Ballymena completed their Ulster Bank All-Ireland League Division 1B programme in style with a 45-0 drubbing of Buccaneers on Saturday.
The final game of the AIL campaign at Eaton Park was never going to generate the kind of excitement and tension that saw the culmination of last year’s programme which resulted in last gasp promotion for Ballymena.
The two teams in action on Saturday had nothing to gain from the result – Ballymena were secure in fourth place, with no prospect of improving and no danger of going lower. Buccaneers were also safe from relegation, after an indifferent season.
The result was a free flowing game with Ballymena in particular determined to show how good they can be, despite the absence of a number of regulars.
The pack was bolstered by the inclusion of Mike McComish, who put in his usual all action performance and the back line saw the return of Ricky Andrew, who was in sparkling form all afternoon.
The result of all this was a game which produced seven Ballymena tries and no penalty goals, and the unusual sight in the modern game of a team being ‘zeroed’.
Ballymena kicked off into the strong breeze that was blowing straight down the pitch, and made their intentions to play with ball in hand clear from the outset, mounting a series of attacks on Buccaneers, who found it difficult all afternoon to come to grips with the pace and skill of their opponents.
It took only 13 minutes to break down the defence, with Marty Irwin crossing for a try which Richie McMaster converted for a 7-0 lead.
The second try, on the half hour mark, was finished off by Darrell Montgomery, but was the result of a period of pressure with great running by Connor Smyth, John Andrew and Dominic Gallagher, who delivered the scoring pass. That took the score to 12-0 at the break, with Ballymena turning round to play with the wind.
It took only three minutes of the second half for Ballymena to get on the scoreboard again with a cleverly worked try between the Andrew brothers, John popping an inside pass to Ricky who found a large gap and the pace to exploit it, scoring between the posts. Riche McMaster converted to make the score 19-0, with Ballymena looking confident and in total control. A lineout close to Buccaneer provided the platform for Paddy James to take a short pass from Richard McCrudden and go over for a short range try, which was not converted.
Despite being so far behind, Buccaneers kept trying to play through their backs, with the full back nearly getting over on the left.
Ballymena cleared the danger and from a lineout on half way the ball broke loose and fell into the hands of Connor Smyth, who burst through a tiring defence, ran forty metres and delivered a perfect scoring pass to Dominic Gallagher who ran in for a try between the posts, converted by McMaster to make the score 31-0.
Gallagher went on to score fine individual try, which Jordan Foster converted and the same player got onto the score sheet with a try, which he converted with a drop kick.
The 45-0 score is a clear reflection of Ballymena’s total domination of this game, and of Buccaneers’ inability to put anything together in the face of a fast closing, determined defence.
Coach Andy Graham was delighted with the performance and, given that the target at the beginning of the season was to consolidate the position in Division 1B, he is very content at the way the season has turned out.
Final action of the season will take place on Thursday evening, when Ballymena take on Queens in a rearranged Ulster League game, kick off 7:30 pm