ANY hopes Banbridge had of providing a first round Senior Cup challenge to Ballymena to rank alongside their performance in last season’s final had been extinguished by half-time, with the Eaton Park side opening up an interval gap of 22 points.
An improved second half performance produced a more respectable 14-10 points differential but still left the home side cruising comfortably into the second round.
Bann started brightly enough, with a strong run from full-back Gregg Taylor taking play deep inside the home “22”.
But Scott Gibson’s 18th minute penalty edged his side in front and six minutes later flanker Adrian Hamilton scored the first try, after Bann had shown a disappointing lack of awareness defending a free kick on their “22”. Gibson added the conversion to stretch the lead to ten points.
Jonny Weir and Jonny Pollock were prominent as Bann produced a good passage of play to pressurise the home line. But when Robin Thompson was forced to retire injured, Pollock switched from wing to out-half, with Jordan Weir coming off the bench.
Winger Alan Smyth went over in the corner for Ballymena’ second try and with the Bann defence too often found wanting, Gibson added the third try just before the break, adding the conversion for good measure.
Ballymena were making the most of every Bann mistake, and John Montgomery raced in from 60 metres for the fourth try, just six minutes into the second period, with Gibson’s conversion again finding the target.
Bann centre Andrew Morrison stood out for his defensive work and it was fitting that he picked up his team’s opening score after fielding a kick on the full and out-pacing the Ballymena rearguard on a 50 metre sprint to the line.
But just after the hour, a knock-on in the Bann ranks was picked up by home out-half Timmy Small and he had an unhindered 60 metre run to the line, Gibson’s conversion leaving him with a 16 point tally from the match.
Bann enjoyed a period of pressure at the end of the game, which flanker Stephen Irvine rounded off with a close-range try, but it was scant consolation.
Now Bann have to re-group, with Ballymena travelling to Rifle Park tomorrow (Wednesday) for an Ulster League game. Coach Daniel Soper may want to look at other players as he tries to find his best combination before the first All-Ireland League fixture at Greystones at the end of the month. He will certainly be looking for a tightening in a defence that has leaked eight tries in the two opening games.
Tomorrow night’s game kicks off at 7.30pm and on Saturday Bann travel to take on Ards in the Ulster Senior League, kick-off 2.30pm.