Ballynahinch celebrated their first win of the new Ulster Bank League season after coming from behind to beat Old Belvedere 13-8 at Ballymacarn Park.
Ballynahinch looked to be struggling when they failed to convert a series of early penalties. 'Belvo's try on the stroke of half-time was an opportunist effort from Ireland Under-20 centre Peter Robb, who scored after gathering a penalty attempt that had come back off the post.
But the County Down outfit turned things around in the second half with winger Ross Adair's third try of the league run and eight points from the boot of former Dungannon centre Stuart McCloskey.
A sunny but deceptively breezy day welcomed the Ballynahinch faithful to Ballymacarn Park for the first home match in Ulster Bank League Division 1A.
With the 1st XV pitch having had a complete drainage overhaul during the summer months, it was always going to be touch and go for George Morton, the grounds convenor, and his staff to get the pitch in a playable condition.
Added to his problems, the 'Indian summer' and unusual lack of precipitation had also stymied any efforts to get the grass to grow. With no other option available, the first home league clash would be played on the 2nds pitch.
Ballynahinch won the toss and chose to receive the ball playing towards the Slieve Croob end and put the visitors under pressure from the off. The early collisions between the two sides were to set the scene for what was to be a very bruising but good-natured match.
'Hinch captalised on their early pressure and kept the Dubliners pinned well in their own half and struggling to battle their way out.
Several early errors from the Old Belvedere team allowed stand-in kicker Richard Reaney to have four attempts to get on the scoreboard in the first 14 minutes – but with the swirling wind having a big influence, the game remained scoreless.
With 30 minutes played, 'Hinch were defending a break-out by the Belvedere back line, with Robb heading for the line. Robin Harte put in a try-saving tackle, but the visitors were awarded a penalty with the tackle being deemed as being too high.
Belvedere opted for the lineout, but lost the advantage to a well turned over ball through the sterling efforts of Paul Pritchard in the loose.
Late in the half, 'Belvo were again pressurising the 'Hinch line and an inadvertent offside awarded the visitors a very kickable three points. Winger Josh Glynn (pictured below) got the first points of the day.
Glynn missed a further penalty, but with 'Hinch feeling the pressure from the visitors another kickable penalty was awarded for not releasing on the ground.
Glynn's 39th-minute attempt hit the post and the rebound was picked up by the alter Robb who broke through two 'Hinch tackles to score his try. Glynn failed to add the extras, leaving it 8-0 at the break.
The second half started with Derek Suffern's charges piling the pressure on the visitors. Although 'Hinch were also guilty of giving away easy penalties, Glynn was obviously finding the kicking conditions difficult as he missed two further kickable penalties.
The Ballynahinch pack were starting to show their dominance at set piece time as they dominated the scrum and were winning Belvedere balls at the lineout.
On 50 minutes, a ball stolen from the Dubliners' lineout was quickly worked along the home back-line with McCloskey offloading for the in-form Adair to finish the move. McCloskey's conversion made it a one-point game.
Barely three minutes later, some excellent interplay between the 'Hinch backs and forwards saw them advance in menacing fashion. Pritchard and Charlie Butterworth then helped Harte get within inches of the line with visitors forced to infringe. McCloskey slotted the subsequent penalty to move 'Hinch ahead (10-8).
Clearly invigorated by taking the lead, 'Hinch kept the pressure on the visitors through purposeful attacking runs from the backs led by Aaron Cairns, new full-back Steve Macauley, Reaney and McCloskey, forcing Belvedere to give up easy penalties.
A further six points went awry as the difficult wind conditions on the bottom pitch affected McCloskey off the kicking tee, however he did succeed with one more attempt to edge 'Hinch closer to the finish line.
With just minutes left to play, 'Belvo took a hard-won advantage and rucked their way towards the 'Hinch whitewash. The Down side's defence was impressively resilient and dug deep to concede a late penalty rather than a try.
Paul Cunningham's men ran out of time and space from the ensuing lineout and Ballynahinch managed to boot the ball to touch – club captain Harry McAleese did the honours – to confirm their five-point triumph.
Referee: Shane Kierans (IRFU)