Ards 25 – 3 Co Carlow
The three weeks enforced layoff due to the bitterly cold weather, appeared to do Ards the power of good when they finally pulled on the jersey last Saturday and welcomed Co Carlow to Hamilton Park in the AIB League. Even this match was touch and go for a while because of the deluge of water that fell from the heavens the night before, but the Clubs dedicated ground staff set about their tasks from early morning with ‘grapes’ and had the pitch in a playable condition come kick-off time at 2.30pm.
Ards were in a bullish mood when they took to the field and determined to get the New Year off to a perfect start and help relieve the stress of the ever present Ards faithful on the touchline. After only 7 minutes, Ards stamped their authority on the game when they were awarded a penalty on the halfway line. A razor sharp Mark Banford playing on top of his game, took a quick tap and split the opposition ranks as he raced off down the pitch taking the visitors completely by surprise. With only the fullback to beat and a posse of supporting Ards players, he drew his man brilliantly and offloaded to Stewart Paul on his left shoulder who cantered in under the posts for the opening score. Michael Lawton converted the easy extras and Ards were off to a flyer.
Determined not to let this early advantage slip, Ards kept up the pressure and continued to take the game to their opponents at every opportunity with Stewart Paul, Ajay Derwin, Michael Taylor and Davy Armstrong creating good opportunities for their teammates to exploit. On 15 minutes a sweeping backline move saw Lawton come into the line and chip over the Carlow defence before he was cynically floored by their left winger with a blatant body check to prevent him collecting the free ball. The player was yellow carded and Lawton converted the resulting penalty to go 10 – 0 up at the break.
This modest 10 – 0 score line at halftime did little to reflect the sheer dominance of the Ards forward power from their tight five of Jonny Millar, Conor Piper, Jonny Wylie, John Dowey and Kenny Heslip. And the back-row of Andy Hassard, Keith McIlwaine and Jaydon Hill helped personify the team’s collective will to win this game with an impressive display of controlled rugby. It was pleasing to see teammates in the thick of the action, congratulating and encouraging each other as they continued to up their work rate to keep Carlow pinned back deep in their own half for long periods of the game.
In the second half, Ards continued to call the shots and run the ball at the visitors as they repeatedly tried to breach their defences. And on 42 minutes, a powerful run up the far touchline by Stewart Paul, created space for the ever present Chris Agnew to show his pace and power his way over the line and score Ards second try out wide. This went unconverted but Ards were definitely in the ascendency and looking to pile on the misery for the hapless visitors.
On 52 minutes, Ards were awarded another penalty converted by the sublime Ajay Derwin before Carlow pulled back three points, with one of their own a few minutes later. This only seemed to rattle the Ardsmen even more and at the restart, John Dowey, Jaydon Hill, Kenny Heslip and Conor Piper, kept up the pressure as the chased up and caused chaos amongst their opposite numbers as they fought to regain possession. Quick ball was recycled by Banford through numerous phases of play and on 65 minutes, found itself in the hands of former Ulster player Scott Young. The midfield anchorman pinned back his ears and raced under the sticks leaving the visitors flat footed to score Ards third try. Derwin made the successful conversion and Ards had an encouraging 25 points on the board.
With 15 minutes to go, Ards were heading for a possible fourth try bonus point victory but in the end had to settle for four league points as the visitors did their best to run down the clock and try and keep the score line as respectable as possible leaving Ards the overall victors by 25 points to 3.
This was a very good all round performance from an Ards perspective. It was relentlessly physical work but no Ardsman shunned it and crucially, self-discipline was as impressive as control of the ball. Ards have a break next Saturday as they have already played Naas earlier on in the season. This result should however help lift the spirits as they await the arrival of high flying Queens to Hamilton Park, in two weeks time.
Report: Roy Lawton