AN exhilarating second half performance earned Banbridge an unexpected bonus point win in the opening game of their Division 2A campaign in the All-Ireland League.
Having seen their team secure promotion last season, the Bann supporters would have travelled to Greystones more in hope than expectation, especially given the host team’s sixth place finish in the Division in April.
The concession of a try after just three minutes play would have served to underline that assessment, and when Greystones doubled their tally mid-way through the half, it looked odds-on that the Rifle Park lads would be travelling home pointless.
But four superbly-constructed tries after the break saw them not just secure the win but also the fifth bonus point, a result which the home President graciously conceded was no more than they deserved.
That early setback arose from a turnover just inside Bann’s own half. Prop Bobby Clancy made good ground from a ruck inside the “22” and centre Simon Malone took advantage of out-half Ross Spillane’s half-break to cross near the posts, Andrew Kealy adding the conversion.
Bann response was initiated by Gregg Taylor’s run to within 10 metres of the home line but another turnover allowed the defence to kick clear.
On 21 minutes Greystones added a second try, from a scrum on Bann’s 10 metre line, with excellent support play putting Malone in for his second touchdown, and full-back Kealy again adding the extras.
When John Porter followed up on a hack through, a deliberate throw into touch gave Bann a penalty which was kicked to touch for a five metre lineout. Mark Wilson collected the throw at the tail but with support slow to arrive the ball was again turned over.
Bann finished the half testing the home defence with good runs from Wilson, Jonny Little and Porter, but a lack of control at the rucks denied them the chance to make it count on the scoreboard.
The visitors started the second half in blistering fashion. Taylor fielded a downfield kick in his own half and exchanged passes with Little to take play inside the opposition 22. Three rucks later and out-half Jonny Pollock found a gap to race in from 15 metres for a try, with Ian Porter converting.
With Bann now dominating position and possession, John Porter and Taylor combined down the narrow side to leave Greystones scrambling to defend. Their efforts to take the momentum out of the sustained attack saw the influential Clancy pick up a yellow card. Bann opted for the scrum, Little set up the midfield ruck and when the ball was recycled without delay, Taylor raced in for the try, with Ian Porter’s conversion levelling the scores with 15 minutes remaining.
Six minutes later Bann were ahead. Centre Andrew Morrison broke down the left flank, Little was up to take the pass from his midfield partner and with the last defender closing, an intelligent looped pass left man-of-the-match Taylor to complete the job.
From the re-start Greystones won a penalty, which Kealy struck home from in front of the posts, leaving the game finely balanced.
Bann resumed on the attack, with John Porter again in the vanguard and they were denied a try when the final pass was deemed forward. But that vital fourth try eventually came from the final play of the game.
A midfield scrum seemed to offer little threat. But Ian Porter broke blind and set brother John off on a run which took him deep inside the Greystones half despite the attentions of three defenders, following up to take a neat return pass and race in from the 22, adding the conversion for good measure.
Bann coach Daniel Soper was understandably elated after the game. “That was an outstanding second half performance,” he said as he took the congratulations of the travelling fans.
“I had concerns about our fitness levels but the way we finished proved we’re not far away in terms of preparation.
“The image of Banbridge is a big pack that steamrollers opposition teams. But we’ve come to Greystones today and taken on and beaten a good side scoring four tries through the backs, and that has given me great satisfaction. It wasn’t a perfect performance – we were turned over too often in the first half. But we can work on that.
“Old Wesley had a good win last night over Seapoint and they will present another big challenge on Saturday – but a bonus-point win from your opening game, well you couldn’t ask for more.”