark O’Connor will be pressing for a starting place after contributing ten of his teams 15 points. The competition for places has been built on a very successful first half to the season for the clubs second xv under the guidance of Davy Heron. With eight matches remaining in the UBL every member of the 1st/2nd xv squad will be required to make that commitment over the remaining months, if the team is going to secure promotion in the clubs 125th Anniversary season. There was disappointment when Malone lost their UBL game at home to Queens 20 – 11 on the 10th November. The players know they have the opportunity to reverse that result on Saturday. Lets get behind them and make 2018 a year to remember.
Malone team 1. Ben Halliday, 2. Danny Kerr, 3. Peter Cooper, 4. James McAllister, 5. Lee Barlow, 6. Dave Cave, 7. Ross Todd (Captain), 8. Neil Alcorn, 9. Connor Spence, 10. Callum Smith, 11. Dave McMaster, 12. Nathan Brown, 13. Josh Pentland, 14. Mark O’Connor, 15. Andy Bryans, 16. Jonny Ogilby, 17. Tiarnan Dillon, 18. David Irvine, 19. Shane Kelly, 20. Rory Campbell.
Ballynahinch team: 1. Campbell Classon, 2. Zack McCall, 3. Stuart Orr, 4. James Simpson (Captain), 5. John Donnan, 6. Matthew Connolly, 7. Connor Phillips, 8. Conall Boomer, 9. Christopher Gibson, 10. Ryan Wilson, 11. Patrick Wright, 12. Thomas Rock, 13. Richard Reaney, 14. Aaron Ferris, 15. Conor Kelly, 16. Conor Pyper, 17. Kelvin Hamilton, 18. Thomas Martin, 19. Joshua Donaldson, 20. Rhys O’Donnell
Can’t end 2017 without mentioning Davy Heron and his second xv. December proved to be a difficult month for the team with call ups to the first xv and injuries in their attempt to win Conference league 2. Defeats away to UUC, Limavady and Ballymoney halted the charge of the seconds to the league title. With several of his players involved with the 1st xv against Ballynahinch the seconds travelled to promotion chasing Ballymoney yesterday and lost a very competitive game 33 – 22. Malone points scorers were Dane Fitzpatrick, Jonny Betts and Daryl Maxwell 1 x try each with Bruce Duff converting two and kicking one penalty. Davy Heron was full of praise for the players who travelled and played at Ballymoney. They gave everything. You would not expect any less from a Davy Heron team. Well done boys and to their Captain Ricky Greenwood. A narrow 15 – 14 defeat in the semi final of the Junior Cup at Ballynahinch denied the players a well deserved place in the final at the Kingspan stadium. Next week end is a rest weekend for the seconds after playing 16 matches in the first half of the season. Now their focus is on the second xv league when they will play Ballynahinch seconds in their opening match on the 13th January. Malone seconds start their defence of the McCrea Cup with a home tie against Academy on the 24th February.
All it leaves me to say is to wish the club, officials, coaches and players a Happy New Year. We all enjoyed the first half of the season. Now can we make the clubs 125th Anniversary season one to remember in 2018.