Ballynahinch retained the First Trust Ulster Senior Cup for the first time in their history by defeating Ballymena 19-10 in an entertaining decider at Kingspan Stadium last night.
FIRST TRUST ULSTER SENIOR CUP FINAL: Thursday, December 17
BALLYMENA 10 BALLYNAHINCH 19, Kingspan Stadium
Scorers: Ballymena: Try: Adam McBurney; Con: Ritchie McMaster; Pen: Ritchie McMaster
Ballynahinch: Try: Richard Reaney; Con: Chris Quinn; Pens: Chris Quinn 4
The lead changed hands four times with Ballynahinch coming from behind twice to claim victory. ‘Hinch winger Chris Quinn was man-of-the-match, kicking four penalties and a conversion from five attempts.
Derek Suffern’s Division 1A side got off to a bright a start with full-back Manihera Eden making a probing run into the Ballymena 22, but he was bundled into touch before he could offload.
Ballymena, who are pushing for promotion from Ulster Bank League Division 1B this season, missed an opportunity to open the scoring on eight minutes when out-half Ritchie McMaster pushed a penalty wide.
‘Hinch had lock James Simpson yellow carded on 16 minutes for deliberating pulling down the maul. However, despite their numerical disadvantage, ‘the County Down outfit took the lead in the 26th minute with a penalty from Quinn after Ballymena were punished at the breakdown.
Just two minute before half-time, managed to edge in front the game’s opening try. They were awarded a penalty which they kicked to the corner. From the lineout, the pack set up a driving maul and Ulster Under-20 hooker and captain Adam McBurney was driven over. McMaster converted for good measure from a tight angle.
But Quinn reduced the Braidmen’s advantage at the break to 7-6 with his second penalty from close to the touchline, and ‘Hinch regained the lead two minutes after the restart when their goal-kicking winger fired over a penalty from his own half.
The lead was short-lived, though, as from the restart Ballymena worked the ball through a number of phases before ‘Hinch strayed offside in midfield and McMaster landed the resulting penalty.
As the tit-for-tat battle continued, the lead changed hands again on 51 minutes with a try from ‘Hinch centre Richard Reaney. Robin Harte cut through the Ballymena defence with a scything run, his offload ricocheted off James Beattie and rolled over the try-line and Reaney was quickest to react, pouncing on it for the touchdown with Quinn converting.
Determined to hit back, Ballymena nearly got their second try when scrum half Glen Baillie made a break through midfield, offloading to Paddy McGowan but a timely tackle from Ireland Sevens international Aaron Cairns prevented the Ballymena replacement from offloading.
Eden made a strong break from 22 to 22, he passed to Stuart Orr but the prop was dragged down, ‘Hinch quickly recycled and from the resulting ruck Ballymena captain Willie McKay was sin-binned for killing the ball. That allowed Quinn to extend the title holders’ lead to 19-10 with eight minutes remaining.
Suffern’s men should have had a second try in the last minute. Flanker David McGuigan, another member of the Ireland Sevens squad, made a break from a scrum and although the ball was quickly recycled after he was stopped short, Reaney’s pass for Quinn was too strong and ‘Hinch blew an overlap.
The dismissal of Simpson for a second yellow card in injury-time mattered little in the end as Ballynahinch deservedly made it two Ulster Senior Cup successes in-a-row.
BALLYMENA: Rodger McBurney; Jordan Foster, Paul James, Martin Irwin, James Beattie; Ritchie McMaster, Glen Baillie; Michael Lagan, Adam McBurney, Chris Cundell, David Whann, Ian Caldwell, Michael Shiels, Willie McKay (capt), Matthew Rea.
Replacements: Andrew Ferguson, James Taggart, Paddy McGowan, John Creighton, Jonny Rosborough
BALLYNAHINCH: Manihera Eden; Adam Craig, Robin Harte, Richard Reaney, Chris Quinn; James McBriar, Aaron Cairns; Kelvin Hamilton, Zack McCall, Craig Trenier, Jonny Madden, James Simpson, Gareth Gill, David McGuigan, Michael Graham (capt).
Replacements: Stuart Orr, Andrew Harper, Paul Pritchard, Jordan Grattan, David Nicholson.
Referee: Jonny Erskine (Ulster)