Early tries from Rory O’Loughlin and Daniel Riordan set Old Belvedere on their way to a 34-24 bonus point victory away to bottom side Ballynahinch in Ulster Bank League Division 1A.
On a perfect day for rugby at Ballymacarn Park, winless Ballynahinch knew that this was a key home match in a hugely competitive division against the real dark horses of the league.
Old Belvedere's greater consistency showed from the off as a 10-minute purple patch saw them get a three-pointer through the boot of winger Shane McDonald and cross the whitewash twice for tries through winger Rory O'Loughlin and 'Belvo stalwart Daniel Riordan, with McDonald and centre Steve Crosbie both missing a conversion.
'Hinch finally settled into their stride and worked the ball down the pitch towards the clubhouse through some very physical work from the pack, with their backs linking well to retain possession.
With Paul Rowley bossing his back row, Ireland Under-20 international Lorcan Dow – playing in the number 7 shirt – was able to reach over the try-line in the 12th minute despite a last-ditch tackle from Belvedere lock Conor Owende. Richard Reaney added the extras to close the gap to 13-7.
However, Paul Cunningham's men tightened the screw further on 'Hinch with a fine 20th minute try through the speed of McDonald. The Leinster-capped Crosbie was more assured with the boot and added the conversion this time to open up a 13-point gap.
Indiscipline was creeping into the hosts' play and 'Belvo punished this by extending their lead with a penalty from Crosbie.
On the half hour mark, to the delight of the Ballymacarn faithful and again through some excellent interplay between backs and forwards, Dow completed his brace after he was assisted by 'Hinch stalwart Mike Graham, supporting him in the loose.
Out-half Reaney slotted over the conversion, however a combination of referee Sean Gallagher's whistle, lady luck and 'Hinch's indiscipline saw McDonald add three more points to Belvedere's tally before the break. His 32nd minute penalty strike bounced over off the crossbar for a 26-14 scoreline at the turnaround.
'Hinch boss Derek Suffern clearly did some harsh talking at half-time as his charges started the second period with a different mindset, taking the game to 'Belvo from the off. But it was the Dubliners who scored first, McDonald sliding a penalty in off an upright in the 46th minute.
Steely determination set in for the Co. Down outfit as they dug deep to launch a stirring comeback. Aided by the irregularity of McDonald and Crosbie's kicking and with robust youngster Jonny Blair added to the front row, the 'Hinch pack started to make headway again.
With several strikes against the head and some excellent back-and-forth between half-backs Rowley and Reaney and centres Willie Stewart and Robin Harte, the home side attacked well into the 'Belvo 22 on several occasions. Only stern defence kept out rampaging wingers Aaron Cairns and David Busby.
Manihera Eden, on for injured full-back Adam Craig, landed a penalty to close the gap and playing off an advantage from the now desperate visitors' defence, 'Hinch moved the ball wide for Cairns to dot down. Eden converted to reduce the arrears to 29-24.
Suffern's charges now chased a draw and the potential win and with a last-ditch tackle from 'Belvo centre John Kennedy, Harte was denied the levelling score and bundled into touch.
After such a gutsy comeback effort, heartbreak lay ahead for 'Hinch as O'Loughlin broke away for his second try and 'Belvo's bonus point score. McDonald's missed conversion did not matter, and the final whistle was all that was left for an exhausted 'Hinch and a battered Old Belvedere team.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)