Ballynahinch lost their first game at home this season in a thrilling Ulster Bank Bateman Cup semi-final defeat to Clontarf. Playing in perfect conditions, these Division 1A rivals served up a very entertaining game with the result in doubt right up to the final whistle.
Ballynahinch played towards the clubhouse in the first half, and opened the scoring in the 10th minute when Ross Adair intercepted in the Clontarf half to dot down near the left corner. Richard Reaney converted to give the home side a seven-point lead.
The north Dubliners were back on level terms in the 16th minute when second row Tom Byrne smashed his way over from close range with David Joyce adding the extras.
A great break in the 27th minute by recent Ulster debutant Adair should have resulted in a second 'Hinch try, but his final pass to Paul Pritchard was not accurate and the chance was missed.
Reaney put Ballynahinch 10-7 in front with a 31st minute penalty goal after the visitors went offside at a ruck. However, Clontarf hit back with a second try from Byrne just before half-time.
Andy Wood's charges took play through a number of phases which eventually ended with an overlap out wide on the right where Byrne dived in to score an unconverted try, giving his side a narrow 12-10 interval lead.
The Co. Down outfit made a poor start to the second half, gifting a penalty attempt for Joyce in the first minute which he pushed wide to the right of the posts.
'Tarf increased their advantage in the 45th minute with their third try which came after another period of sustained pressure. After a number of phases, he ball was moved left to send winger Rob McGrath clear to dive in at the corner. Out-half Joyce missed the conversion.
Joyce's opposite number Reaney closed the gap to 17-13 with a well-struck 50th minute penalty and play remained nip and tuck for the next ten minutes with 'Hinch starting to take control.
In the 64th minute a good run from Charlie Butterworth created room for Steve Macauley to attack down the right wing. He did well to stay strong and skip past a number of tackles for a well-taken score. Reaney's conversion suddenly made it 20-17 to the home side.
As the game entered the closing stages, 'Tarf threw everything into attack and they were rewarded in decisive fashion. In a carbon copy of McGrath's effort, right winger Michael Brown came into the line and went over in the left hand corner. Joyce tagged on a brilliant conversion from the touchline for a 24-20 scoreline with four minutes to play.
Ballynahinch now had to go in search of a match-winning try and they threw everything at the 'Tarf defence, with play never leaving the visitors' 22 for the remainder of the game. Derek Suffern's men retained possession and drove for the line. It looked like an overlap had developed out wide in the final play, but Michael Graham was tackled into touch by key man Joyce and Clontarf could finally celebrate their progress to the Bateman Cup final.
Ballynahinch and Clontarf will meet again at Ballymacarn Park in three weeks' time in the final round of the Ulster Bank League Division 1A campaign. With both teams still pressing for a play-off place, it is sure to be a game not to miss.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)