Final Day in this season’s AIB League provided a marvellous finale to the competition with Ballymena, Clontarf, Dolphin and Old Crescent serving up entertaining and exciting rugby
Final Day in this season’s AIB League provided a marvellous finale to the competition with Ballymena, Clontarf, Dolphin and Old Crescent serving up entertaining and exciting rugby with the spoils going to one team, Dolphin who won their league and one team, Ballymena, who didn’t.
The Division One final was as good a game of rugby as will be seen anyhwere at any level. Played in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd Clontarf and Ballymena produced a game that ebbed and flowed and kept everyone on the edge of their seats until that injury time drop-goal from Adam Larkin. As scores went, Larkin did more than anyone to bring the title to Eaton Park, his two second half tries giving his side a crucial edge ahead of a fierce Clontarf onslaught. But there were some marvellous individual displays from both sides. McMillen was immense, Jackman was his usual self and there were others.
The opening Clontarf try was wonderfully well worked. Ben Gissing was sent crashing through by Bernard Jackman and when the big lock was grounded seven metres out, Mick Walls swept the ball right to the onrushing James Downey who made some more hard yards before off-loading to Daire O’Shea for the score.
Two periods in the game ultimately decided the outcome. The first was just before the break when Clontarf came hammering on the Ballymena and left with nothing to show thanks to unmerciful Ballymena defence – and at a time when they were reduced to 14 after Mark Blair had been sin-binned.
Then a second period of that same teak-tough defence arrived in the closiing stages when Clontarf trailed 18-25 but again came looking for the equalising try. They will probably never know how Ballymena kept them out. Ballymena will probably never know either , but at least three times Clontarf looked odds-on to score only to be held up and pushed back.
It was an injustice that they didn’t score. It would have been an injustice if they did. It was that type of game.
Two superb sides playing for their lives and it was fitting that the try of the year – from the gifted James Topping – should be played in the match of the year and scored by the side that eventually lifted the trophy.
Credit too to the man in the middle, Alain Rolland, who had a superb match. It was not that he was always up with the game, it seems that sometimes he was ahead of it and his non-fussy handling contributed hugely to a great occasion.
Clontarf. D Hewitt; N O’Brien, D O’Shea, J Downey, O Winchester; A Dunne, R O’Reilly; W O’Kelly (capt), B Jackman, A Clarke, B Gissing, A Wood, D Quinn, D Moore, S O’Donnell.
Replacements: D Higgins for O’Brien (60 mins), J Wickham for O’Kelly (84 mins).
Ballymena. P Wallace; J Topping, M Waterhouse, H Jones, S Young; A Larkin, P Spence; S McConnell, P Shields, B Young, M Blair, G Longwell, M McCullough, R Nelson (capt), N McMillan.
Replacements: N McKernan for McConnell, Maxwell for Jones (both half-time), A Graham for Blair (57 mins). Sin-binned: Blair (39-49 mins).
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU).