Bann Thirds battled their way through to the final of the Crawford Cup thanks to a 22-14 win over Ballymoney Seconds.
And that means they now look forward to the Easter Tuesday final at the Kingspan Stadium against Ballynahinch Thirds.
Nerves were in evidence from the outset with the kick-off not going 10 metres, immediately putting the home side under pressure.
But possession was soon turned over and some excellent driving from the forwards provided Bann with a strong foothold deep inside the Ballymoney half. The continued pressure on the visitors’ defence resulted in a penalty which Jeff Dodds converted.
A rare handling error from Bann provided Ballymoney with a scrum inside the home half. From the scrum ‘Money got a penalty and opted to kick to touch. Bann were penalised for an early jump, a quick tap penalty caught them off-guard and some poor tackling allowed Ballymoney to score in the corner, with the extras taking them 3-7 ahead.
Banbridge re-grouped and from a ruck deep in the Ballymoney “22” scrum-half Dodds saw a small gap open up and he slipped through to score his side’s opening try, before narrowly missing the conversion.
Ballymoney made a strong start to the second half. When Banbridge regained possession, Ferris was able to punish some ineffectual tackling by carrying for 40 metres before off-loading to Davidson. The No 8 continued on a rampaging run to win a penalty about 30 metres out from the posts.
Dodds stepped up to take the shot at goal but the kick drifted wide and struck the post. The Ballymoney players didn’t react and the onrushing Boland scooped up the loose ball and drew a defender before passing to Honeyford who still had a lot of work to do to score in the corner, with Dodds’ conversion taking his side 15-7 ahead.
Hard work at the breakdown from Brown and Alex Megaw won a penalty for a Ballymoney player holding on on the ground. Bann opted to kick for the corner and go for the maul. Ballymoney worked hard to stop the Banbridge maul which forced an error. But from the resultant scrum some poor handling put the Ballymoney scrum half under pressure and Neal Cochrane took the opportunity to make a great offensive tackle, forcing the pivot to touch the ball down over his own line.
Bann got the nudge on at the set piece to drive the Ballymoney scrum back with Davidson using his footballing skills to keep the ball under control. The pressure from the scrum left the ref with no option but to award Bann a penalty try which Dodds improved off the tee.
A poor restart saw Ballymoney regain possession. With Bann on the back foot even the defensive efforts of Brown, Alan Thompson and Megaw couldn’t prevent a converted try to leave Ballymoney just eight points adrift.
Some excellent all-round performances saw Bann produce one of their best games of the season with Dodds again showing his experience in controlling the game and every member of the pack showing great intensity. Coaches Andy Craig and Stuart Wickie decided the man-of-the-match award should be shared between Davidson and Ferris.
Bann now look forward to the Easter Tuesday final at the Kingspan Stadium against Ballynahinch Thirds.