A large crowd was in attendance at the Galgorm Road venue for the local boys’ much-anticipated meeting with the current cup holders and favourites.
An early long-range penalty attempt by the home team fell just short and Methody responded immediately with a Gareth Millar penalty that settled the early nerves of the away team.
On the ten-minute mark, Methody moved the ball into space and a combination of clever off-loads and loose defence resulted in Number 8 Zach Jordan touching down in the corner. Millar was unsuccessful with the conversion to leave the score 8–0.
Ballymena raised their game as the half progressed, and excellent work from Joe Thompson and Dean Reynolds left space for Michael Stronge to sprint through for a try. Andrew Magrath converted to close the gap to 8–7 at half time.
Ballymena started the second half as strongly as they had finished the first and were awarded a penalty which Andrew Magrath confidently slotted. At 10 – 8, it seemed like the home team had put themselves into a position to win the game, but Methody rallied and their increased intensity caused the home team to make several uncharacteristic mistakes.
Two unconverted tries in the final 15 minutes, the first from Lewis Loane and the second from Robert Lyttle saw Methody stretch into an unassailable 18–10 lead and the Belfast school held on to take their place in the Quarter Final draw, with the Academy going into the Subsidiary Shield, where they will travel to Sullivan Upper.
It’s interesting to note that in the 10 years since Ballymena Academy has been named as one of the nominal ‘seeded’ teams, they have met another ‘seed’ in their opening game in eight of those years!
It has led to a scenario in which, for many talented players over that period, the culmination of seven years of rugby is to experience only 70 minutes of competitive Schools’ Cup rugby.