“Even after going behind so late in the game we had a chance to win it. But we forced an off-load and knocked on when we had Malone under pressure in their ‘22’ – and that was that. It was a very tough pill to swallow considering that we had put ourselves in a position to win the game. As in previous weeks we’re doing so much well and then having a couple of moments that are costing us.”
Rory Campbell converted the 8th minute try by Malone lock Stewart McKendrick, but Conor Field crossed for the visitors four minutes later to narrow the gap to three points.
Full-back Aaron Sexton went in for the first of his two tries to stretch his side’s lead to 12-5 with 26 minutes played. But Adam Doherty’s converted penalty on 35 minutes left the home side just four points ahead at the break.
Doherty struck again off the tee five minutes into the second half, and when he added the conversion to Peter Cromie’s 55th minute try, Bann found themselves 12-18 ahead.
But Sexton crossed again on the hour and Campbell converted for the home side to edge in front by a single point. Doherty’s superb third penalty on 75 minutes put the visitors in the driving seat again, only for Campbell to break Bann hearts with that final score.
“We just didn’t make Malone work hard enough for their tries,” added McDowell. “It was a loose kick that gave Aaron Sexton possession for their first – he just chipped in behind us and re-gathered to score. To be fair to Malone – their second off a lineout five metres out completely caught us out – we didn’t react quickly enough to it.
“For large periods of the game it’s the best we’ve attacked all season. We were causing them problems, especially with the physicality of our pack. And we worked really hard for our tries. But all three of their scores were preventable – and that’s the disappointing thing.”
League leaders Highfield are the visitors to Rifle Park on Saturday so how did McDowell feel about taking on a side whose only dropped points came as a result of a Covid-cancelled game against Navan? “Highfield have a very big pack so at the very least we’ll have to match the physicality that we showed against Malone. This is such a close league – Highfield needed a last-minute penalty to beat Malone and they in turn only overtook us with two minutes left on the clock.
“We don’t need to make Highfield into a bigger task than they are. They are a well-drilled Munster side who do simple things very well. They have a good kicking game with a solid set piece – but our set piece has been one of our brightest points this year.
“Rob Logan will have our forwards well-prepared for what comes up the road. So it’s a matter of retaining what’s going well and eradicating those little mistakes that are happening at key times.”
Bann team:- Adam Doherty, Conor Field, Joe Finnegan, Josh Cromie, Ross Cartmill, Andrew Morrison, Neil Kilpatrick, Michael Cromie (Capt), Peter Cromie, Stuart Cromie, Alex Thompson, Brendan McSorley, David O’Connor, Max Lyttle, Robin Sinton. Replacements:- Tim Savage, Josh Chambers, Matthew Laird, Alex Weir, Aaron Kennedy, Dean Hayes.
BANN SECONDS 14
Bann Seconds started the day brightly, with a signature barnstorming Robbie Mathers’ run straight from receiving the kick-off. Silky off-loading and interplay reminiscent of the Flying Fijian attack saw the Bann men charge up the field only for a trailing Ballymoney player to intercept and bring play back to halfway.
The ferocious pace was to continue for the first quarter of the game. Ballymoney were first on the scoresheet, a converted try following a charged down kick just inside the Bann ‘22’.
Following two Bann mistakes and some slick handling, Ballymoney scored again out wide to bring the score to 14-0 in the home team’s favour.
In typical 2nd XV fashion, the Bann men chased hard to get back into the game. From Harry Bird’s restart, Josh Cunningham and captain Martin Vorster contested and won the ball back in the air, earning a penalty from the resulting ruck. Bird deftly kicked deep into Ballymoney’s ”22” where the feared Banbridge maul was used to devastating effect, the ball quickly grounded by Robbie Mathers as Bann rumbled over. Bird landed a fine conversion from out wide.
The following 20 minutes required Bann to defend for the majority of the exchanges, playing into the wind against a skilful and fast Ballymoney backline. Everyone battled hard in defence, putting in hit after hit. With Jack Myles sidelined on a yellow card, the Ballymoney backline exploited their numerical advantage to rack up three converted tries before half time.
The Bann squad re-focused with some strong words from captain Vorster and attention to detail stressed by the management team at half time, but with the scoreline at 35-7 it was always to be a difficult task to turn the game around.
The second half started with a similar intensity to the first, as with the weather worsening the players got to work. Finding their attacking shape the forwards looked to punch holes with dominant carries and deft offloads and when the ball was released to the backs, they looked dangerous.
Banbridge took control of the game in the second half and enjoyed a good amount of territory. They continued to attack and probe, but with several knock-ons and slow support coughed up the ball to allow Ballymoney to clear their lines.
Throughout the second half, Bann continued to hammer at the home line. However they couldn’t quite find that last pass or momentum to get over the line. In what was a dominant performance from the Bann forwards, Luke Forsyth scored the only try of the second half, the metronomic Bird again converting.
Despite the result, Bann will take great confidence from this Conference League game as they build towards their next Junior Cup fixture against Omagh in two weeks’ time.
Head coach Charlie Farrell commented after the game: “I thought we played some brilliant rugby today, the preparation before the game today is the best we’ve had so far this season. Everyone was focused, ready for this one and it showed from the kick off.
“Unfortunately, we’re guilty of ‘switching off’ for 20 minutes in each game and allowing the opposition to score a couple of soft tries which ultimately gave away the game today. We won the second half 7-0 and had we been closer on the scoreboard at the break I think we could have come away with the result we wanted. “I am delighted however with how our team is progressing. Continuity in selection is seeing our players learn to play off each other. Our lineout is a serious weapon which is giving our very talented backline lots of good ball to play with. There is an excitement in the squad to welcome Omagh to Rifle Park in two weeks and test ourselves against another strong Second XV.”
BANN FIFTHS 0
LURGAN SECONDS 22
Lurgan threatened early in the game, hacking through on a loose ball. But fortunately Bann winger Andy Wynd won the race, kicking the ball dead to deny the visitors. The visitors won the subsequent scrum but knocked forward allowing Bann to clear their lines.
Lurgan eventually got their first points from a penalty before their well-drilled back line got over the Bann try line, converting for a 0-10 lead mid-way through the first half.
Bann struggled to get into the game, having to fight for every bit of possession and before the interval Lurgan picked up another try for a 0-15 lead at the break.
Bann were beginning to make an impact at the start of the second half. Unfortunately, the ball was spilled in a tackle and the Lurgan centre quickly gathered and ran between the posts for a 22-0 lead with only three minutes played.
Rather than drop their heads Bann got straight back at Lurgan, dominating the next 15 minutes. But despite great running from prop Scott Cromie and flanker Jonny Mullan they were unable to put points on the board.