Ballynahinch are up to fourth in the Division 1A table thanks to a brilliant final quarter effort against St. Mary’s College which saw them run out 33-13 bonus point winners at rain-soaked Ballymacarn Park.
Tries in each half from Ray Crotty and Rob Sweeney had the Dubliners leading 13-6 approaching the hour mark, but Derek Suffern's Ballynahinch side produced a tremendous 27-point turnaround.
St. Mary's played towards the clubhouse in the first half with the advantage of a strong wind and driving rain. After a strong start from 'Hinch, the visitors began to dominate territory.
In the 10th minute, a couple of missed tackles by the 'Hinch defence created space for scrum half Dave Fanagan (pictured below) to exploit, and returning centre Mark Sexton did well send full-back Crotty clear to dive over in the left corner to open the scoring. Cathal Marsh failed to convert.
Ballynahinch put their first points on the board in the 19th minute when centre Richard Reaney converted a penalty goal after Mary's failed to release on the ground.
'Hinch number 8 Charlie Butterworth was caught with his hands in the ruck in front of his posts and Marsh dispatched the penalty to give Mary's an 8-3 lead, which they held onto until half-time.
Now playing into the deteriorating conditions, the visitors struck first when tighthead prop Sweeney was driven over in the 47th minute following a catch and drive from a lineout.
'Hinch needed to use the conditions to their advantage with Aaron Cairns and James McBriar kicking with accuracy to pin the Leinster men deep in their 22, and Reaney duly slotted his second penalty of the afternoon.
In the 55th minute the visitors' defence came under sustained pressure and infringements began to mount. As a result, Mary's captain Kevin Sheahan was yellow carded for straying offside in front of his posts and Reaney converted the penalty as the hosts started to build some momentum at 13-9 down.
As the pressure mounted on Mary's, Reaney (pictured below) finished off a great move started by his centre partner Robin Harte in the 67th minute.
The Hinch centre cut through the Mary's midfield and passed wide to Ross Adair who was halted just a couple of metres short of the line by Crotty and winger Conor Toolan. 'Hinch recycled the ball with Butterworth and Kyle McCall both having a dart for the line. With the Mary's defence sucked in, scrum half Cairns moved play left where Reaney raced clear to score. He converted his own try.
Drama ensured as 'Hinch piled the pressure on the visitors' line. In the 74th minute, hooker Jonny Murphy picked up a loose ball in the midfield and linked with out-half McBriar who put in a neat chip for the corner, which was chased by winger Adair who controlled the ball with his foot and won the race for the touchdown. Reaney converted to make it 20-13.
Three minutes later, Butterworth did well to charge down a Mary's clearance kick, the loose ball was kicked through by prop Ruaidhri Murphy and Harte dived on the ball for an unconverted try.
Further drama followed when Mary's conceded a penalty late on. 'Hinch opted to kick for the corner where John Donnan secured the ball from touch. As the 'Hinch maul rumbled towards the try-line it was deliberately collapsed a metre short and referee Mark Patton awarded a penalty try for the bonus point score.
Reaney added the extras to complete his handsome 18-point haul, with the hosts more than happy to claim five valuable league points.
St. Mary's forwards coach Jonathan Garth was understandably disappointed with the outcome, saying afterwards: “We were 13-9 with fifteen (minutes) to play and we ended up with a bonus point defeat. We battled really well for long periods of time, the conditions were really tough, and obviously with having the elements in the second half it suited Ballynahinch and they played them very well.
“We probably left a couple of scores out there to be honest with you, there were a couple of chances we didn't take, and I suppose the disappointing thing from our perspective was three basic errors which led to three of their scores.
“Ballynahinch took them (the tries) well, but it was three basic errors. Basic errors have been killing us this season be honest with you, it is not attitude or anything else.”
'Hinch head coach Derek Suffern commented: “I'm very happy with that game. We were pretty happy at half-time, the conditions were really tough, we gave them a very soft score with a scrum turnover, but outside of that we defended really well, we got a couple of busts, and retained ball through phases into the wind and it denied them a lot of possession in our half.
“We did offload too much in the first half, it is something that we have been working on this season to bring that into our game, but in those conditions it is near madness at times.
“I think we stuck to our guns much better in the second half, we got a wee bit tighter in the contact, and got our carries going a wee bit lower and I think it paid dividends in the end.”
He added: “The bonus point was never in sight in that game up until there was a few minutes to go, it was a game that was certainly in the balance. I thought our second half kicking game was key, with McBriar, Cairns and Reaney putting Mary's under pressure. To be honest they struggled to get out of their half and the transfer pressure from our backs was very good.”
Referee: Mark Patton (IRFU)