Young Munster will contest their second Energia Bateman Cup final in three seasons after beating Ballynahinch 17-14 at a rain sodden Ballymacarn Park.
ENERGIA BATEMAN CUP SEMI-FINAL:
Saturday, September 30 –
BALLYNAHINCH 14 YOUNG MUNSTER 17, Ballymacarn Park
Scorers: Ballynahinch: Tries: Ethan Graham, Conor Piper; Cons: Conor Rankin 2
Young Munster: Tries: Jack Lyons, Chris Moore; Cons: Cian Casey 2; Pen: Cian Casey
HT: Ballynahinch 7 Young Munster 7
Munster hooker Chris Moore’s 72nd-minute maul try sent the 2022 runners-up through to January’s decider. Young full-back Cian Casey contributed an important seven points from the tee – including two kicks from out wide.
Replacement Conor Piper’s opportunist try just after half-time had Ballynahinch leading 14-7. Ulster Academy player Ethan Graham had scored their first converted effort, cancelling out Jack Lyons’ 12th-minute opener.
However, Munsters recovered from first half yellow cards for Tom Goggin and David Begley. A Casey penalty punished Bradley Luney’s sin-binning, and a big final quarter from the visitors’ pack set up a final meeting with defending champions Terenure College.
This was the Cookies’ first away victory over Ballynahinch since December 2019, and comes as a timely boost for their new coaching team, led by former hooker Ger Slattery, ahead of the start of their Energia All-Ireland League Division 1A campaign next Saturday.
Young Munster got off to a strong start with the left boot of Casey putting them in good positions. A fluid attack off a lineout almost led to a try on the opposite wing but Harry Fleming lost the ball forward as he stretched for the line.
A couple of crooked lineouts halted Ballynahinch’s early progress, which had come from a well-won initial scrum penalty. In response, it was the visitors’ maul that laid the platform for the opening score.
The ball went to ground from a backs move, but out-half Lyons picked it up at pace, dummied and showed good strength to make it over near the right corner. Casey coolly clipped the difficult conversion over for a 7-0 lead.
Defences were on top until early in the second quarter when a brilliantly-timed offload from Mark Best put prop John Dickson through a gap. Play was called back for Munsters lock Goggin to be binned for flipping Best head over the heels in a tackle.
A clever attack from the subsequent lineout saw Zack McCall burst through and go close to opening Ballynahinch’s account, however the incoming Claytan Milligan was guilty of going off his feet at the ruck and the Cookies cleared the danger.
Declan Horrox got up to claim a timely lineout steal though, and following a prolonged spell of ‘Hinch pressure during which Milligan had a try ruled out, Munsters lost a second player to the bin in the form of prop Begley.
Half-backs Chris Gibson and Dominic Clapcott attacked the short side off a close-in 32nd-minute scrum, and the latter drew in the cover before putting winger Graham over in the left corner. Conor Rankin matched Casey with a sweetly-struck levelling conversion.
The Limerick men were on the front foot approaching the interval, only for usually reliable number 8 Bailey Faloon to knock on under pressure from Gibson.
They also turned over lineout ball, and then Moore, having bumped off Gibson, was brought to ground and leaked a penalty due to McCall’s sturdy jackal. It was level-pegging entering the second half, but Gibson’s pacy break led to ‘Hinch scoring inside two minutes.
The scrum half’s attempted pass to Graham went loose but play continued and Piper picked up the ball, shrugged off a tackle and took Sean Rigney with him over the line for the lead score, which Rankin converted again with aplomb.
Having felt aggrieved to cough up such a soft try, the Cookies redoubled their efforts and a spritely break from Begley reignited their attack. Captain Alan Kennedy split the defence on a big charge before ‘Hinch number 8 Luney saw yellow for a stray hand from an offside position.
The visitors took the points on offer, with Casey’s kick going over off the left hand post to reduce the arrears to 14-10. The game continued to ebb and flow in worsening conditions, Rigney pinching two lineouts either side of a fantastic 50:22 kick from Graham.
A thumping tackle from the increasingly-influential Best on Stephen McLoughlin won possession back for ‘Hinch, who were playing in the Bateman Cup for the first time since 2017.
Ominously, the Young Munster forwards were beginning to make inroads again with penalties earned in both the scrum and the maul. Their last three trips to Ballymacarn Park had all ended in defeat.
Indeed, it was their driving play that proved crucial in the end, with a monster maul putting them in try-scoring range before John Foley was held up a few phases later.
Best soon infringed in midfield, with Donnchadh O’Callaghan tapping and go quickly to bring Munsters right back into their top flight rivals’ 22.
Another penalty allowed them to go to the left corner, and despite ‘Hinch arguing that Moore’s throw was not straight, the maul gained momentum – aided by backs James O’Brien and Shane O’Leary joining it – before O’Callaghan directed Moore to the blindside where he gleefully touched down.
Casey continued his impressive kicking display with a fine conversion that made it a three-point game. Slattery’s men finished out the contest on their own terms, keeping ‘Hinch in their own half and finding more gaps through the sniping O’Callaghan and his industrious pack.
BALLYNAHINCH: Conor Rankin; Aaron Cairns, Matthew Booth, Mark Best, Ethan Graham; Dominic Clapcott, Chris Gibson; John Dickson, Claytan Milligan, Harry McCormick, Tom Donnan (capt), Declan Horrox, Callum Irvine, Zack McCall, Bradley Luney.
Replacements: Scott Connolly, Conor Piper, Paddy Boomer, Stephen Campbell, Arthur Johnson, Ryan Wilson, Paul Kerr, Stephen Macauley.
YOUNG MUNSTER: Cian Casey; Aidan Shortall, Harry Fleming, Shane O’Leary, James O’Brien; Jack Lyons, Donnchadh O’Callaghan; David Begley, Chris Moore, Paul Allen, Tom Goggin, Sean Rigney, Alan Kennedy (capt), John Foley, Bailey Faloon.
Replacements: Arron Roulston, Peter Meyer, Mike Treacy, Stephen McLoughlin, Eoin McCormack, Oisin Pepper, Oscar Davey, Oran O’Reilly.