Rugby coach upbeat despite back-to-back AIL defeats

Ballymena Rugby Club head coach Andy Graham. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena Rugby Club head coach Andy Graham. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena Rugby Club head caoch Andy Graham remains upbeat despite back-to-back defeats in the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League, following Saturday’s 32-24 reverse at Garryowen.

Defeat in Limerick by Garryowen sees Ballymena drop to third place in the Division 1B table, but level on points with Garryowen, who now occupy second spot.

But Graham insisted: “There is nothing between our two sides, and if anything I thought we were the more creative, and a performance like that sets us up for the rest of the season.”

With home advantage Garryowen enjoyed most of the territorial advantage in the first half, but after fifteen minutes the scores were tied at three points each, with No.10 Jamie Gavin opening the scoring with a penalty and Tim Small responding in kind.

The first try of the game was scored by Garryowen when centre Andrew O’Byrne kicked through for open side wing forward Barry O’Mahony to beat a hesitant Ballymena defence to the touchdown for a try which Gavin converted.

They scored their second try when a kick ahead by Tim Small fell into the arms of O’Byrne who made ground and put left wing Wooton in for a try, again converted by Gavin to open up a 17-3 lead at half time.

A good drive in the scrum gave Garryowen a penalty which they kicked into the corner,and set up a drive from the catch. Ballymena seemed to have halted the drive, but Wooton picked up the ball and dived over the maul for his side’s third try, again converted by Gavin for a 24-3 lead.

A scrum in the ballymena half provided an opportunity for the Garryowen no. 10 to drop agoal, putting his side 27-3 ahead.

Ballymena’s patience and industry were rewarded when Mike McComish made a break and gave Martin Irwin a scent of the try line. He showed great strength to take a couple of defenders across the line with him for a try which Small converted, but still leaving Ballymena 27-10 adrift.

From a lineout, taken by Mark Foster and the pack drove across the line for a try which Small converted to make the score 32-17.

Ballymena reduced the deficit with a penalty try, which McMaster converted, leaving Ballymena just eight points in arrears.

They continued to press and with the last play of the game were rewarded with a penalty some forty metres out. McMaster’s kick just drifted wide, the referee blew for full time and Ballymena left Dooradoyle empty handed without the losing bonus point which their second half performance deserved.