Banbridge edge out Malone in opening game

Banbridge's Christopher Allen in action against Malone. Pic: Presseye
Banbridge's Christopher Allen in action against Malone. Pic: Presseye

Banbridge edged out Malone 23-20 in the All Ireland League opener last weekend.

The hosts might not have been expected to provide the most testing opposition for a Bann team which had enjoyed a top-four finish in Division 2A last season.

Malone had an eventful summer which saw them lose their coach and a number of senior players.

In the end though, Bann were glad to leave Gibson Park with the four points from a hard-fought win but had Mark O’Connor’s kicking been up to its usual metronomic standard, the Belfast side would undoubtedly have claimed the major share of the points on offer.

The full-back missed three shots at the posts which for him were eminently kickable and Bann held out for the win.

Coach Daniel Soper was happy with the result but said that his side had been guilty of making too many errors and giving away too many penalties.

He said: “There were some patches of very good play out there today but we allowed Malone to stay in the game when we should have been out of sight.

“Still there were a lot of positives and I’m just glad that we’ve made a good start to the league.”

Bann dominated the early play, both in terms of territory and possession, but Adam Doherty was off-target with an early effort off the tee and Clark McAllister just failed to hold a difficult pass with the line begging.

Shandon Scott fielded a clearance kick on halfway and his long pass sent Andrew Morrison off on a run to the try line during which he fended off two attempted tackles.

After he had touched down a push from a Malone player sent the centre crashing into the fence beyond the dead ball line.

After Lee Steenson had seen his conversion attempt go wide, the referee’s yellow card reduced the home ranks to 14 men and Bann re-started with a penalty on the halfway line.

That put Malone immediately back on the defensive and two minutes later Bann picked up their second try, with Adam Ervine scorching in at the right hand corner for a 0-10 lead.

O’Connor failed with a penalty attempt on 32 minutes but after Bann No 8 Stephen Irvine had picked up a yellow card for going in at the side of a ruck, the home full-back got his side off the mark at the second time of asking.

Malone were starting to enjoy some time in opposition territory and when they kicked a penalty to the corner their pack worked off the 5-metre lineout to set up a score for hooker Dave Cave, leaving just two points separating the sides at the break.

Steenson’s penalty five minutes into the second half edged his side further ahead but O’Connor won the race to a neat chip behind the Bann defensive line to cross for a try that he failed to better.

Irvine’s surging run took play deep inside the home “22” and the recycled ball was transferred to Ervine on the right flank.

His inside pass found Jonny Little and replacement full-back Jason Gribbon was on hand to take the centre’s pass and touch down, with Steenson adding the extras.

Malone then enjoyed their best spell of the game but failed to finish off a couple of promising moves.

Bann were reduced to 14 men for the remainder of the game when Irvine picked up a second yellow on the hour mark.

Malone’s second yellow card allowed Steenson to kick his second penalty but Malone capitalised on a poor clearance kick to put centre Nathan Brown in for their third try, converted by O’Connor.

The stage was set for a nervous final six minutes from which Bann were relieved to emerge with their haul of four points.

Full-back Doherty’s hamstring injury will keep him from the action for a number of weeks.

Banbridge will still be hopeful of building on their promising start when Corinthians make the journey from Galway for this Saturday’s game.

The match will kick-off at the later time of 4.30pm to allow supporters to take in Ireland’s opening game in the World Cup first.