All Ireland League – Old Wesley 21 – Ballymena 22
In the final round of the All Ireland League Old Wesley did just enough to avoid the relegation play offs and retain Division 1B Status for 2018-19. In a tightly contested match the Seniors narrowly to Ballymena but retained 8th place in the league by the narrowest of margins.
Played on the finest day this year both sides showed early nerves during the opening encounters with handling and kicking errors; understandable based on the seriousness of the match for both clubs. Ballymena had the slight territorial advantage for the first 10 minutes and were almost over for a try but for a knock on. But 15 minutes in a kick through by Jack Maybury swung the advantage to Old Wesley. From a line out on the 22 the ball was taken on with a great run by Donnchadh Phelan who passed to Darren Horan to score a try under the posts. Wesley were soon on the rampage again and following a penalty and yellow card for Ballymena out half Callum Patterson, Maybury extended the lead to 10 nil. Then it was Ballymena’s turn, who had the Wesley goal line under pressure. Wesley looked to have turned over possession however the home side were able to recycle the ball and get in for a try. The Ulstermen continued the pressure and had the Wesley defence working to its limits. Then just before half time a penalty and yellow card against Rory Stynes allowed them to kick to the corner. From the resulting line out they mauled the ball over the line to ground for their second try. The successful conversion made it 12-10 to Ballymena at half time.
Two minutes into the second half a hack through by substitute Matthew Bursey had the Ballymena defence in trouble and they conceded a penalty inside the 22, which Maybury converted to regain the lead. Shortly after, a neat kick by Adam Kennedy brought play to within 6 metres of the goal line. Ballymena misthrew the line out allowing Cronan Gleeson to gather and crash over for a try; 18-12 to Old Wesley. However the Braidmen responded with a penalty down the line, and from the line out they crossed for a try, which they converted to regain the lead by 1 point. Now into the final quarter a well struck penalty kick brought play up to the Ballymena 22. Good line out possession and passing saw the ball swung wide where Paul Harte was stopped short of the line. However from a penalty Maybury was able to convert to make it 21-19 to Wesley. Wesley now looked the more composed, winning a number of penalties; however they were unable to convert them to scores. Then on the 35 minute mark a penalty to Ballymena when Wesley were in from the side at the ruck, and Patterson held his nerve to convert from 35 metres out for Ballymena to take a 1 point lead. Wesley responded throwing everything at the opposition. Maybury looked to have kicked a penalty goal but the touch judges flags stayed down, and then Kennedy was just short with a drop goal attempt. But with time now in the red Ballymena kicked the ball dead for end of match.
Again this was a brilliant effort by a dedicated Old Wesley team in a game that they should probably have won. Now for the maths. With 4 clubs on the day vying to avoid the 9th place relegation play-off spot Old Wesley finished on equal league points with UL Bohemian and just 10 points better on scored points difference; thereby finishing 8th in the league – see table below. So following some tense moments Old Wesley will continue to play rugby in AIL Division 1B next season.
OLD WESLEY SCORERS – Darren Horan, try; Cronan Gleeson, try; Jack Maybury, con, 3 pens
TEAM: Rory Stynes, Jack Maybury, James O’Donovan, David Poff, Paul Harte; Adam Kennedy, Charlie O’Regan, Cronan Gleeson, Craig Telford, James Burton, Donnchadh Phelan, JJ O’Dea, Darren Horan (capt), Conor Barry, John Fitzgerald. Replacements: Martin Gately, Paddy Cullen, Matthew Bursey, Tommy O’Callaghan, Josh Miller.