Eaton Park coach delighted with club’s start to All-Ireland League

Ballymena bring a Belfast Harlequins attack to a halt during Saturday's All-Ireland League victory at Deramore. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena bring a Belfast Harlequins attack to a halt during Saturday's All-Ireland League victory at Deramore. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena head coach Andy Graham is content with his side’s promising start to life back in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League - but he still feels his side can do even better.

The Eaton Park men made it two wins from two games on their return to the second tier after Saturday’s 22-14 win at Belfast Harlequins, following on from the previous week’s shut-out of Corinthians.

“It is a great start for us, although last week was probably a lot prettier than this week,” said Graham.

“At the start I have never seen a game go against us as much, for the first 12 minutes we hardly had our hands on the ball, we were penalised it took us along time to get into the game,” said Graham.

“We got a score just before half time which put us 10-9 ahead and helped to settle us.

“We made a few changes at half time to bring on fresher guys and that made a big difference, our scrum became dominant, our maul worked better, we moved Glen Bailie to 10 and Timmy Small to the wing and suddenly we had more of a cutting edge and that changed the game.”

Ballymena trailed 9-3 until the last play of the first half when Stephen Mulholland scored a converted try and Graham praised the flanker.

“I thought Stephen was our man of the match, he played really well, he was charging kicks down all day, he was a real handful around the pitch and at the breakdown. He’s a really good player and that is the last two weeks that he has had excellent performances for us.”

Ballymena’s indiscipline allowed Quins to build up a nine point lead in the opening quarter.

“We were silly and naïve in the way we played, we hadn’t got our hands on the ball then we took on a difficult kick, Timmy (Small) is very confident and he only just missed it but it was near the halfway line, we should have stuck that ball into touch won the lineout and mauled and got our hands on the ball for a bit.

“If you don’t have the ball it’s difficult people fret, they become anxious and give away silly penalties which we don’t need to do, we have a good defence and we just have to trust it.”

Graham was able to bring on former Ireland prop Bryan Young and club stalwart Ian Caldwell and they made a big impact.

“They did well and that doesn’t take away from the guys that were on it was just to refresh, we have a strong squad and we are still missing guys as well, David Whann will be out for another three or four weeks, he is an excellent second row.

“We have a bit more depth this year, you have to make changes at times to keep the things fresh and rotate the squad, at the minute everybody wants it and they want to be involved and that’s a good thing.”

“We didn’t play well at Quins, we were sluggish but we dug it out and still won and if we had of played a little bit better we could have had the bonus point, if you’re coming away from Harlequins getting close to the bonus point you’ve done well.”

Graham had the Andrew brothers John and Ricky, Clive Ross, Mike McComish and David Shanahan in his starting line up and he was impressed with their attitude.

“It was a tough game for Ricky, Callum Patterson who was excellent last week got injured in the warm up, Paddy James had to move to 12, Ricky just adapted and got on with it, he didn’t get a lot of ball to do damage with as we’d hoped but he defended well, he just did what you ask.

“They all buy into it and they understand what Ballymena is and what Ballymena Rugby is about, it’s about them it’s not about history or stuff, they are making history every day they go onto the pitch so it is up to them to show what they want Ballymena to be,” added Graham.

Ballymena will be hoping to make it three wins out of three thisSaturday when they entertain Dublin University (2.30pm).