14-man Carrick edged out by Ballymena in final cup game

The Maxol-sponsored Carrick 1st XV ended the 2022/23 season with a home defeat against Ballymena II in their final Junior Cup pool game on Saturday (March 25).

The final score of 28-14 in Ballymena's favour did not really reflect the balance of the game and the effort put in by Carrick in difficult circumstances. In the first 15 minutes, Carrick lost their starting full-back, Michael Black, and hooker, Alan Whitley, to injury and the replacement for Black, Tom Mathers, was forced off early in the second half with a leg injury, resulting in the home side having to play virtually all of the second period with 14 men. Despite this, Carrick stayed in touch with their opponents for most of the match and had Ballymena under pressure in and around their own 22 for most of the last 15 minutes. Although neither side could win the pool and qualify for the knock-out stages of the Junior Cup, both sides threw themselves into the contest with a will.

The Carrick scrum was dominant for most of the match and the line-out for the most part functioned smoothly. Richard Higgins, who moved from the back row to hooker in Alan Whitley's absence had a strong all round game as did Captain Gareth McKeown and Chris Rodgers. Chris Taylor, who came on a replacement when Whitley left the field, was heavily involved both a carrier and in defence while Lewis Patterson and John Turner provided solidity in the line-out and on occasion disrupted the Ballymena throw.

Simon White was as committed as ever at scrum-half while his brother Adam and centre partner David Carse tackled strongly and never stopped trying to make something happen in attack. The versatile David Moore stepped into the full-back role with assurance in Michael Black's absence and did a good job in marshalling the defence.

Tom Simms Memorial Park. Image by GoogleTom Simms Memorial Park. Image by Google
Tom Simms Memorial Park. Image by Google

The game started badly for Carrick with the early injuries and, in between the two players being forced to leave the field, they conceded a try when Ballymena went over with a catch and drive from a line-out close in. The try was converted but Carrick levelled the scores around the 20 minute mark when a clever line-out move - a short throw with the ball passed back to the hooker - enabled Richard Higgins to race over. Adam White added the conversion points.

With Ballymena dominating possession and territory for the middle period of the first half, it was no surprise when they regained the lead after they went over from a tap penalty five metres out in the 32nd minute. The conversion gave them a 14-7 lead.

Injury Time

However, Carrick once again levelled the scores in injury time when John Turner drove over after the home side had gone through multiple phases inside the Ballymena 22. Adam White again converted and half-time was reached with the score at 14 points apiece.

Shortly into the second half, winger Tom Mathers had to leave the field after bravely trying to continue with a heavily strapped leg. Despite being down to 14 men, Carrick had Ballymena under pressure in the early stages of the second half but could not break down their well organised defence. And it was the visitors who took the lead in the 50th minute when a strong surge into the Carrick 22 was followed by a multi-phase attack which culminated in a try under the posts.

The conversion gave Ballymena a 21-14 lead and 10 minutes later this was extended to 28-14 10 when another series of pick and go moves produced a try close to the posts, making the conversion a formality. From then until the final whistle Carrick played most of the game in Ballymena territory and had a number of opportunities but could not find their way over the Ballymena line and the game finished with the visitors victorious by 28-14.

This was not the way Carrick had hoped to finish the season after their strong performance against Ballynahinch eight days earlier, but with a number of their normal starting 15 missing and the injury problems during the game, it is to their credit that they put up a spirited display against a determined Ballymena side. With the 15-a-side season finished for the 1st XV, thoughts now turn to The Sevens over the week-end of April 28 – 30.

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The Carrick side which faced Ballymena II was: M. Black (T. Mathers); D. Moore, D. Carse, A. White, A. Boyce; D. Curley, S. White; G. McKeown (capt), A. Whitley (C. Taylor), P. Greenaway, C. Rodgers, J. Turner, L. Patterson, R. Higgins, N. Greenwood.

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