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Banbridge suffer Old Wesley defeat

BANBRIDGE 16 OLD WESLEY 21: Old Wesley stretched their lead at the top of Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League thanks to this hard-fought win over Banbridge and City of Armagh’s defeat of their nearest rivals Highfield.

Banbridge's Ryan Hughes in action against Old Wesley. Picture: John Mullan
Banbridge's Ryan Hughes in action against Old Wesley. Picture: John Mullan

It was a disappointing outcome for the Rifle Park side, who went into the game buoyed by home and away wins over Old Belvedere in their previous two AIL outings.

But coach Mark McDowell still had words of praise for his players after the game.

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“We may have lacked the spark that we showed in Dublin last weekend against Belvo,” he admitted, “but I can’t fault the lads for their application or commitment.

Banbridge's Adam Doherty in action against Old Wesley. Picture: John Mullan

“We pushed Wesley all the way and if we can do that to the league leaders, with the result in doubt until the final whistle, then I think that shows we’re going in the right direction.”

Wesley out-half Ian Cassidy missed a fifth minute opportunity to give his side the lead, with his penalty drifting the wrong side of the uprights. But it was the visitors who continued on the front foot.

A put-in to a lineout some eight metres out gave Bann the chance to clear the immediate danger. But the throw-in failed to find its target and Wesley picked it up off the tail, sending captain Iain McGann on a bullocking run to the try line, with Cassidy adding the extras for a 0-7 lead with 13 minutes on the clock.

Bann began to work their way into the game on the back of a strong scrum and aggressive ball-carrying.

Banbridge's Andre Morrison in action against Old Wesley. Picture: John Mullan

The pressure on the visitors’ line intensified to a point where the referee decided that the defence had infringed once too often, running behind the posts to signal a penalty try before showing a yellow card to the last culprit.

When the re-start kick went straight into touch, Bann won another penalty at the scrum on halfway. But they failed to make anything of another spell in opposition territory. And when Wesley broke out, a high tackle gave Cassidy a chance to kick his side further ahead which he gratefully accepted.

The late withdrawal of in-form number 8 Robin Sinton from Bann’s starting XV had seen Brendan McSorley start the game, with Ryan Hughes returning from injury to fill the vacancy on the bench.

And the flanker joined the fray with 30 minutes played after hooker Jonny Murphy was forced to retire injured, with stand-in skipper Peter Cromie moving from flanker to his regular position in the middle of the front row.

Penalty try to Banbridge against Old Wesley. Picture: John Mullan

The exchanges for the 10 minutes that remained of the first half were even and that was reflected in the scoring, with Cassidy’s second penalty matched by Adam Doherty’s at the other end to give a 10-13 interval scoreline.

A mis-kicked clearance by Wesley full-back Alex Molloy, seven minutes after the break, was collected by Doherty and run back into the visitors’ “22”, but the full-back missed the target off the penalty that ensued.

And on the hour, a Bann defence that had shown impressive resilience in the face of sustained pressure, eventually wilted as flanker Josh Pim finished off a prolonged series of pick-and-goes to crash over for his side’s second try and a 10-18 lead.

Doherty struck again off the tee with 10 minutes remaining but Cassidy’s response in the 76th minute left Bann again outside losing bonus point territory.

But when Wesley infringed off the re-start Doherty’s third successful kick left his side just five points adrift, a differential they were unable to close in the time remaining.

“The players and coaches are learning from every game,” said McDowell. “And while this was a set-back, the overall trend is in the right direction. We had set ourselves a standard in that win at Belvedere that we couldn’t quite reach today.

“But the guys know what they’re capable of and I’ve every confidence that there are more wins coming in the next few weeks. Highfield will be another big challenge this Saturday – they will be hurting after that defeat at Armagh. But we’ve won on the road this season and we can do it again.”