Lansdowne’s rub of the green finally ran out on Saturday when they went down, fighting, to a well-organised and competitive Ballinahinch outfit at Ballymacarn Park.
Played in a stiff breeze on the host’s junior pitch – their main pitch will not be ready until a month’s time after refurbishment - this match was always going to be a difficult assignment for a Lansdowne side shorn of its two first choice props through injury and their hooker to the Leinster “A” side.
Backs Tom Daly and Cian Kelleher were also with Leinster “A” and Conor McKeon was called up by Connacht “A”. Add in the loss of vice-captain and centre Mark Roche to injury, and it was almost a case of introducing some of the players to each other in the dressing room before the kick-off.
Lansdowne played with the advantage of the breeze in the first half and failed to take advantage of it. Scott Deasy, usually so reliable with the boot, missed three penalty kicks at goal at various times which would have put points on the board and help generate the confidence and momentum to press on to better things. “Momentum” is the current sporting buzz word, and Lansdowne didn’t generate much in a poor first half which saw the visitors unable to capitalise on an early line-out opportunity off a penalty close to the Ballinahinch line.
This was the first of three such penalty – line out chances not taken by the visitors during the course of the match. Once again, the scrum was rock solid, but the line out has not served the side well so far this season as an attacking platform.
Winger Alex Lirwan went off with an injury in the 28th minute and was replaced by out-half Gearoid McDonald. Despite a yellow card issued to ‘Hinch No. 8 Michael Graham, who took one for his team while they under pressure in the 30th minute, Lansdowne failed to press home their advantage, and were denied what appeared to be a try scored by flanker Joe McSwiney on the half-time whistle. Ballynahinch had only managed to enter the Lansdowne 22 once during the first 40 minutes, but turned around at half-time well satisfied with their efforts at 0-0 in what had been a dull and pretty uninspiring first half.
The home side scored the opening try of the match in the 47th minute when they ran a counter-attack from the half way line and made the most of some Lansdowne defensive uncertainty for impressive full back Roger McBurney to score wide out. Out half Harry McAleese nailed the convert for 7-0.
Lansdowne responded, however and, with Aaron Conneely and Captain Ron Boucher in the van, upped the tempo and took the battle to the home side. Centre Tom Farrell made a good break and fed the ball to 2nd Row Stephen Gardiner, who ensured a quick recycle inside the home 22. The ball went wide and Boucher was on hand to cross for a well-worked try. Scott Deasy found his kicking boots and sent a neat conversion over. Game on.
Lansdowne’s come-back against the elements was assisted by the arrival of reinforcements off the bench, with sub scrum-half Adam Griggs and flanker Jack Dilger making an immediate impact. The former launched a clever box kick which was held up by the breeze, putting the Ballynahinch defence under pressure. The penalty was conceded, and Deasy again made no mistake with a fine 35 metre effort across the wind.
To their credit, the home side refused to panic and continued to made good use of the breeze by kicking for the corners. Once again, the defensive patterns in an inexperienced Lansdowne backline were exploited, and the hard-running McBurney crossed for his second try in the corner in the 77th minute. McAleese again did the necessary, and Ballynahinch hit the front with a 14-10 score-line, a lead that they were not to relinquish.
Lansdowne battled hard, particularly in the second half, but ultimately paid the price for failing to take their chances during the first period. Players such as Ed Torrie at full back and centre Ferdia Doherty will undoubtedly benefit from the experience, and it was pleasing to see the scrum hold up so well with a brand-new front row combination of Jack Barry, Dylan Donnell and Ian Prendiville, who switched to tight head.
So, a hard-fought losing bonus point. A break now in the League after four weeks action in a row will help refresh bodies and minds until we take on UCD at home on the 1st of November.
Report: Michael Daly
Article related to 1st XV team.
Article related to 1stXV v Ballynahinch fixture.