Ballymena suffered their second defeat in their all-Ireland league campaign, going down by 25 points to 30 to Buccaneers on Saturday.
Andy Graham’s got off to the perfect start at a bitterly cold Eaton park, scoring a try through Roger McBurney after just 90 seconds.
From the kick-off Buccaneers went on the attack and seemed to be about to break through, but the movement broke down and Ballymena were awarded a scrum on their own 10 metre line.
James Gallagher picked up from the back of the scrum and fed John Crichton. He found McBurney, who sliced through the Buccaneers defence to score a great try which Richie McMaster converted to give Ballymena and early seven point lead.
For the next 10 minutes Buccaneers attacked and after a period of pressure on the Ballymena line eventually scored in the right corner through fullback Rory Moloney for an unconverted try.
It was now Ballymena’s turn to exert pressure and they were awarded a penalty, which McMaster kicked to touch. They won the line out and after a driving maul moved the ball wide, and following some great handling by the team, Callum Patterson popped up on the left and offloaded to James Gallagher who scored halfway out.
Again Richie McMaster converted to open up a 14 seven lead.
Buccaneers out half, Connor McKeown, who was awarded the Man of the Match trophy, then kicked a penalty to keep his side well in contention coming up to the break.
Before half-time, McMaster was again on target, this time with a penalty, to leave the half time score 17-8 in favour of the home side.
At this stage Ballymena were looking reasonably comfortable, being able to deal with a lively Buccaneers attack, but lost their way in the second half, at one stage conceding 22 points without reply.
After 10 minutes of the second-half Buccs won possession in a line out and moved the ball to centre field.
Some hard running by their backs had the Ballymena defence in disarray and the ball was eventually moved wide on the left to winger Callum Boland, who scored in the corner. Out half McKeown kicked the difficult conversion to reduce Ballymena’s lead to two points.
Shortly after that Boland scored another try in almost the same spot, and again McKeown’s conversion was good, putting Buccaneers 23-17 in the lead. McGrath set up what looked like a tight finish with a penalty to put his side a try away from victory at 20-23, but the Buccs’ defence held firm against the pressure, and Ballymena were kept pinned down by some shrewd kicking by McKeown.
In their attempts to break out they were turned over just on their own 22 metre line, Buccs fed the ball to right wing O’Connor who found the space unguarded and kicked ahead, winning the race for the touchdown.
McKeown converted and with only minutes left his side held an unassailable ten point lead. The remaining period was all Ballymena pressure, which eventually led to a try from a driving lineout, to give them a losing bonus point.
This result leaves Ballymena five points adrift of table toppers St Mary’s and only one point ahead of third placed Trinity, with fourth placed Old Wesley thirteen point further back.
What looks like being the game of the season at Eaton Park will take place next Saturday, when St Mary’s are the opponents.
In a 2nd 15 league match Ballymena went down 17-6 to Ballynahinch, while the 3rd and 4th XV games were postponed because of ground conditions.