Toon run Clogher close
By Andy Borthwick
Tough day in the Valley
On a cold day in Clogher Valley, Ballymoney brought their first and second teams, both looking to pick up some valuable points.
Clogher, flying high in the league and putting together an impressive record in the All Ireland Junior Cup, were missing a few regulars, so the men from Kilraughts Road sensed an opportunity to cause an upset.
With Jason Taggart replacing Michael Allan due to illness, and Sam Kyle in for Peter Irvine, out with a head knock, the rest of the team were starting to look settled. And as the match kicked off, Ballymoney soon got into their patterns of play, with repeated attacks around the fringes, and some good kicking to corners from Matthew Steele, ryan Brace, and James Campbell.
Much of the first half was played in the Clogher end, and James Campbell converted one of three chances afforded to go for the posts.
Clogher server notice of their ability to break through on one occasion up the blind side, with a flood of supporting runners and good offloading bringing the ball deep in the Ballymoney half. And the pressure built from their heavy pack after two lineouts in the corner eventually paid off, with a try for the hosts.
Moving into half time at 7-3, Ballymoney were growing into the game - Jason Taggart in particular rolling back the clock to turn over ball at the breakdown, and Aidy Graham and Danny Platt getting through a lot of carries from the second row.
But Clogher set out their stall in the second half, upping the ante at the scrums and mauls to really demonstrate their power. The Toon's increasingly desperate defence held out though, despite several passages on the line, and one almost certain try being whipped away as it was dotted down. The scrums were also becoming a lottery, with penalties alternating between both sides, despite the home side's clear advantage, which let some pressure out at key moments.
With Campbell picking up a second successful penalty after an hour, the final 20 minutes were tense indeed. By this point John Laughlin had gone off with a back injury, and Bartlett had come on to bolster the from row, and the replacements were throwing themselves into the fray.
On 77 minutes, an offence in midfield allowed Campbell to step up and stroke home for 7-9, an unexpected lead with minutes to play. But with the clock running out, Clogher were allowed a shot at goal from 40 yards out, which was converted comfortably. Ballymoney pressed hard with one last surge, but the home side held out for a tense win.
Overall, a tough run out, and player /coach Jason Taggart was pleased to come away from Clogher with a bonus point , but the side are left looking at the table and wondering what might have been.
Next week sees the start of the Towns Cup, where Ballymoney have been drawn away to Coleraine. A good support is expected in what is sure to be another tense derby in the series. Kick off will be 2:30 at Rugby Road.