Ballina 6 :: Sligo 0
In a game played in atrocious weather conditions, Ballina emerged victorious over Sligo in the Connacht Junior 1 League, in a virtual mud bath at Heffernan Park, Ballina on Sunday last. The torrential week-end’s rain had transformed the pitch into a veritable glue pot before kick-off, but following a pre-match inspection by referee Damien Eames [Carrick-on-Shannon RFC], the pitch was declared playable.
Played in such wretched conditions,the game became something of a lottery, with the team which adopted better to the inhospitable surroundings likely to make most headway. In the end it was an error strewn game, where the weather militated against ball handling, and by the final quarter conditions were extremely difficult for both teams.
Ballina played the conditions better and kicked for territory at almost every opportunity, whereas Sligo favoured going through the phases, and despite a lot of good work at close quarters, were prone to turning over hard won possession. It was ironic that in the closing minutes, despite the rapidly deteriorating underfoot conditions, Sligo played their most inventive rugby, and two superb breaks by flying winger, Thomas Darcel, were deserving of a better fate. In the very last minute, another fine attcking move inside the Ballina ’22’, became unstuck following a knock-on in a very favourable position, when a Sligo try looked likely.
Without the injured Peter Mullan and hooker, Gary Conneally, Sligo struggled in the line-outs, but their scrum, which featured the returning Martin Feeney at tight head, did well. However, the side was guilty on occasions of indiscipline, and the penalty count against them proved costly.
The first 30 minutes was really a war of attrition between the packs, with the more street-wise Ballina side opting to gain territory through the boot at every opportunity. With the play now mainly in the Sligo half, and with the penalty count going against them, it was almost inevitable that the outcome would be decided by kicks at goal. When Sligo went offside at a ruck 40 metres from goal in the 30th minute, Ballina’s full-back, Easkey GAA player, Simon Wade expertly slotted the kick to break the deadlock. On the stroke of half time, Sligo were guilty of yet another indiscretion 30 metres out, and to the left, and Wade again proved to be unerring to give his side a 6-0 interval lead.
Sligo failed to take advantage of the diagonal wind in the second half, and only made spasmodic incursions into Ballina’s half. As stated, they created their best chances in the closing ten minutes when they were unfortunate not to have crossed for a try. However,a telling statistic has to be that Sligo had not one penalty in the entire game in a kickable position, which was probably primarily due to their inability to establish good field positions, while Ballina’s discipline at the breakdown in their own red zone was admirable. If Sligo were unlucky not to score a late try, Ballina nearly sealed the issue with four minutes remaining, but were denied by a superb last ditch tackle on their inside centre, David Newman by Sligo open side, Joe Sweeney.
In the end, Sligo secured a bonus point, which will be of minor consolation to the team. Following their impressive opening game against Corinthians, Sligo has not reproduced that type of form since then, and while the side does not lack in effort, and has been dogged by a series of injuries to key personnel, they will surely feel that their current position in the league table is disappointing.
Sligo have a bye in the league next week, and there is then a break until January 20th, when Sligo play O.L.B.C. in Hamilton Park.
Sligo: K. Machiditze, M. Boland, S. Dorran, G. Foley, T. Darcel, R. Burrows, B. Leahy, R. Gillespie, R. O’Boyle, M. Feeney, A. McHale, A. Williams, S. Coulter, J. Livingstone [c.], J. Sweeney.
Ballina: S. Wade, P. Hackett, D. Newman, F. Kelly, D. White, A. Moynihan, M. Honan, R. O’Donnell, R. Kelly, K. Flannery, W. O’Connor, T. Tobin, C. Ford, A. McNulty, P. Timoney.
Referee:Mr.Damien Eames [Carrick-on-Shannon].
More photos from the match can be found here.