Braidmen relish return to Ravenhill
BALLYMENA booked a second successive First Trust Senior Cup final appearance after a 19-12 victory over City of Derry in Saturday’s semi-final.
It was a much-needed boost for the Eaton park men, who have endured a miserable first half of their All-Ireland League campaign so far.
It was a tie which was bereft of any real quality that would have given the players some satisfaction for their efforts in a stop start game that was completely dominated by one red and four yellows cards.
The first setback for the Judges Road men came on 12 minutes when Beattie got injured when a scrum collapsed and he was replaced by Paul McFeely.
Ballymena got themselves into the Derry half via a couple of penalty decisions at the tackle area following decent play from Johnny Burns, Simon Shaw and Ian Caldwell.
Ian Vance was always lively at scrumhalf for Ballymena and when a Derry player went offside after tackling him 35m out on 18 minutes, outhalf Martin Irwin converted to give Ballymena a 3-0 lead.
The game became littered with penalties and injury stoppages and little continuity. Irwin kicked another penalty after 30 minutes to double the lead.
The game turned on its head as it entered first half injury time when Chris Cooper, Derry’s wing forward was red carded, while Stephen Corr went to the sin bin on 43 minutes to leave City of Derry fire fighting with 13 men.
Vance went to the bin on 46 minutes and when the referee finally blew the half time whistle after 50 minutes it was a relief to players and supporters alike.
The second half started with a bang, Derry kicked off and some neat handling and interplay from Johnny Burns, Darrell Mulholland, Peter Budina and Tim Small allowed centre Alan Smith get in for an excellently try. With Irwin converting Ballymena led by 13-0.
Ballymena increased their lead on 52 minutes when Andrew Warwick, Connor Smith, David Whann and Caldwell made the hard yards before Derry infringed and Irwin kicked an easy penalty to have the Bannsiders leading 16-0.
The visitors came back strongly hoping to convert superiority into points and their luck changed on 56 minutes when Ballymena had Connor Smith sent to the bin.
Derry kicked to the corner Brian Prue won the line out to setup a series of pick and drives as Adam Bratton, Stephen Corr, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely inched closer the Ballymena line before Patton found the gap to touch down for an unconverted try.
Derry fought to the end and gave themselves hope with Stephan Jefferson and David Ferguson, working hard before giving winger David Graham the opportunity to make an incisive break down the right wing before releasing his hard working fullback William McCleery to sprint in and around behind the post for a try which Semple converted and with eight minute to go Derry were right back in the mix at 16-12.
The North West side tried for that elusive match winning try but Ballymena defended stoutly and then increased their lead to 19-12 with a penalty.
The game was up for Derry when Chris Barber was sin binned for a late tackle on 83 minutes and Ballymena played out injury time to continue the defence of their trophy at the final hurdle on December 12.
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Weather for Ballymena
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 4 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 5 C to 8 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west