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Buoyant Ballina Take Early Lead In Ulster Bank League Qualifiers

Buoyant Ballina Take Early Lead In Ulster Bank League Qualifiers

Ballina had a dream first day out in the All-Ireland Provincial League Championship, winning 45-26 at home to Bandon to shoot straight to the top of the table, while Ashbourne and Instonians, who sit second and third respectively, played out a pulsating 24-all draw at Milltown House.

ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, April 7

ROUND 1 RESULTS –

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BALLINA 45 BANDON 26, Heffernan Park
Scorers: Ballina: Tries: Marc Feeley 2, Kieran Lindsay 2, Daniel Molloy 2, Conor Mason; Cons: Kieran Lindsay 5
Bandon: Tries: Santiago Gonzalez 2, Scott Kingston, Gearoid Crowley; Cons: Kerry Desmond 3

HT: Ballina 26 Bandon 14

ASHBOURNE 24 INSTONIANS 24, Milltown House
Scorers: Ashbourne: Tries: Sean McKeon, Jack O’Brien, Colm Craigie, Ciaran Roche; Cons: Casey Dunne 2
Instonians: Tries: Ben Alexander, Matt Kilpatrick 2; Cons: Fraser Wright 3; Pen: Fraser Wright

HT: Ashbourne 7 Instonians 17

After winning the treble in Connacht this year, Ballina transferred their domestic form onto the All-Ireland stage with a sizzling seven-try performance at Heffernan Park. They hit the ground running with a third-minute try from excellent flanker Marc Feeley, who finished off some fine work from the home pack.

Backs and forwards combined to tee up a quick-fire second try, scored by Kieran Lindsay whose half-back partner Mickey Murphy was involved in the build-up. Number 8 Daniel Molloy was next over the whitewash in the 25th minute, making it 19-0 as he touched down from the back off a strong scrum.

However, with half-backs Rhys Harrold and Santiago Gonzalez growing in influence, Munster champions Bandon hit back with two converted tries before the interval. Quick-thinking Argentinian scrum half Gonzalez pounced on a bouncing ball, following an Enda Phelan break, for the first score, and he also bagged the second courtesy of his own quick tap. In between, Ballina secured their bonus point via prop Conor Mason, the man known as the ‘Erris Express’.

The Corkmen trailed 26-14 at half-time but were back within striking distance following some set piece pressure and a 48th minute try from hooker Scott Kingston in the corner. However, the Ballina forwards soon returned the favour and Feeley crashed over for his second try of this free-flowing tie.

Out-half Lindsay landed the difficult conversion for good measure, giving them a healthy cushion at 33-19. Again though, Bandon showed their resilience with a fantastic seven-pointer from winger Gearoid Crowley which bagged their bonus point. They wanted more from the game and had one of the best players on show in all-action flanker Conall Bromwich, but the Mayo men closed the door shut with a strong finish.

Roared on by the big home crowd, Lindsay slalomed through for try number six and, with time almost up, the out-half had Ballina knocking on the door for another score. It duly arrived when number 8 Molloy showed immense strength to make the line from seven metres out despite the presence of a number of covering defenders.

Meanwhile, Ulster Bank Junior Cup champions Ashbourne trailed by 10 points on three separate occasions but fought back for a share of the spoils with Instonians in a tense first round clash. The second-placed Meath men picked up three points courtesy of their four-try haul on home turf, while Inst lie third in the standings on two points.

Instonians were left frustrated by their failure to put Ashbourne away having led 17-7 at the turnaround. Relegated from the Ulster Bank League in 2014, the Belfast club have built a strong squad under the stewardship of Wilbur Leacock and player-coaches Roger Wilson and John Andress, both former professional players.

Inst’s powerful scrum and lineout maul made early inroads, the latter setting up Ben Alexander, who returned to the side this week, for an opening ninth-minute try which out-half Fraser Wright converted. A well-struck penalty from Wright soon widened the margin to 10 points, and a flat-looking Ashbourne really needed to fire a shot.

Gradually, the home side gained a foothold and after Instonians had a penalty reversed in their own 22, Ashbourne used the ensuing maul to send flanker Sean McKeon over for a settling seven-pointer, 27 minutes in. However, their joy was short-lived as the Ulster title holders hit back with their second converted try – winger Matt Kilpatrick profited from more good work by the visitors’ pack – and an accumulation of penalties saw Ashbourne lock Conor Hurley sin-binned.

Once restored to their full complement, Ashbourne reduced the arrears to 17-10 thanks to centre Jack O’Brien’s 50th-minute try, the product of a strong break by number 8 Simon Deevy and the timely ball-carrying impact of Ciaran Roche off the bench. Casey Dunne slotted over his second conversion, but Inst began the final quarter with a well-worked third try, an advancing maul providing the platform again and Matthew Keane popped the ball to the onrushing Kilpatrick who completed his brace.

After Wright’s successful conversion, Inst’s defence came under further pressure as Ashbourne’s replacements helped them to force the pace. The Ulstermen lost Lewis McNamara to the sin-bin, and although they saved one try in the corner, they could not hold out as Adam Martin’s long skip pass put winger Colm Craigie over out wide to make it 24-19.

Ashbourne were back level with five minutes remaining, the influential Roche driving over from close range. Dunne missed both conversions but Peter O’Donnell’s charges were still pleased with their second half display which netted them three hard-earned points. They face Enniscorthy in a Provincial Towns Cup semi-final this Sunday, before thoughts turn to their April 21 trip to Bandon. Inst, who are hoping their injury list clears, host Ballina that day.

– Photos supplied by Craig McCormick and Bill Lockhart

ALL-IRELAND PROVINCIAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 2 FIXTURES:

Saturday, April 21 –

BANDON (4th) v ASHBOURNE (2nd), Old Chapel, 2.30pm

INSTONIANS (3rd) v BALLINA (1st), Shaw’s Bridge, 2.30pm

Related Links –

All-Ireland Provincial League Championship – Fixtures/Results

Round Robin Series Table