Sat 21st Dec, 14:30 Kukri Qualifying 1. Ballymoney 9 – 10 Clogher Valley
Valley win ugly 10-9 at Ballymoney
by Bob Beatty
This was always going to be a difficult game for Valley. Not only because of the aftereffects of winning at Skibbereen last week but also because Ballymoney wanted revenge for the drubbing at the Cran on the first day of the season.
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The game was played in wet and windy conditions with heavy cloud cover. By the end of the match the fast fading light was causing problems for players, referee and spectators alike. Valley were hit with three late cry offs Ryan Wilson had not recovered from injury and Cobane with McAleer were missing through illness. BJ Wilson, Hopper and Orr stepped into the panel.
Valley started well. Ballymoney set their stall out early for a kicking game but the first two catches by Bennett and Armstrong led to large gains which the Valley pack capitalised on with rolling mauls. After 3 mins Valley were awarded a penalty and Holme kicked them into a 3-0 lead.
From the restart Valley resumed their attacks and were playing some good if over-elaborate rugby. This was to lead to their first scare when a miscommunicated move saw the ball dropped and Ballymoney hacked though from their own 10 metre line to the Valley try line. Luckily for Valley winger Donaldson cleaned up well and set the ball up for clearance. However the relieving kick did not find touch. This became a recurring theme of the game when Valley created pressure on themselves with missed touch kicks. It was to happen at least three further times.
Ballymoney had a penalty on 12 mins which was missed. Valley returned to the Ballymoney 22 and a good combination of mauls saw them on the line. However they then give away a penalty for Ballymoney to relieve the pressure. Though Valley were playing well in fits and starts the continuing mistakes gave Ballymoney hope and on a number of occasions they went close to scoring only for the aggressive Valley defence to snuff out the threat. Then just before half time Valley allowed the Ballymoney backs to move the ball through 40 metres when they stood off tackles and did not close the gaps. The result was another Ballymoney penalty which they converted to tie the game at half time 3-3.
Ballymoney were much more aggressive in their counter rucking in the second half and Valley struggled to make any headway. An example was when the Valley scrum won a ball against the head but were then turned over before they could use the advantage. After 50 minutes Ballymoney charged down a Valley clearance and when the ball went loose only a fine tackle by Speers stopped a certain score. However Valley then infringed in front of the posts and Ballymoney kicked the points to lead 6-3.
Ballymoney kept the pressure on Valley and the game became scrappy with niggle from both sides. There were then 3 yellow cars in quick succession with 1 against Valley and 2 against Ballymoney. Valley were struggling to string together phases of play and as a result it appeared that Ballymoney were going to hold out for victory.
Then after 64 minutes it all changed when one minute of top class rugby effectively won the game for Valley. From a ruck on half way scrum half Best went right and then a clever underhand reverse pass saw Moore drive through the gap. The support was there through Falconer and then Treanor kept the ball alive and drove deep into the Ballymoney 22. When the ball was recycled the Valley backs moved it wide and centre Dunlop dummied and went over for a try which was the converted by Holme from a difficult position for Valley to lead 10-6.
On 70 mins the gap was closed to 1 point when Ballymoney kicked another penalty. Valley man of match McKenna won the restart and Valley resorted to keep ball. Although Ballymoney kept pushing them backwards they could not win any possession. In the final moments Valley ran the ball from their own 22 metres and a good kick through saw a chase which ended with Valley turning over the Ballymoney full back. Valley then held onto the ball for the final 30 secs to record a hard fought victory.
Valley deserved to win though Ballymoney played to their strengths and made it difficult for them. Coaches Kyle and Black will be unhappy with the stuttering performance and basic mistakes. The number of injuries picked up will also be a concern. In the end they say good sides know how to win ugly and that was certainly the case today.
Next week Valley play UCC in Coleraine which is another potential banana skin especially after UCC result today.