Conor McMahon was responsible for eighteen of Nenagh’s 23 points against Ballymena. Photo: Bridget DelaneY

Ormond overcome long trip to Ballymena with composed win

RUGBY: Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A Round 5

Ballymena 7

Nenagh Ormond 23


Player of the Match: Kevin O'Flaherty (Nenagh Ormond)

SCORERS – Ballymena: Try – Lamont. Conv – Crowe.

Nenagh Ormond: Tries – Rowland, Penalty. Convs – McMahon 2. Pens – McMahon (3).

Nenagh Ormond had their longest trip of the All-Ireland League campaign on Saturday as they made the trek to Eaton Park in Ballymena for their fifth round game and came away with their winning start intact.

As we have seen in the opening four rounds though, hurdles don’t seem to faze this side in any way and in reality, for large parts they managed this challenge at their ease.

One would have been tricked into thinking it was Ballymena who entered this game on the back of a long bus journey as Nenagh were by far the livelier side, especially in the opening half. Right from the off, the visitors set up camp in the Ballymena half. A combination of forward dominance, particularly in the set-piece, allied to sharp transitioning on the counter attack from the back three when they had opportunities, were the dominant features of this performance. Conditions were extremely foggy and quite cold but otherwise favourable for attacking rugby.

In what was to be a recurring theme in the game, Nenagh gained their first foothold in the Ballymena half through ill-discipline from the home side. A penalty was kicked to about 25 metres out. Kevin O'Flaherty secured good lineout possession and the Nenagh maul got rumbling steadily towards the Ballymena line. Again, discipline let the home side down and with an advantage coming Nenagh spun the ball wide where full-back Josh Rowland gladly accepted the chance to slalom in for the opening score of the game. Conor McMahon continued his rich vein of form with the boot to add the extras.

Having shown their strength in the maul, the Nenagh pack backed it up at the next set piece when getting the shunt on in a midfield scrum to add to a growing Ballymena penalty account and with the radar tuned in, Conor McMahon pushed the early lead out to 10-0.

It was a tour de force from Nenagh in this period. Ballymena simply could not put phases together with their handling suffering badly in the face of rabid Ormond defence. Having forced a hurried clearance from Ballymena, the Nenagh forwards had another lineout deep in the home team's half. Once more the maul went to work, this time after a good Jake O'Kelly take. The move broke down but after some quick phases the ball went wide to Conor McMahon who showed he is much more than just a boot with a scorching break down the left wing. As he looked certain to finish, he was taken out by a dangerous tackle from the covering Ballymena defender. As if the home team's woes were not bad enough at this point the referee sent the offending player to the bin for ten minutes and went under the posts to award a penalty try and save McMahon the trouble of a touchline conversion. At 17-0 Nenagh were full value for their lead.

Finally, from the kick-off, Ballymena did eventually establish some pressure in the Nenagh half. A good set of phases forced a rushed clearance and from the ensuing lineout, Ballymena won quick ball off the top to set up what should have been a scoring attack. Quite inexplicably though their out half attempted a speculative chip and chase and Nenagh recovered to win a defensive mark and clear their lines.

Perhaps in frustration Ballymena soon coughed up another penalty, worsened by dissent from the guilty party, bringing the award into kicking range for Nenagh after an extra ten metres were awarded, Conor McMahon doesn’t need to be asked twice what to do in these scenarios and at 20-0 this was looking easy for Nenagh.

With a short amount of time remaining in the half the Ballymena attack finally got itself together. Their right wing Rhys Irvine, who up to now had been starved of possession, made a really determined carry up the right wing to establish field position. A series of attacks were repelled by Nenagh, but they couldn’t clear their lines and eventually the home team got in for a converted try from Adam Lamont. Despite a nightmare 35 minutes up to this, Ballymena perhaps seemed fortunate to go in with just a thirteen point deficit at half time.

Pride was at stake for the home team, who might have capitulated and shipped an embarrassing scoreline, but they were an altogether different team in the second half. They kept it simple, largely going through simple one out carrying phases but retaining possession much more effectively.

Nenagh for their part were organised in defence and absorbed most of the onslaught at their ease. Ultimately the half proved to be a stalemate, the visitors defence stood firm. Ballymena threw the kitchen sink in attack but really lacked the guile necessary to trouble a very organised red wall in defence. Eventually it was the home team's Achilles heel on the day, their ill-discipline, that allowed the only scoring opportunity of the half.

A high tackle gave Conor McMahon one last shot at the goals which he took for a final score of 23-7 to Nenagh and four rare and valuable points on the road to Ulster.

Nenagh Ormond remain top of the table with a 100 percent record as they reach a third of the way through the season this weekend. After two away dates, Nenagh return to home comforts on Saturday when Banbridge are the visitors.

Some really tough games have played out between these sides over the years in senior rugby. In fact, the Down team were the very first visitors to Nenagh at AIL level all the way back in 2005. A bonus-point win was the outcome for Nenagh then. They may not have it so easy to get one this time but on their current form they will be confident nonetheless in the face of what will likely be another tough assignment.

Kick-off is at 2.30pm in Lisatunny on Saturday. This is a team playing really good, exciting, winning rugby right now and we hope to see a strong support turning out to back them up.

TEAMS – Ballymena: Rodger McBurney; Rhys Irvine, Pierce Crowe, Callum Patterson, Curtis Henry; Glenn Baillie, Roshan Weeraratne; Cillian Butler, Mark Lamont, Joseph Mawhinney; James Howe, Paddy Browne; James Gallagher, Adam Lamont, Sam Glass.

Reps: Alex Ferguson, Josh Mark, Jonny Browne, Eoin Ritson, Andrew Ferguson.

Nenagh Ormond: Josh Rowland; David Gleeson, Willie Coffey, Patrick Scully, Conor McMahon; Ben Pope, Nicky Irwin; Paudie Burke, Dylan Murphy, Colm Skehan; Jake O’Kelly, Kevin O’Flaherty; John O’Flaherty, John Healy, Evan Murphy.

Reps: Sean Frawley, John Hayes, Joe Coffey, Charlie O’Doherty, Derek Corcoran.

Referee: Peter McClure.