All Ireland League – Old Wesley 49 Ballymena 19
Missing a number of first choice players and facing a side with a smattering of Ulster fringe players, there was an air of pessimism amongst the Old Wesley supporters in advance of this match. But the team had different ideas and took total control of this match right from kick off resulting in Old Wesley’s biggest win of the season.
Tim Clifford opened the scoring with his first penalty goal attempt after 6 minutes and then just 5 minutes later Mark Rowley crossed for the first try of the match after good ball carries by Johnny O’Sullivan and Michael Dunleavy. Old Wesley were showing they were in charge and shortly after had the visitors’ defence stretched on the wing allowing Martin Gately to stroll in for probably the easiest try he will ever score. Clifford was again on target with the difficult conversion and the opposition looked nothing short of stunned. It got better for Wesley when they had a line out inside the opposition 22. A good take and after a series of strong carries and well recycled ruck ball David Poff crossed for the game’s third try in the corner. It was all going Old Wesley’s way however the pace and physicality of the game was starting to tell. Just before half time there were three Wesley players down injured resulting in O’Sullivan and David Rowley having to be replaced by Donnchadh Phelan and Conor Maguire. Just before half time the Ulster men got deep into Wesley territory and a try looked imminent, however a huge tackle by Michael Hastings, who ‘retired’ from senior rugby a number of years ago saved the day. Half time and Old Wesley had a dream lead of 23 nil however they were mature enough to realise that in the previous meeting of the two sides the opposition recovered from an 8-27 deficit to nearly snatch a victory.
But Wesley started the second half with the same ambition and intensity whereas the opposition continued to make basic errors and were also guilty of conceding more penalties. A fine bit of end to end play starting with a break by Brendan Monahan eventually resulted in a try by Clifford after just 5 minutes which he converted himself for a 30 nil lead and the bonus point, at least, was in the bag. A yellow card for Gately prompted a temporary resurgence by Ballymena and they eventually crossed for their first try 10 minute into the half. But 10 minutes later a classic scrum half break from a scrum saw Adam Kennedy score again for Old Wesley following a fine solo effort. Rowley was in next for his second try from a 5 metre line out and some poor defence from the opposition. 42-7 ahead and the result was now no longer in doubt.
With players starting to tire from this high speed game Ballymena crossed for a second try but 3 minutes later Poff was in for his second try in the corner following some slick passing down the wing. Right on the stroke of full time the visitors got in for their third try but crucially they failed to earn a bonus point.
This was a much improved Old Wesley performance after some recent disappointing results. The subbed up players, some more used to 3rds rugby, stood up to the plate with confidence and aplomb, and certainly put up their hands for future selection consideration. The win moves Old Wesley up to 4th in the league and back in the hunt for promotion. Next up, Galwegians in two weeks time.
Old Wesley team: Rory Stynes, Paddy Davis, David Poff, Michael Hastings, Brendan Monahan, Tim Clifford, Adam Kennedy, Martin Gately, David Rowley, James Burton, Iain McGann (capt), Michael Dunleavy, Johnny O’Sullivan, Stephen Boyle, Mark Rowley
Subs: Conor Maguire, David Henshaw, Donnchadh Phelan, Jack Maybury, Mark Fitzgibbon
Old Wesley scorers: Mark Rowley 2 tries; Martin Gately try; David Poff 2 tries, Adam Kennedy try, Tim Clifford try, 4 cons, 2 Pens.