Seasonal glee at Donaghadee
By Andy Borthwick
Toon grind out a long awaited win
With the first half of the season at an end, Ballymoney knew that they had to start picking up some wins, and with a trip to Donaghadee, a victory was surely essential in this relegation battle. A supporters bus added some welcome cheer to the sidelines, with hopes of an early Christmas present accompanying the festive spirit.
The team was largely the same as last time, with Adrian Graham returning from illness to push Neal Mulholland to number 8, and John Laughlin replacing the injured Jonny Linton in the midfield.
Playing up the hill in the first half, Ballymoney set their stall out, with good phase play through the forwards, and the occasional foray into midfield. Clearly the up front battle was one that was there to be won, with Graham and Mulholland dominating the lineout, and the driving maul looking solid.
Donaghadee, however, were in battling mood as well, and lined their defence up to put in some big hits in midfield, and turn over any opportunity on the floor.
After an early penalty gave Dee a 3-0 lead, Davy Rea unleashed one of his specials - from inside his own half he beat his opposite man for pace, powered through the attempted cover tackle, and turned inside to beat the fullback and score under the posts. Campbell converted for 3-7.
But shortly after, Dee went ahead - their lively scrum half looping through their strong midfield runners, to break the line and put the winger in for the score - a declaration of intent from their experienced back line. It remained 8-7 until the break.
Shuffling the pack at half time, Kyle came on for Irvine, and Borthwick for Macdonald in the back row, and instructions were to play territory and attack the fringe defence. And that is exactly how it played out - a dogged, determined first 10 minutes that drained the defending side as they repelled wave after wave of tight driving forwards - Mulholland twice being denied over the line in this period.
After 10 minutes of the second half, Dee gave a kickable penalty, and Toon took the lead, 8-10, through Campbell. And within minutes, Mulholland finally got on the scoresheet, initially putting the ball in space for Laughlin, then as the attack drew the defenders wide, picking up and dotting down from close range. 8-17, and the visitors were starting to believe.
Donaghadee would not go down without a fight, and for the next 15 minutes, they threw everything at it, with strong running from their back row and centres making the defenders work hard. But strong tight defence, particularly from the lineout maul, and good organisation and commitment across the backline kept them out.
In the last minute, the icing on the cake was a breakaway try for Ballymoney. Dave Watson picked up a loose ball in midfield, releasing the rejuvenated Macdonald, who set off from his own 22 in a footrace. Beating the first man, he then ran into quicksand and got hauled down on the Dee 22. But quick ball made its way out to the ginger Fijian Davy Rea, who beat his man inside, drew in the cover tackle, and threw an outrageous over the head blindside pass to Chris Watson, who dove over the line to score.
Full time 8-24, a valuable win on the road, but just short of the bonus point that the Toon would have wanted on the day. Man of the match was shared by Macdonald and Rea. Coach Taggart was proud of the battling display up front, but is looking to capitalise more on the possession to get over the line.
Next week both 1st and 2nd XV travel to Clogher in what is sure to be another tough weekend in the Christmas calendar.