||Last Updated: 2, Apr 2018 - 10:02
Castlebar held on to their unbeaten run but at the same time lost their position on top of the Connacht junior league on Sunday last when they drew a dour affair with a very strong Ballina side at Cloondeash. While it can be said that the home side were bitterly disappointed with only getting a draw in a game they were expected to win, it can also be said that was it not for some missed opportunities from the away side, the result could have looked very different.
Conditions were very difficult for both teams, with a heavy and muddy ground that would not been helped by the fact that there was a second’s game played beforehand. The opening minutes were tight and it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a predominately forwards battle. There were also many mistakes as the slippery conditions made handling difficult and more than once the ball literally stick to the ground. Honours were even in the battle of the forwards in the opening exchanges but Castlebar drew first blood in the contest with Paul Coady kicking over a penalty after Ballina were penalised for offside. Directly from the kickoff, Ballina put pressure on the Castlebar back line but they were thwarted every time by a strong defense that never seemed under any threat. The game ebbed and flowed for the next 15 –20 minutes as play was concentrated around the centre of the pitch, which at this time was now cutting up quite badly. On 23 minutes Ballina evened matters courtesy of a penalty from Stephen Rochford who made no mistake after the Castlebar forwards were penalised by referee Danny O’Neill. Castlebar raised their game after this with a great run from John Scott who found Nathan Cole but the hooker when tackled was penalized – a decision that drew some surprise from the large home contingent present. Ballina returned by raising the game themselves and found themselves on the Castlebar line on the half hour, thanks to strong work from their front 5 with second rows Tony Matheson and Declan Murphy coming to the fore at this time. But Castlebar held firm and received respite when the referee penalised Ballina for not letting the ball free. Both sides had very few chances for the rest of the half with the underfoot conditions getting worse. And at half time it was honours even.
The second half began brightly for Castlebar who made several bursting runs through the Ballina back line, in only the third minute, Christy Cusack kicked over for the on running Paul Coady but was denied by some excellent defense by the wingers. Diarmuid Byrne, coming more and more into the game, found gaps as Castlebar searched for that elusive score. But the wind, having picked up since the beginning of the half, made a difference as kicks were either too short straight to the full back or too far for the wingers to chase. One such event took place after 14 minutes when Castlebar were awarded a penalty just metres from their opponent’s line. The penalty was taken quickly by Christy Cusack that went through the forwards but the resulting kick on was touched down and a 22 awarded to Ballina. At this stage the momentum somewhat changed and Ballina had an opportunity to take the lead when a move involving the visitors from a scrum led to a penalty but the resulting kick from Rochford hit the post and John Scott had to kick clear from underneath his own posts to find touch. 3 minutes later, Ballina had another chance to take the lead when the referee gave a penalty after a drive on broke down. But this time the kick went to the right of the posts to the obvious relief of the home support. For most of the remaining 20 minutes Castlebar lifted their game again and were it not for some desperate defending might just have snatched victory. In fact one of the best chances of the game fell to Mike Power with just 5 minutes to go after a move that switched across the field but was unable to hold on to the slippery ball. Castlebar were at this stage encamped on the Ballina 22 and for all their industry were rewarded with just a minute to go with a penalty. But like his opponent at the other end, Paul Coady’s effort went to the side of the posts and in doing so left the scores as they were at half time.
Next up for Castlebar is a very important away tie against Sligo. Kick off for this fixture is 2.30. The second XV take on Westport in Cloondeash this Friday night at 8.00 p.m. in their final league outing.
Castlebar; Conor o' Malley, Nathan Cole, Brendan Kelly, Paul Heverin, Rory Hughes, Rob Langan, John Scott, Gordon Mcguinness, Christy Cusack, Diarmuid Byrne, Paul Coady, Jason Keane, Owen Shaughnessy, Mike Power, Robbie Cusack. Subs: Simon o’Malley for Robbie Cusack, Kieran Berry, Greg Barry, Sheamus Devaney, Patrick Durcan, Ger Prendergast.
Ballina; Dan Carbine, Brendan Barrett, Mark Murphy, Tony Matheson, Declan Murphy, Alastair Cooke, Noel O’Sullivan, Andrew Moss, Brendan o’ Malley, Anthony Boland, Paul Kelly, Cormac Quinn, Derek Duffy, Stephen Lacken, Stephen Rochford. Subs: Mark Loftus for Anthony Boland, Keith Brennan for Alastair Cooke.
Referee ; Danny O’ Neill (CBIRFU)
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