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Naas 13 - Ballymena 19   30/10/2017

After a three week break the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League resumed last Saturday with Naas entertaining Ballymena. Despite losing their two previous games, Naas went into this contest fourth in the league table, and favourities to emerge victorious. However it was not to be as the Ulstermen gained a lead that they defended as if their lives depended on it.

A decent crowd turned up for the game that was played on a dry, crisp afternoon. After a frantic start they saw the visitors take the lead within five minutes. Referee Sean Gallagher adjudged that Naas had hands in a ruck and Brett Herron made no mistake with the penalty.

Within seven minutes Naas were on level terms. Captain David Benn made a superb break and when he was hauled down near the line the ball was quickly moved out the backline. However the Ballymena defence were able to win the ball at a ruck and kicked clear into touch. At the subsequent line-out Benn was taken out in the air, and Peter Osborne successfully kicked the penalty.

Naas had a great chance to take the lead on 15 minutes. Ballymena spilled possession in midfield and Ross Bailey Kearney hacked forward. However he was pulled back while chasing the ball, and after the intervention of the touch-judge the referee awarded Naas a penalty, and gave Glen Baillie a yellow card. Naas kicked into touch, but after winning the line-out the home side were penalised for obstruction and the visitors were able to clear.

Another Naas infringement at ruck time gave Brett Herron the opportunity to give Ballymena the lead again after 21 minutes. He made no mistake but Naas responded almost immediately. Peter Osborne made a darting break straight through the Ballymena defence. Although his pass did not go to hand Naas were awarded a five yard scrum. From the set piece the ball was moved out to Fionn Higgins and when he was stopped just short of the line, Paulie Tolofua was on hand to pick up and score. The conversion by Osborne gave Naas a 10-6 lead.

On 32 minutes Ballymena replied with a try, which will give the Naas defence sleepless nights. One of the features of this Naas team is their strong defence, therefore it will be bitterly disappointing to them that after a series of Ballymena attacks, centre Angus Kernohan was able to get in for a try without a finger being laid on him. The conversion by Herron gave the Ulster side a 13-10 advantage, a lead they maintained until half-time.

Within two minutes of the restart they extended it. They were begining to get a slight edge at scrum time and on this occasion they drove Naas right back and won a penalty. The accurate Herron was again successful.

Naas had the majority of possession after this but it was Ballymena who again scored next on 64 minutes. Peter Howard was penalised for a deliberate knock-on which saw him get a yellow card. Herron was never going to miss this chance and he extended the lead for the visitors to 19-10.

Naas continued to press forward and when Ballymena gave away a penalty on 68 minutes for holding on in a ruck, the successful strike by Peter Osborne narrowed the margin and set up a grandstand finish.

Naas threw everything at the Ballymena defence in the closing stages in a bid to snatch victory. They won a series of penalities which they kicked into touch, but time and again their driving maul was stopped just short of the line, and the Ulstermen held out to take the spoils.

So it was to be a third successive defeat for Naas, although they did have the small consolation of a losing bonus point. Despite these defeats they are only two points off a play-off spot, so certainly there is still plenty to play for. They are back in action this coming Saturday with an away fixture against Ballynahinch. Kick-off is at 2.30pm and all support would be greatly appreciated.

Naas: Peter Osborne, Fionn Higgins, Donal Droney, Ross Bailey Kearney, Peter Howard, Johne Murphy, Max Whittingham, Jordan Duggan, Charlie Kings, Jason Harney, Stephen Kinneavy, David Benn, Andrew Kearney, Will O'Brien, Paulie Tolofua. 

Replacements: Graham Reynolds, Stephen Lackey, Paul Monahan, Henry Bryce, Michael Skelton.

Ballymena: Rodger McBurney, Dean Reynolds, Angus Kernohan, Glenn Baillie, Jonny Rosborough, Brett Herron, David O’Hara, Ignacio Caldera Crespo, James Taggart, Chris Cundell, David Whann, Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, Clive Ross, Stephen Mulholland. 

Replacements: Bryan Young, Andrew Ferguson, Connor Smyth, Matthew Agnew, Matthew Norris.



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