Ballynahinch RFC v Lansdowne FC

Energia AIL Division 1 A

Saturday 23rd March 2024

Ballymacarn Park, Ballynahinch

Ballynahinch 10 – 5 Lansdowne


Umbrellas were no good to you in the wet and windswept hills of Ballymacarn Park, as Ballynahinch hoped to even the score with Lansdowne after their resounding defeat on the Aviva pitch in October. Hardy men every one, the boys of Ballynahinch managed the conditions best to keep us to one try each, with two kicks being all that separated us in the end.

Each side’s ambitions were evident from the frantic first 15 minutes, as the ball went end to end and back again.  Lansdowne were first to throw down the gauntlet as they attacked the home line with expansive, open play. But if ‘Hinch were caught on the hop by our running game in October, they were on to us now. On a few occasions, our runners might break the gain line, but if isolated for just a moment, the ‘Hinch lads were on them in a flash, winning the ball or a penalty in the process.  Our first attack came to such a sad end before the home side built up their own assault, patiently moving back down the pitch into our territory and securing a beachhead on our 10 m line.  But we also know a bit about defence and lock Jack Cooke and prop Greg McGrath combined excellently to spoil their lineout and win a penalty from the ensuing maul.  Immediately, ‘Hinch returned the favour, competing in our lineout and pegging us back to our 22 from the penalty that followed.  Our scrums were much more dominant with seasoned prop Greg and his younger protege George Morris outperforming their opposite numbers time after time.  Even though our attack was more varied and less predictable then theirs, we couldn’t seem to seal the deal with a try. Excellent moves off the lineout and fast hands in the middle of the pitch just fell short of completion and as the first quarter came to a close, neither side had any points to show for their considerable efforts.

It wasn’t until near the half hour mark that we broke the deadlock.  After a period of dominant play, our tempo keeping them on the back foot, Jack Cooke stole another lineout ball at the half way line and charged down the pitch. As scrumhalf, James Kenny stepped in to recycle the ball from the ruck that followed, he must have heard winger Cathal Eddy roaring in his left ear that he was on a run, because James launched a perfectly weighted box kick for him.  It bounced up nicely, but Cathal still had two defenders to beat before going over the line in the corner.  0 – 5 seemed a scant reward for a half hour in which we played the better rugby, and it wasn’t long before the more direct approach of the home side brought its own reward. Slowly they worked their way back up the pitch and seemed to have the edge over us on rucking, holding possession for phase after phase. Eventually, well into injury time in the first half, their no- frills approach was rewarded with a forward’s try under our post.  7 – 5 when the ref finally blew the whistle for half time.

The second half revealed that the wind hadn’t really been across the pitch, but slightly diagonal, now favouring ‘Hinch. Nevertheless, we started well, with the ball moving quicker from the back of the rucks and Andy Marks and Cillian Redmond starting to find space and making menaces of themselves in the centre of the pitch.

The wind was now picking up even more and the nearby windmills looked like they were about to take off, dragging chunks of Co. Down with them. Even the home lineout was starting to falter and high balls were swirling around forcing uncharacteristic drops from some of our normally glue-fingered backs.  But the wind did keep us dangerously stuck in our own half and even 22 for long periods of the second half as ‘Hinch pummeled away at our defences.

As we approached the last 15 minutes, our bench started to make its impact. Notably lock Conor McMenamin continued Jack Cooke’s great disruptive work in the lineout, while replacement prop Ben Popplewell kept the flame lit on his side of the scrum as well.  But the deadlock persisted, with each side doggedly cancelling out the other’s best attempts. So, it seemed ambitious, though not entirely surprising that ‘Hinch decided to kick for points when awarded a penalty just inside our half.  He used the wind to its best advantage as the ball just squeaked over the bar. 10 – 5 with injury time on the horizon.

But, as we know, Fassie’s lads never give up and what little time remained on the clock was dominated by our attack. Over and over we broke their line, but ‘Hinch regrouped and covered the gaps before we could draw any points. Stand out player in these closing stages was number 8 Harry Van Eeden. He just kept charging that Ballynahinch fortress relentlessly and with those windmills in the background, he took on a look of Don Quixote, showing bravery and chivalry can still shine even in the face of defeat!

But it wasn’t to be. Full time Ballynahinch 10 – 5 Lansdowne.


Next week is our last home fixture of the AIL against another Northern side, City of Armagh.  Let’s all come down and support the lads in HQ for the last time … until the final!


Match Report – Brian Whelan