Ballymena made it five wins out of five in Ulster Bank All-Ireland League Division 1B after a thrilling last-gasp 23-22 win at Galwegians on Saturday.
Billed as a “Top of the Table” clash, this fixture between the two leading team in Division 1B lived up to expectations.
The weather played its part, with a strong wind blowing straight down the pitch and heavy, continuous rain for the whole 80 minutes.
Playing against the elements, Ballymena started strongly, dominating territory and possession, with their powerful scrum denying Galwegians and kind of decent possession.
The visitors opened the scoring after 32 minutes when good work by the pack allowed Mike McComish to make ground, move the ball to James Beattie who timed the pass beautifully to put Paddy James in at the left hand corner for a try which McMaster converted, to open up a seven point lead.
Three minutes later he increased the Ballymena lead with a well struck penalty, so with the half time whistle imminent they were well in command, with a ten point lead over the league leaders and the prospect of playing with the elements in the second half.
But a momentary lapse of concentration gave Galwegians a lineout right on the Ballymena line, and they drove over for a try which was not converted leaving the half time score at 10-5 in favour of the visitors.
Galwegians had played second fiddle for most of the first half, losing the scrum battle conclusively, but it was a different team that started the second half, almost immediately scoring a try far out on the right, which again they failed to convert.
From that point on they took control of the game, and it took all of that grit and determination in defence that this Ballymena team has shown consistently throughout the season to stem the tide.
Another successful McMaster penalty eased the pressure, but when Galwegians won a lineout and drove over for another unconverted try to put them two points clear of Ballymena, it looked as if the writing was on the wall and they were facing their first AIL defeat of the season.
The fears of the considerable travelling support were compounded when an ambitious long pass from Tim Small, replacing McMaster at out-half, was intercepted by the Galwegians winger, who ran unopposed to score between the posts, giving Galwegians their only converted try of the four that they scored and opening up a nine point gap with 15 minutes to go.
At that stage in the game the scrum dominance which Ballymena had enjoyed had gone, so the best result that the support could see was a losing bonus point.
The players had other ideas and slowly fought their way back into the game, and with the return of James Taggart to the front row, the scrum began to reassert itself.
The scrum power was rewarded with a penalty try, duly converted by Small, so at the end of the 80 minutes Galwegians were holding a two point lead, and Ballymena were a long way away from the try line.
In the 43rd minute of the second half, Ballymena were awarded a penalty 40 metres out, a difficult proposition in the wind and rain.
But Tim Small stepped up, made a sweet connection to send the ball over the bar to put Ballymena one point clear.
That was the last play of the game and the referee blew the whistle for full time, leaving a very deflated Galwegians team and support.
They had outscored Ballymena by four tries to two, but their failure to kick goals cost them dear, while 13 of Ballymena’s points came from the boot. Galwegians’ efforts brought them a losing bonus point and a try bonus point, but that was not enough to deny Ballymena top slot, by one point, in the Division 1B table.
This Saturday local rivals Malone are the visitors to Eaton Park for the next game in this series of four in the All Ireland League.