Ballymena’s hopes of back-to-back promotions in the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League suffered a setback at the weekend.
Andy Graham’s side suffered a 17-25 defeat at the hands of league leaders Galwegians in an eagerly-anticipated top-of-the-table Division 1B encounter.
In a tight game at Eaton Park Galwegians came away with the spoils, with both sides enjoying periods of dominance as the lead changed hands no fewer than six times in the course of the eighty minutes.
The visitors took an early lead with a drop goal by out-half Adrian Moynihan, but Ballymena cancelled that out with an unconverted try by Jordan Foster, following a great run down the middle by Connor Smyth.
Both sides showed a willingness to move the ball wide, and that paid off for Galwegians when centre Brian Murphy crossed for a try to put his side back in the lead with the scoreline reading 8-5.
Full back Sean Taylor, who looked impressive in both defence and attack, then made a break, finishing off with a clever inside pass to Dave Ryan, who crossed for a try which McMaster converted.
Ballymena were now leading 12-8, but that was short lived as centre Rory Parata scored a fine try to restore Galwegians’ lead at 13-12, which is how it remained until half time.
The half time talk seemed to energise the home team, who started the second half looking altogether more purposeful, and for long periods put pressure on the Galwegians’ line, but a well marshalled defence kept Ballymena out.
It took a beautifully judged cross kick from Richie McMaster, which was gathered by Jonny Rosborough for a try, to get any reward for all that pressure.
The conversion failed, but the home side now led by 17 points to 13, with just over ten minutes to go.
But it was the visitors’ turn to exert pressure, and an unconverted try took them back into the lead at 18-17.
Again, Ballymena’s efforts to break down their defence came to nothing and the issue was sealed with an injury time try for Galwegians, with Moynihan’s conversion denying the home side the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Prior to Saturday’s games, Galwegians were top of the table with Garryowen in second place, Dublin University third and Ballymena fourth, but the day’s results made no difference to those positions, as both Garryowen and Galwegians won.
There is now an eight point gap between the top of the table and fourth place with four league games left, and a six point difference between second and fourth.
There is still a lot to play for as Ballymena will face Garryowen at Eaton Park, but it would appear that nothing short of four wins will give them any kind of chance of promotion.
Next up is Malone at Gibson Park this Saturday, and coach Andy Graham will be anxious to put the disappointment of the Galwegians game behind him, and get back on the winning trail.