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Vital home victory over Ballymena for City of Armagh in All-Ireland League

Armagh’s Timmy McNeice scored a magnificent try in the closing minutes of the match

City of Armagh RFC 27 Ballymena RFC 15

At the Palace Grounds on Saturday, City of Armagh and Ballymena met for the fourth time this season, their last encounter being Armagh’s Senior Cup Final victory.

Conditions were horrendous with a gale force wind and driving rain, but the home side prevailed with a hard earned bonus point win to climb back up the league table to fourth place.

Ballymena had the advantage of the elements for the first half and the visitors went on to dominate the first quarter.

The Braidmen put together numerous attacking phases in the Armagh 22 and only heroic defending kept the home try line from being breached.

On 15 minutes Armagh conceded a penalty for not rolling away and Tim Small slotted the kick from 30 metres to open the visitor’s account. The outhalf missed an opportunity on 22 minutes to double Ballymena lead when his second kick went wide.

Armagh then came into the match with their first attacking spell of the game. Suddenly it was the Armagh pack pressing for a score in the Ballymena 22 with Nigel Simpson and Paul Mullen stopped just short of the line.

Scrum half, Harry Doyle took a quick tap penalty and Ballymena were penalised again. Armagh elected for a scrum and won a penalty and from the next set piece, number eight, Neil Faloon touched down for Armagh’s opening try. Chris Cousens converted a difficult kick and Armagh were ahead 7-3.

Two minutes later, disaster struck for Ballymena when Chris Colvin picked up a lose pass on half way and sprinted to the corner flag. Tackled just short of the line, the Armagh captain popped up a beautiful pass for winger Shea O’Brien to touch down for an unconverted try.

With 30 minutes played, City of Armagh were now leading 12-3 despite playing into the wind.

As the interval approached, Ballymena showed some determination and attacked again in the Armagh 22. Armagh prop Oisin Kiernan received a yellow card as the County Antrim side exerted pressure and were rewarded with a try on 40 minutes.

Ballymena moved the ball to the right from a scrum and centre, Paddy James broke through the defensive line to touch down to the right of the posts. The conversion from Small made the scoreline 12-10, as the whistle went for halftime and the visitors were
right back in the game.

Ironically the strong wind dropped when Armagh turned around to commence the second half and the Orchard County side started off on the front foot. Cormac Fox came off the bench with Jonny Pollock moving to centre and the young outhalf converted a penalty on 45 minutes to edge Armagh ahead 15-10.

Ballymena with Mulholland, Rea and Smyth prominent, looked to get the visitors back on level terms and Norris at fullback looked threatening when in possession.

Concerted pressure on the Armagh line saw more heroic home defence and a crucial turnover saw a clearance to halfway.
Neil Faloon then made a trademark line break to take play into Ballymena territory. A scrum penalty saw Armagh kick to touch but a promising attack was lost with a knock on.

The home side were now dominating possession and territory with the front row of Mullen, Smyth and Kiernan giving Armagh scrum dominance. On 63 minutes the referee awarded Armagh a penalty try following great pressure at scrumtime and with the scoreline at 22-10, the home side looked in charge.

Ballymena however again showed spirit and Norris and Baillie made huge inroads into Armagh territory. Armagh conceded a penalty and Ballymena looked to attack from a scrum. Michael Strong broke to the blindside and it was Norris who crossed over for Ballymena’s second try to make the score 22-15, with ten minutes to play.

Armagh’s restart didn’t go 10 metres, giving the initiative back to the visitors and a scrum penalty saw Tim Small send the ball to the Armagh 22 for an attacking lineout.

From the next phase however Ballymena infringed and Armagh cleared the danger with five minutes left on the clock. In a real tussle of a match, Armagh then contrived to score a valuable bonus point try out of nothing.

Keen to spread the ball, Pollock and Colvin combined well but O’Brien was well marshalled on the left wing. The ball was recycled and Tim McNeice collected a pass on his 10 metre line.

The full back accelerated into space, sold a dummy and sprinted 60 metres to the tryline. With 2 minutes remaining, the unconverted try advanced the scoreboard to 27-15 and Armagh closed the game out to record a crucial win after a tough
Ulster derby match.

This was a much improved performance by Ballymena who will have been disappointed not to have converted their pressure into points, especially in the first quarter. With Division 1B continuing to deliver unpredictable results each week, City of Armagh moved from 7 th to 4 th but have to play the current top 3 teams in their remaining four fixtures.

St Mary’s College travel to the Palace Grounds next Saturday and City of Armagh must get a positive result from that fixture.

The Armagh coaching team were delighted to get a five point haul from the match. Willie Faloon commented: “Ballymena were always going to be a tough side for us today and the weather conditions, just like at the Cup Final, largely made free flowing rugby impossible.

“Our defence again did us proud today, but we will have to step up a few more rungs in the ladder to get a result against St Marys who are just 2 points behind us in the league.”

Kick off at the Palace Grounds this Saturday is 2.30pm for the visit of St Mary’s College, Dublin.

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