All Ireland League – Old Wesley 15 Ballymena 21
In the last AIL match before the holiday break Old Wesley entertained Ballymena at Donnybrook. The weather conditions were windy however the Donnybrook stand provided some shelter with the visitors having the slight advantage of the wind in the first half which blew diagonally across the pitch.
Following the early exchanges it was Wesley who struck first. Some good pick and drives by the forwards brought play into the opposition 22 resulting in Ian Cassidy, who still had a lot of work to do getting over the line for the first try of the match after just 7 minutes. Barry McLaughlin converted to take a 7 nil lead. Ballymena responded kicking a penalty to touch seven meters from the Wesley try line. However stout defence by the Wesley pack prevented any further damage. Ten minutes later the northerners looked dangerous again as they launched a back line attack, however an enormous tackle by Darren Horan forced a knock on. Wesley immediately counter attacked and some skilful handling eventually saw mobile lock Ian McGann cross for a try. McLaughlin missed the tricky conversion leaving the score a healthy looking 12 nil to Old Wesley. But the power of the Ballymena pack was starting to show and while Wesley competed well in the line out, even pilfering a couple of opposition throws, they were in trouble in the scrum and maul. This eventually told when from a line out the Ulster men mauled their way to the Wesley line. In a moment of desperation prop Martin Gately was in trouble for pulling down the maul resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card. With the first half in injury time Wesley did have an opportunity to extend their lead from a five meter line out but it came to naught and the score at half time remained 12-7.
Now playing with the wind advantage the Old Wesley team and supporters would be forgiven for being optimistic. However the opposition had different ideas and continued to utilise their dominant scrum. Following a series of penalties conceded by Wesley, the visitors were awarded a penalty under the posts. They opted for the scrum which proved a wise gamble, and when Number 8 Matthew Rae broke from the back of the scrum he proved too much for the defence scoring a try under the posts. The conversion went over for the visitors to take a 14-12 lead. Wesley briefly regained the lead with a McLaughlin penalty kick but Rae was on hand again for Ballymena when he finished off a forward dominated move to score close to the posts. Again the conversion was kicked for a 21-15 lead for Ballymena. The Ulstermen continued to look the dominant side and Wesley struggled to make ground. However with just over 5 minutes of normal time remaining a yellow card for Ballymena sub Ross Kane boosted the Old Wesley moral. But with time running out and the conditions unfavourable for place kicking Wesley had no option but to go for the try. This they did and there were some fine late passages of play for the home side. But a knock on eventually finished proceedings and the referee blew for full time.
Old Wesley will be disappointed with their second half performance but will take some consolation in picking up a loser’s bonus point. There is now a 4 week break before Old Wesley travel north to Ballymena for the return fixture.
Old Wesley team: Rory Stynes, Barry McLaughlin, Paul Harte, Ger Finucane, Billy Henshaw, Alan Large, Ian Cassidy [Capt], Davy Henshaw, Craig Telford, Martin Gately, Josh Hinde, Iain McGann, Rory Kerins, Darren Horan, Mark Rowley.
Subs: Alan Matthews, Oltian Dervishi, Matthew Bursey, James Nolan, Conor Fitzgibbon,
Old Wesley scorers: Ian Cassidy, Try; Iain McGann, try; Barry McLaughlin, 1 con, 1 pen.