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The perfect end to a wonderful season

The perfect end to a wonderful season

Michael Gallagher29 Apr 2018 - 17:10
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Promotion to AIL secured

The final whistle in Ashbourne on Saturday signaled the end of a season which will be recalled for years to come.
The Cawley Cup, Connacht Junior Cup, Connacht Junior League and on Saturday, the All-Ireland Qualifier trophy had all been annexed and it was finally time to celebrate.
A lot of effort by a lot of people had culminated in a success which others never envisaged but those with proud and stout hearts had never doubted.

The hard work and emphasis on Mini and Youth rugby had paid off handsomely with all but two of the 22 on view having come through the club system and after a lull of 13 seasons, Ballina were headed back to the AIL.

Ashbourne 19
Ballina 29

The dream of bringing All Ireland League rugby back to Mayo was achieved in stunning style by the proud men of Ballina on Saturday last. They were clear and deserving winners on the sun-splashed plains of Meath and ended the round-robin series with maximum points as the other three provincial champions struggled in their wake.
Ballina have been playing rugby for almost a century and Saturday’s adventure will surely find a special niche in the annals of the famous club on the Moy.
As soon as dawn broke on Saturday the battalions were on the march. From all corners of Ireland and beyond, the Ballina hordes were headed for just one destination – Ashbourne.
The focus of the voyagers was on one thing and one thing only – victory in the heart of the Royal County – promotion to senior rugby, the All-Ireland League and revenge for the one and only defeat all season.
There was intense pressure on the men in the Ballina uniforms. They were poised to achieve their dream of promotion to national competition but were sitting ducks for a team with immense quality and a pedigree like few others. Ballina were there to be shot at and no better men to do the shooting than those waiting for them in the Leinster heartland.
Ashbourne had narrowly defeated Ballina before Christmas in the All-Ireland cup semi-final, so the advantage was with the home boys but the Connacht king-pins paid no heed to that. They tore into their hosts from the opening bell and Conor Mason settled nerves when he powered over for a try after just two minutes.
That was a sign of things to come. Ballina’s pack were playing like men possessed. The front row of Mason, Luke Sweeney and Shane Clarke were like young bulls let out in spring grass after a winter in the stalls. They were cavorting through the pitch and right behind them were the powerhouses of Marc Feeley, Richie Morrow and Aiden McNulty.
Fergal Tully was playing a captain’s role, putting body and soul on the line, while Daniel Molloy was destroying everything in his way. The number eight was having a day of days and made his first dent on the scoreboard after 16 minutes when he powered over the whitewash with great support from Alex Corduff.
Mickey Murphy and Kieran Lindsay were hugely prominent as Ballina continued to attack, while Calum Quinn and Corduff were powering forward in midfield as Cian Mullarkey and David Brunker mixed excellent defensive duties with flashy forward forays.
Chris O’Neill’s slicing runs from full-back were causing Ashbourne all sorts of problems and when Molloy got through for another try in the second quarter there was a growing sense that Ballina’s juggernaut could not be derailed.
Ashbourne did hot back with a converted try from Frank Keegan before half time but the 17-7 lead was music to Ballina ears at the interval.
Ashbourne came out fighting after the break and were boosted when Morrow and Molloy accidentally clashed heads like two Rhinos at full pace. The two Ballina men had to leave the field and Ashbourne sensed an opportunity but they were to be disappointed.
The Connacht men drew a line in the sand and went for broke. Calum Quinn sealed the deal when he showed great power to outpace the home cover after 60 minutes and the lead had stretched to 22-7.
The Leinster men did come back with a try of their own from Conor McNally but there was never a sense that Ballina were in bother as Gary Kavanagh, Andrew West, Ronan Molloy, Paul Newell and Richard Kelly closed out the game.
Molloy came back on the pitch after some crocheting from Dr Blaise Brunker and amazingly scored his third try of the day and Ballina’s fifth in all, to the great delight of the huge following.
Ashbourne had the final say when Sean McKeon got in for a try but by then Ballina were already on the way to senior rugby and the celebration to end all celebrations was about to be unleashed.

BALLINA: Chris O’Neill, Cian Mullarkey, Calum Quinn, Alex Corduff, David Brunker, Kieran Lindsay, Mickey Murphy; Conor Mason, Luke Sweeney, Shane Clarke, Richard Morrow, Marc Feeley, Aiden McNulty, Fergal Tully, Daniel Molloy
Replacements; Paul Newell, Richard Kelly, Gary Kavanagh, Andrew West, Ronan Molloy, Henry Hewson, Bradley Nealon
ASHBOURNE: Stephen O’Neill, Colm Craigie, Jack O’Brien, Adam Martin, Matt Connolly, Donal Crotty, Shane Bass; Jeff Mahon, James McCaghy, Frank Keegan, Jozef Szpara, Conor Hurley, Mark Rooney, Sean McKeon, Simon Deevy
Replacements; Brendan Meehan, Ciaran Roche, Mark Behan, Jake Wall, Conor McNally

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