St Mary’s 16
On a day when the Banbridge club paid tribute to the players of 98-99 who had represented them in the first game in the All-Ireland League, the squad of 18-19 produced a fitting performance, securing the win which lifted them up to second place in Division 1B.
The game in many ways reflected the way the unpredictable Division 1B has gone this season, with the teams taking turns to lead before the match ended with just two points separating them.
Bann Coach Simon McKinstry’s delight at chalking up another win was heightened by the fact that it was achieved without any of the club’s contingent of Ulster players. “The loss of Rob Lyttle on Saturday morning was certainly a blow,” he commented. “And Caleb Montgomery, who has been pretty much a regular in the back row this season, picked up a bug mid-week and we missed his physicality against what was a massive Mary’s pack.
“But the rest of the guys seemed to be galvanised by their absence and upped their game to compensate. And overall I thought we deserved the win, even if it was by a narrow margin.”
St Mary’s lost the services of flanker David Aspil in the second minute and Bann dominated the early play, without ever really threatening to break down the solid Dubliners’ defence. Indeed it was the visitors who took the lead, from virtually their first foray inside the Bann “22” with 22 minutes played. Conor Dean put a neat grubber in behind the home defensive line and full-back Ruairi Shields won the race to touch down, with Paddy O’Driscoll converting.
That score would have been doubled just four minutes later but for some great work by Josh Cromie, assisted by Conor Field, whose combined efforts brought down Hugo Conway when the St Mary’s winger looked certain to score.
And when Bann eventually found a way through the Mary’s lines just two minutes later, winger John Porter pirouetted out of a last ditch tackle to touch down, with Adam Doherty’s conversion tying the half-time scores.
Doherty’s early second half penalty edged his side in front but that was more than negated when O’Driscoll slotted over twice, the second from 45 metres, for a 10-13 lead for the visitors with 50 minutes played.
Three minutes later Bann countered off a Mary’s’ clearance kick and off the subsequent ruck out-half Cromie produced a piece of magic, outwitting the Mary’s defence on a 45 metre run to the try line to the delight of the big home support.
The lead changed hands again on the strength of O’Driscoll’s third penalty. But when Bann re-applied pressure, their scrummaging power saw them win a penalty which Doherty coolly converted. It was to prove the final score of the game, although Mary’s blew a try-scoring opportunity in the dying minutes when a potential scoring pass went to ground.
“I was disappointed that we gave away those soft penalties,” reflected McKinstry. “But we’d been working hard on our scrummaging over the past few weeks and it paid off when we won that shot at goal near the end.
“I thought Josh (Cromie) had a great game in both defence and attack – he’s really coming on in what is a relatively new position for him. (Flanker) Ethan Harbinson also showed up very well and Jonny Little’s organisation of the backline was crucial. And it was good to have Robin Sinton back after a long spell out recovering from injury.”
With Bann now sitting two points behind pace-setters Malone, McKinstry knows that his team’s next game, at Gibson Park on 16th February, takes on massive significance. “The players who came into the team on Saturday really put their hands up so hopefully we’ll have some hard selection decisions to make when picking the team to face Malone.”