‘Mental errors at key moments’ costing Banbridge says coach

BANBRIDGE 19 HIGHFIELD 26 - Maybe the outcome seemed inevitable, given the relative positions of the two sides going into this Energia All-Ireland League clash at Rifle Park last weekend.

Dave O'Connor secures lineout possession for Bann. Picture: John Mullan

And certainly after 26 minutes, with table-toppers Highfield three converted tries to the good, there seemed to be only one possible result.

The favourites ultimately prevailed, but in a second half in which they outscored the visitors 14-5, Banbridge gave their supporters, as well as themselves, real hope that they could turn their season around.

It was their seventh defeat in seven outings, leaving the Rifle Park side seven points adrift at the bottom of the table.

Conor Field opens the scoring for Bann. Picture: John Mullan

But in the last 40 minutes of this game they showed the spirit and ability to match and indeed better any side they will meet this season.

Unfortunately, the damage inflicted by the concession of those three early tries proved irreparable, as coach Mark McDowell admitted.

“The first two tries were bitterly disappointing tries to give away,” he said afterwards.

“We had a very good initial period, then to go 14-0 down was very hard to take. Highfield were ruthless when they entered our red zone.”

Peter Cromie gets his pass away to Ross Cartmill with Robin Sinton in support. Picture: John Mullan

Bann won a penalty at the first scrum and looked on course for the try line when driving the visitors back at the second set piece. But when they lost control and the ball scooted out the back, Highfield were first to react, allowing them to relieve the pressure and enjoy time in the Bann half.

With Ross Cartmill sidelined after picking up a harsh yellow card for what the referee decreed was a deliberate knock-on, Highfield ran the ball back off a miscued penalty for flanker Eddie Earle to cross and James Taylor to convert.

Earle struck again, picking up a Bann off-load to race in at the posts from the home 10 metre line and five minutes later replacement Ben Murphy finished off in the corner, with Taylor’s fine conversion adding to Bann’s woes.

The home side finished the half strongly, but Highfield made them work hard for Conor Field’s try out wide. A second scoring opportunity was offered up via a penalty in front of the posts. But the lineout option that was attempted failed to materialise as the kick crossed the line in the in-goal area.

Starting the second half facing a 5-21 deficit, Bann enjoyed majority time in the opposition half. And after Highfield had been reduced to 14 men through scrum-half Chris Bannon’s yellow card for a high tackle, Michael Cromie finished off a lineout-maul drive, with Adam Doherty’s conversion taking the score to 12-21.

Bannon was fortunate not to receive further censure when he interfered with an attempted quick lineout while still ‘in the bin’. But he returned to the action soon after and a missed tackle let Sam Burns finish off an attack down the right flank for a 12-26 scoreline with 10 minutes remaining.

Bann hit back with Stuart Cromie’s determination taking him over the visitors’ line from close range.

Doherty’s well-judged conversion made it a one score game and for the three minutes remaining Bann piled on the pressure, which was only relieved by the referee’s penalty decision against the home side.

McDowell admitted his frustration.

He said: “We got ourselves back into the game and within a score, stood up to them and showed flashes again of what we are capable of. But you simply can’t back yourself in a 21-point deficit against good teams.

“Mental errors at key moments are costing us – that’s on myself, the coaching group and the players to sort out once and for all so they stop hurting us in games.”

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, Dave O’Connor, Matthew Laird, Robin Sinton. Replacements: Adam Hanna, Josh Chambers, Max Lyttle, Alex Weir, Aaron Kennedy, Dean Hayes.