Friday 22 March 2019

Balbriggan title destiny goes down to final day

Leinster League Division 2B: Balbriggan 33 Garda 15

The Division 2B season will go right down to the wire thanks to Balbriggan's bonus-point win over Garda and Edenderry's failure to earn a bonus against Birr.

If Balbriggan win their final match against Arklow with a bonus point they will be champions, but the only problem is that Arklow were the only team to beat them in Balbriggan this season and if Arklow were to beat Balbriggan they themselves could end up in the play-offs and Balbriggan would lose out completely.

On paper, though, Edenderry have the easiest task in that they face neighbours Portarlington who have not won all season.

It must be admitted that after 15 minutes Balbriggan were only thinking of survival and not bonus-point wins as there was a gale-force wind blowing down the Balrothery pitch and Garda were playing with it.

From Garda's kick-off the home side were engulfed by the men in black and they pounded the Balbriggan defence and slowly moved upfield towards the line.

Balbriggan defended bravely and Garda got a couple of penalties, firstly for Whitney not rolling away and then Kieran Malone for not releasing. Still, the hosts kept them out and even turned the ball over, but it squirted over the line and they had to conceded a five-metre scrum.

Eventually the pressure was too much and the line was breached.

Balbriggan were kicking into the gale, so Garda did the sensible thing on receiving the kick-off and put it straight back down into the opposition half.

Balbriggan, though, started to run the ball back. Full back Tom Downes made some good yards and the Malone brothers were in support and as the ball was passed out along the line the hosts made good progress into the opposition half.

Now it was Garda who were under pressure and Balbriggan were awarded a penalty on the five-metre line which they decided to scrum. From the set piece Ciaran malone eventually drove over for the score which Mick Hanley converted to put the home side ahead 7-5.

Balbriggan then hit a purple patch as the backs exploded into action from the kick off. Winger Glen Healy ran straight back at Garda and the ball went through the hands and back again to Healy who popped the ball to the ever-present Malone to get over for the second try which again Hanley converted.

The next kick-off led to nearly a repeat performance. This time it was the other winger Staunton who found the gap and before being tackled he offloaded to prop Charlie Browne who showed lovely hands in feeding it on to Healy. Healy could probably have got over himself, but to be sure he unselfishly offloaded to the other Malone brother Sean who went over in the corner. In the space of 10 minutes Balbriggan had turned a 5-0 deficit into a 19-5 advantage.

Garda weren't finished, though. They had plenty of big burly forwards intent on trying to make as many yards as possible and Sean Malone ended up with a 10-minute rest when the referee adjudged he had brought a maul down - that after originally giving the penalty in Balbriggan's favour.

Garda attacked the line and turned down kicking opportunities to try and get a try, but the Balbriggan defence reigned supreme. Garda did get over the line at one stage, but the referee said the ball had been held up and the half came to an end.

On the restart Glen Healy's persistent harrying of the Garda back three forced their full back into touch near the line, and this gave Balbriggan an opportunity to run a move off the lineout, where Whitney again reigned supreme. Smith fed Ciaran Malone who crashed over for his hat-trick and also the all-important bonus point.

Now all Balbriggan had to do was to hold on and win. A little bit of anxiousness crept into the game and both Hanley and Casey kicked the ball dead, resulting in Garda scrums back in the Balbriggan half.

Garda kept running and Balbriggan kept tackling, with Graham O'Reilly immense in all facets of play, and the visitors got back up to the Balbriggan five-metre line and a series of penalties saw Ciaran Malone dismissed early.

Garda eventually got over and the referee awarded a try even though the Balbriggan players felt the ball had not been grounded.

There was still time for more scores and a good Balbriggan move saw Hanley dummy a kick and then pass inside to Casey who made about 40 metres before substitute Miller came through like an express train to put the game beyond doubt.

Garda got a consolation score with the last play, but for their hosts it was a job well done. Everyone manned up and the effort from the team was immense. The lineout, with Sean Malone's dart straight to Whitney, was a strong weapon.

While a yellow card would usually eliminate a player from a man of the match award, Ciaran Malone had to be a strong contender as his first score in particular set the tone for a good win. An honourable mention must also go to Glen Healy who had an excellent game.

Arklow host the winner-takes-all showdown on Sunday week.

BALBRIGGAN: T Downes; D Staunton (R Miller), M Brennan, C Casey, G Healy; M Hanley, A Smith; T Downes (G Foley), J Davis (D Quinn), C Browne; G O'Reilly, C Caldwell; S Malone, A Whitney, C Malone.

Fingal Independent