Ballymena moved back into second place in Division 1B with a thumping 43-15 dismissal of 14-man Shannon at Eaton Park, which included two tries apiece from Tim Small and Sean Taylor.
(Video highlights from Harry Cook – Image Media Films)
In near perfect conditions, Ballymena scored six tries against a Shannon side that, quite early on, was reduced to 14 men when second row Ruairi O'Donnell was dismissed for a tip tackle.
The Braidmen got off to the perfect start when a series of drives by the pack set up a perfect position for scrum half Glenn Baillie to move the ball quickly to Ritchie McMaster whose long pass took the Shannon defence out of the game and released winger Tim Small to go in at the corner.
The day got worse for Shannon following the ninth minute red card, but it was the visitors that exerted most of the pressure over the next period and they were rewarded with a penalty which out-half Tadhg Bennett converted, leaving them only 7-3 in arrears and still pressing.
Approaching half-time Ballymena were still having difficulty dealing with resilient Shannon, but a great piece of interplay between forwards and backs created space on the outside for flanker and man-of-the-match Stephen Mulholland to finish strongly and score far out on the right.
McMaster's excellent touchline conversion opened up a 14-3 advantage for the interval and let the home supporters breathe a bit more easily.
That there was no room for complacency was amply demonstrated early in the second period when Bennett threaded a beautifully weighted grubber kick through, and winger David O'Donovan did really well to break onto it, hacking the ball on twice before touching down just to the left of the posts.
Bennett added the extras to reduce the deficit to four points again, but it was clear that the exertion of playing with a man short was beginning to take its toll on the Shannon players and from that point on Ballymena began to turn the screw
A penalty by McMaster extended his side's lead and the Ulster outfit began to dominate proceedings and added four more tries against a tiring Shannon.
The forwards, despite a number of tactical substitutions, began to take control and really pressurise the Shannon defence. The pressure set up a promising position and when the ball was moved left, McMaster threw one of his trademark long passes which found Sean Taylor and his well-timed pass gave Small an easy run-in for his second seven-pointer.
Ulster's Ricky Andrew was next on the scoresheet when a clever back move, with Martin Irwin running a decoy line, saw him crash through the Shannon defence for a try which Small, who had taken over at out-half from McMaster, converted to put Ballymena virtually out of sight at 31-10.
The home backs were beginning to find room to work in, and full-back Taylor was on hand twice to finish off good work by the inside backs. Andrew's long pass put Taylor in space on the right, but still with work to do. He stepped inside the cover to score with aplomb and Small converted.
Skillful handling by Dominic Gallagher and Patrick James helped to create Taylor's second score, with the latter's flipped pass finding Andrew and he transferred the ball on to Taylor who shrugged of a couple of defenders to score Ballymena's only unconverted try of the day.
The last word, however, belonged to Shannon, who in the fourth minute of injury-time worked a position close to the Ballymena line and put number 8 Lee Nicholas in for an unconverted try far out on the right.
Referee: Nigel Correll (IRFU)