BROTHERS IN ARMS Ballinrobe’s Liam Burke and Joe Burke both scored tries in the Connacht Junior Cup semi-final against Creggs last Sunday. Pic: John Corless
Tries: S Dowd, T Fetherston, D Arnold
Conv: S Purcell (2)
Pen: M Purcell
Tries: J Burke, L Burke
Conv: Evan O’Brien
Pens: E O’Brien (2)
THERE will be very few words, if any, to lift the spirits of the Ballinrobe squad after their stunning effort in Sunday’s Connacht Junior Cup semi-final came up just short.
In a breathtaking contest, the South Mayo lads came from 16 points down to close the gap to just a single point against the J1A league champions.
And they looked to be on the verge of a first final appearance in 20 years.
But fortune favoured the favourites in the end as they clung on for the win, and consigned Ballinrobe to a third successive semi-final defeat.
Hard work and some clever forward play in the second half ultimately proved the difference in the end as Creggs managed to avert a huge upset. But when the homeside led 19-3 on 35 minutes nobody could have foreseen a need for such traits as Creggs were well on top.
However, Ballinrobe scored two tries to come roaring back and had by far the better of a thrilling second half only to fall short.
Their player-coach Craig Hansberry summed up the disappointment in their ranks afterwards.
“It’s heartbreaking, we trained really well during the week and felt good,” he told The Mayo News. “We knew everyone had us written off, so we had nothing to lose coming here and I think we showed what Ballinrobe rugby is all about. The boys put their heart on their sleeves but we were just unlucky in the end. That happens.”
Creggs had tries from Shane Dowd (who intercepted a loose pass), Tom Fetherston (who finished a stunning move in the corner) and Danny Arnold at the back of the maul to show for their advantage.
Ballinrobe were ruing the concession of two yellow cards to captain Micheál Walsh and Dave Madden during the half that had them playing with 14 men for 20 minutes.
Key players to lose, even if just for the ten minutes each.
The game should have been done before half-time.
Creggs had only secured the league title a week earlier while Division 1B finalists Ballinrobe have a league final next Sunday and are hoping to simply be among the elite next year.
On the evidence of this performance, they can argue that they belong there.
The tide turned with break-out try from Joe Burke on 35 minutes where he showed great footwork and skills to kick ahead. That try had the score at 19-8 at the break and it got better when Joe’s brother, full-back Liam, scored a try early in the second half to turn the tide completely.
Evan O’Brien had kicked an early penalty and he added a conversion to the second try and a penalty on 60 minutes to make it 19-18.
However, somehow in the closing stages Creggs found a way to survive the Ballinrobe onslaught. Brian Diffley, Craig Purcell and Ronan Cahill were all outstanding in the back row for them.
Ballinrobe were harshly penalised during that final quarter when Craig Hansberry was sin binned for leading with the forearm while in possession as it appeared he was protecting himself from a high tackle.
But, overall, they can’t complain about the first half sin-bins.
Hansberry’s card killed the momentum that had come from big performances from the likes of Jack Ormsby, Rory Murphy, Donie Vaughan, Shane Biggins, both try scorers Joe and Liam Burke and, frankly, the entire team. Ballinrobe only used three subs as those that started made it difficult for a decision to be made to take them off.
In the immediate aftermath, Hansberry chose to look ahead to next Sunday’s Division 1B league final in Headford against University of Galway rather than dwelling further on some harsh calls and key errors.
Playing at the higher level will be critical if Ballinrobe are to have more big days like this competing with the best in the province.
“Look we just said there that for the club to develop we need to be in Division 1A, we have to get up and play in the top flight,” admitted the player-coach.
“Creggs have proven that over the years, they persevered and knocked down Connemara last week. We need to take that example and try to get up to that level.”
R Dowd; T Fetherston, S Dowd, E Coyle, M Purcell; S Purcell, M Dowd; S Óg Higgins, D Arnold, E Cahill; B Donoghue, A Leech; R Cahill, C Purcell, B Diffley.
Replacements: T Fleming, L Kilcoyne, M Feeley, D Gacquin and T Devin.
L Burke; J Burke, T Staunton, S Biggins, K DannMcAlennan; E O’Brien, D Vaughan; J McTigue, P Finlay, C Hansberry; D Madden, P Mylotte; J Ormsby, M Walsh, R Murphy.
Replacements: C McHugh, J Treacy, S Conroy.