GETTING TO GRIPS Ballinrobe’s Steven Conroy tackles a Loughrea player during Sunday’s Connacht Junior Cup preliminary round clash at The Green in Ballinrobe. Pic: Conor McKeown
Tries: L Burke (3), S Biggins, R Murphy, C Hansberry, E O’Brien, C Cronin
Conv: E O’Brien (6)
Try: T Byrnes
ANOTHER Connacht Junior Cup adventure began for Ballinrobe in the familiar surroundings of ‘The Green’ last Sunday as the South Mayo club try to win the coveted trophy for the first time since the glory days of 1991.
The team coached by David Nestor and Damian Burke couldn’t have got off to a better start, running in eight tries on their way to a landslide win over a Loughrea team that battled all the way to the bitter end.
But, having said that, the final scoreline flattered Ballinrobe in some ways.
They were 31-5 up at half-time after completely dominating the game in every aspect, propelled forward by the likes of Craig Hansberry, Jack Ormsby, Rory Murphy, Shane Biggins and their flying full-back Liam Burke, who finished the day with a hat-trick of individually-brilliant tries.
But it took the homeside 29 minutes of the second half to put more scores on the board, with three late tries giving the scoreline a very lop-sided look and leaving a limited Loughrea outfit buried under an avalanche of points.
Despite the margin of victory, Ballinrobe left plenty of room for improvement ahead of next Sunday’s first round clash with Ballinasloe.
Liam Burke admitted as much afterwards.
“The performance wasn’t as good really as we would have hoped, we came under a lot of pressure in the second half and were struggling to get out of our own half,” he told The Mayo News. “We probably got two or three soft tries when they were all out attacking themselves, and that probably put a gloss on the scoreline that it shouldn’t.
“But we got the win anyway which was the main thing.”
The match was put to bed by Ballinrobe in the first half as they mixed some old-fashioned opportunism with some scintillating rugby.
The aforementioned Liam Burke got the ball rolling with a try in the third minute after a typically breathtaking burst which carried him all the way to under the posts.
Fourteen minutes later the talented all-rounder kicked a loose ball into the Loughrea half, beat the covering defender in a foot-race, and dotted down again.
Evan O’Brien nailed both conversions and Ballinrobe led 14-0.
They were further ahead on 22 minutes when Shane Biggins crashed over from close-range before the marauding Rory Murphy, who made the hard yards look easy, powered in for a try to make it 26-0.
Loughrea had no answer to the power and physicality of Ballinrobe’s pack, but Thomas Byrnes did squeeze in for a try in the corner on 31 minutes to prevent a whitewash.
But it was only a brief respite as the talented tight-head prop, Craig Hansberry, tip-toed across the line on the stroke of half-time to leave Ballinrobe ahead by 26 points at the break.
The only real blot on their copybook by that stage was a yellow card for Liam Burke after one high tackle too many from one of the locals.
The second half was really a matter of ‘getting through it’ for both teams.
Loughrea, to their credit, kept plugging away without making an ounce of headway on the scoreboard.
So it seemed slightly rough justice that Ballinrobe scored a few breakaway tries in the closing stages with Evan O’Brien finishing off a ‘kick and chase’ from Peter Finnerty before Cathal Cronin raced in after Rory Murphy and Jack Ormsby had combined to put him through.
O’Brien tapped over both conversions as the crowd started to thin out, but those who stayed until the end were rewarded when Liam Burke ‘threw off the shackles’ and ran from inside his own half, beating Loughrea men for fun, before helping himself to his hat-trick try.
The 22 year-old admitted his last try was also his favourite one on the day.
“Because I was told if I got a hat-trick I’d have to buy everyone a round!” he laughed.
“So I was looking to pass it for about 20 yards but the gap just opened up so I kept going.
“Today’s performance wasn’t great, but it’s all about the result in the cup,” he added.
The same rules will apply against Ballinasloe next weekend.
L Burke, E Lynagh, S Biggins, S Conroy, C McAleenan, E O’Brien, D Vaughan; J McTigue, P Finlay, C Hansberry; P Mylotte, J Carter, T Lynagh, J Ormsby, R Murphy.
Replacements: C McHugh, I Jennings, P Finnerty, J Treacy, C Cronin.
J Staunton, B Haverty, L Botes, T Byrnes, C Harris, L Leahy, M Glynn; C Haverty, D Harney, F Mitchell, M McNabola, M Martyn, J Kelly, B Kiely, F Broderick.
Replacements: E Prendergast, S O’Gorman, R Kelly, N Botes, C McGrath.
Referee: N Kearns