Saturday 13th February. John Dickson reports from Ballymacarn Park.
In perfect conditions for running rugby Ballynahinch crept out of the relegation zone with a superb home performance in the Ulster derby clash against Dungannon at Ballymacarn Park. The County Down men ran in 5 tries to claim a winning bonus point, in a display that was reminiscent of their performances from last season.
The Tyrone men opened the scoring in the 1st minute when James Sheills converted an early penalty goal to give his side a 3-point lead. Ryan Bambry hit back 2 minutes later for the home side when he converted a penalty to tie the scores at 3 points apiece.
The visitors kept up their early pressure, and when Jonny Cullen failed to take a high ball in front of his posts in the 6th minute, Gannon fullback John McGuckin did well to secure the ball, which was quickly dispatched to Sheills who dropped at goal, his effort bisecting the uprights to take his team into a 3-6 lead.
Undaunted, the Hinch men countered with their opening try which came in the 8th minute. From the back of a scrum on halfway Harry McAleese attacked the blind side, putting winger Aaron Ferris in clear space. Ferris made good ground into the Gannon half passing inside to Michael Graham in support. Graham took play into the Gannon 22, where he passed back to Ferris who sprinted over for a well-worked try. Bambry failed to convert leaving the Hinch with their noses in front for the first time, 8-6.
This score visibly lifted the Hinch men, and in the 13th minute a clever cross-field kick from Bambry was chased by Paddy McAllister, who put Gannon fullback John McGuckin under pressure. Chris Stevenson was the next to arrive and as he tried to get at the ball McGuckin held onto the ball on the ground as was pinged by referee Jonathan Peak and Bambry added the 3 more points to the Hinch tally, 11-6.
Now playing like they did last season, the Hinch started to torture the Gannon defence. In the 16th minute McAleese attacked the blind side again, this time he put Michael Kirkwood clear down the right wing. Kirkwood passed inside to Michael Graham who carried play forward then off loaded to Paddy McAllister at full pace. McAllister almost made the line but off-loaded to his inside to second row Jonny Graham who dived in under the posts for the second Hinch try. Bambry added the extras to take the Hinch 18-6 clear.
Play was all on way traffic as the home side attacked off a lineout on the Gannon 22 in the 30th minute. As the ball was whipped wide, centre Stuart Morrow took a great line and burst through a couple of Gannon tackles, off loading to James McCall on his inside who crossed for the third Hinch try beside the posts. Bambry added the extra 2 points giving the Hinch a healthy 25-6 lead at half time.
Playing towards the clubhouse in the second half Bambry missed an early penalty attempt in the 2nd minute, but his side bagged their bonus point with their fourth try five minutes later. It came after the Hinch turned over Gannon ball 5 metres from the visitor’s line. The quick ball was flashed right where winger Michael Kirkwood rounded the Gannon cover to score in the right hand corner. Bambry failed to convert leaving the Hinch 30-6 clear.
The fifth Hinch try came in the 56th minute, after the home side opted to kick a penalty into the corner to set up a catch and drive. James Simpson collected the throw, the pack started to trundle forward and skipper Stuart Lamb got the touch down. Bambry was wide with the conversion leaving the Hinch 35-6 in front with just under 15 minutes left to play.
Dungannon managed a consolation try in the 73rd minute thanks to a scintillating piece of running from Craig Gilroy, who always looked dangerous with ball in hand. Gilroy set down beside the posts and Shiells converted to complete the scoring the Hinch worthy winners 35-13.
This performance and victory is just what the Hinch needed, there are now four games left in the league and the five points gained on Saturday they have managed to push Dungannon into the relegation zone, the Hinch are now just one league point ahead. It is vital that they team can get something out of their games the first of which is next week in Cork against UCC. Buccaneers will travel to Ballymacarn Park on the 6th March then it is a tough away game in Dublin against the league leaders Old Belvedere on the 27th March. The final AIB League game of the season will be a home derby against Ballymena on the 10th April and like Saturday a big support for all these matches, in particular the final two home games would help the Hinch cause as they chase further vital league points.
Ballynahinch: 15 Jonny Cullen, 14 Michael Kirkwood, 13, Stuart Morrow, 12 David Nicholson, 11 Aaron Ferris, 10 Ryan Bambry, 9 Harry McAleese, 8 Stuart Lamb (C), 7 James McCall, 6 Michael Graham, 5 Robert Greer, 4 Jonny Graham, 3 Paddy McAllister, 2 David McGreggor, 1 Chris Stevenson. Replacements: 16 David Harris 17 Greg Taylor, 18 James Simpson, 19 Brian Mannus 20 Lewis Johnston
Dungannon: 15 John McGuickin, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13, Paul Magee, 12 Glen Telford, 11 Conor Gaston, 10 James Sheills, 9 David Spence, 8 Stuart McKenzie (C), 7 Ali Birch, 6 Neville Magee, 5 Richard Holmes, 4 Michael Rainey, 3 Glen Sinnamon, 2 Richard Carlton, 1 Justin Fitzpatrick. Replacements: 16 Colm Heaney 17 Mark Farquhar, 18 Paul Heaney, 19 Gareth McGonigle 20 David Parkhill