18s take Thriller at Ballyclare
By Philip Johnston
Having had our first two league matches cancelled as Newry dropped from our league, and Ards couldn't field, the guys were chomping at the bit to get going on a very wet and windy day in not-so sunny Ballyclare, having only played "training" matches in the recent weeks.
The remnants of Storm Callum were still hanging around and with grey skies, swirling winds and that fine old rain that just soaks everything, today was not going to be a day for Champagne rugby.. even Buckfast rugby would be a stretch in this weather.
However, a boring, old trudge fest this was not.. from the whistle is was quickly clear that this was going to be a close.. very close.. match.
With a much bigger pack visible, we could see what sort of game Ballyclare would try and play, especially with the weather. But Malone were not going to be bullied up front and each attack was countered by an equally strong and resilient defence.
First points went to Malone with a penalty for Ballyclare offside from Matty Mc after 5 mins, and then in a stupid moment of inattention in our defensive line, Ballyclare scored a few minutes after that to make it 7-3 to Ballyclare. The next 20 odd minutes of the half were spent battling between the 22's with no quarter being given from either side.
Second half started and now playing "downhill"... (who knew pitches could have gradients :-) ), Malone were much more on the front foot and constantly punching at the Ballyclare defence.. how long could they hold out... well quite long it seems... Again all the action took place between the 22's with both sides attacking and defending in equal measure. A penalty to take us within a point came off the upright.. Aargh.. my nerves.. this game is toooo close.
Eventually after what seemed an eternity (well only about 20 minutes truth be told), Malone broke down the Ballyclare defence, when after several badgering rucks in their 22 seen Jason power over from close range.. Conversion missed!!!... 8-7 to Malone...
Only 1 point in it and still 12 minutes to go....
How was this going to end, who was going to crack under the pressure, was it going to end anytime soon... Tune in next week for the conclusion of Ballyclare v Malone .. Part 1.....
Well enough suspense.. 12 minutes to the final whistle.. the guys were in front and they weren't going to let it slip.
From the restart, we again pounded and pounded at the Ballyclare defence, but again they held strong to keep us out. There isn't much to say except in these twelve minutes, both sides showed what youth rugby is all about - never give up, bodies on the line, fight till you empty your tanks (feel free to insert your own rugby related "never say die" type of expression).
As a neutral, I'm sure it was thrilling to watch.. as a parent or coach it was nail-biting, stomach churning, non-stop tension.
But with great strength of character the Malone guys kept their heads, when some around where losing theirs, and following a Ballyclare knock on in their 22 we could hear the ref say last play... we secured the ball from the scrum and put it out of play. Finally! Job done!
It was a tremendous performance from both sides but moreso with Malone and our first league match together for this new team. It showed the guys, that even against tough opposition and in miserable conditions, what they can achieve when they play to their potential. A promising and exciting league campaign beckons....
Forwards: Lewis Brown, Connor Crutchley, Matthew Murray, Conor Watt, Eoin McKernan, Jason Dowds, Patrick Hopkins, Christian Onella, Ryan McKenzie, Aaron McClure, Antony O’Neill, Ronan Heggarty-Moore
Backs: Ruairi Gallagher, Matty McDowell, Matty Hamilton, Oran O’Neill, Mark Abraham, Colman Bernard, Timmy Cunnane, Fergus Wilson, Ruairi McDonnell