Ballina 17 :: Sligo 19
Finally the long anticipated League match against local rivals Ballina took place, in near perfect conditions at Ballina. Sligoâ€™s Under 13 squad were, however, short in numbers this time around. Due to other commitments a significant number of their backline were absent, and as a result a very reduced panel was available to the coaches.
The previous weekâ€™s training match was to prove of benefit, however, as the backline that was available had experience of playing in different configurations. After a somewhat nervous first five minutes with errors being made on both sides, a simple change in the backline configuration saw a better balance of abilities. Sligoâ€™s pack were immense in their efforts, and after about ten minutes Matthew Davey was driven over the Ballina Line for Sligoâ€™sr first try. This was duly converted, and Sligo turned to receive the ball from the restart.
Once again the pack took possession of the ball and continued to ruck and maul the ball towards the Ballina line. The ball from the breakdown was coming out fast and clean, swiftly moving out towards the wing or carried forward in darting runs by the backs, loose forwards, and second row. As in the Mullingar match, however, over-eagerness around the breakdown and scrum all too frequently resulted in needless penalties being given away. The ball flowed from one touchline to the other, forwards and backwards, with possession frequently changing hands, until after three consecutive phases Sean Finnegan was over the line for Sligoâ€™s second try. Almost immediately after the failed conversion attempt the whistle blew half time. Sligo led 12 to 0 as the sides turned around.
The scoreline was too good to be believed, however, and Ballina rallied themselves to the task. Five minutes into the half Sligo gave away the first try to Ballina, the breakthrough resulting from missed tackles by the Sligo defence around the fringes of the ruck. Tensions and frustration from the constantly changing possession were beginning to rise a bit on both sides, and the referee spoke to both sides requesting more calm. Ballina had their heads up now and continued to drive forward with their backline becoming more organised at the breakdown than they had been in the first half.
Sligo were becoming weaker in the quality of their tackling, and despite the best efforts of the full-back they were caught out by a Ballina player bursting through. Once again, Ballina failed to convert the try, a factor which was, in the end, to determine the result of the match. Not to be outdone, and showing the determination which has brought them back in previous matches, Sligo rapidly took the game back to Ballina. The Sligo pack was taking the upper hand again and drove Ballina backwards with a fearsome rolling maul. At the inevitable breakdown fast ball came out to the Sligo backline and excellent handling skills saw Darragh Burke run into the corner for a well worked and converted try.
It was ten minutes from the end and Sligo were leading now 19 points to 10. Ballina required two tries and at least one conversion to take the game. The pace of the game, which had been to say the least rather fast, began to take its toll on the fifteen Sligo players who had been on the pitch throughout the match. Ballina had five players spare and substitutions, both at half time and during the second half, had given them the physical advantage. At least two of the Sligo players were now carrying knocks and the remainder had run their hearts out. In the dying minutes of the game, Sligo found themselves desperately holding their line after giving away a penalty in their own 22. The ball appeared to be running for Ballina, as after an apparent knock-on, their scrum-half jinked his way around the edge of the ruck and dived over the line for Ballinaâ€™s third try. This was close enough to the posts for them to convert, and just as it crossed the bar the whistle went for full time.
Sligoâ€™s additional conversion had won them the match which it had been anticipated would be a hard fought one. Ballina and Sligo both have squads with excellent skills and potential, and are usually closely matched at most of their meetings. This result proved to be no different. What was reassuring for the Sligo coaches, however, was the general quality of play from a depleted Sligo panel. The recent work on the defensive line keeps showing benefits, but Sligo need to sharpen up on their tackling around the breakdown, as this proved their weakest area today and cost two of the three tries scored against them today.
Panel: Cian Allen-Kielly, Eoin Kilroy-Talbot, Matthew Davey, Darragh Burke, Aaron Donnellan, James Oâ€™Hehir, Leigh Dunne, Conor Kerins, Gabriel Knecht, Karol Devaney, Killian Filan, Sean Finnegan, Tyrone Wrenne, David Connell, Andrew Nairn.
More photos from the game can be found here (courtesy of Justin Knecht).