BANBRIDGE are making a habit out of producing dramatic finales to their Ulster Bank All-Ireland League games this season.
Three tries in the final 15 minutes earned them a bonus-point win at Wanderers and in their last AIL outing at Rifle Park, Dale Carson’s last-minute try secured a narrow win against Sunday’s Well.
But the escape act they produced last Saturday bettered both of those as they recovered from a seemingly hopeless 9-25 deficit with 55 minutes played to edge the narrowest of wins against an impressive Greystones side.
The staunchest of home supporters must have given up hope when Greystones winger Andrew Kealy collected a neat cross-field kick from his out-half Ross Spillane and sprinted 85 metres to touch down in the corner for his side’s bonus-winning fourth try and a seemingly uncatchable 16 point lead.
Indeed only the virtually flawless kicking of out-half Robin Thompson had kept any sort of hope alive for the home side as he followed a mighty 50 metre effort in the 3rd minute with further successful strikes on 11 and 28 minutes.
But meantime the Co Wicklow team was racking up the tries. Spillane twisted out of an attempted tackle to put Simon Malone in for a try in the 6th minute. The centre rounded behind the posts for the touchdown, but significantly as it turned out, Spillane’s conversion kick missed the target.
The fragility of the Bann defence was again exposed in the 14th minute as Kealy scorched in for a try at the left hand corner flag.
Bann survived further periods of pressure, turning over ruck ball twice and forcing a knock-on to limit the visitors to two first-half tries augmented by a Kealy penalty with the last kick of the half.
Bann had their moments in that first period, with a stunning breakout from his ‘22’ by lock Chris Allen setting Ashley Finlay and Ben Purvis off on runs which eventually won a penalty out wide in the ‘22’, only for Thompson to miss for the only time in the game.
Greystones were quick to build on their 9-13 lead after the interval. The bullocking runs of prop Bobby Clancy had been causing problems for Bann and six minutes into the second half he again broke through the first-line defence to put lock Ben Armstrong in under the posts, with Kealy converting.
The visitors’ rearguard had a thorough testing for much of the next 10 minutes as the Bann forwards raised their game. But the Greystones defence was proving as resilient as their attack was enterprising. And when ruck ball was eventually turned over to set up that second try for Kealy, that looked like game,set and match to Greystones.
Bann resumed on the attack and Finlay just failed to hold a difficult pass with the line beckoning. But finally the breakthrough came in the 63rd minute, with flanker Ryan Patterson stretching over to touch down after being hauled down inches short of the line. Thompson’s conversion reduced the deficit to nine points and the out-half converted a penalty six minutes later, with the original 46 metre shot at goal shortened by 10 metres thanks to some Greystones indiscipline.
The scent of victory was now in the home nostrils and when Bann won ruck ball in front of the posts Thompson’s tidy footwork created an unlikely gap between two Greystones players, his flamboyant dive at the posts marking the significance of a try which he duly converted to edge his side in front.
With Bann failing to field the re-start Greystones were to spend the final three minutes encamped deep in the home ‘22’, but all assaults on the line were repelled and a final shot at retrieving the situation by Spillane saw his drop goal attempt sail wide.
Bann will count themselves fortunate to have picked up a win from a game in which for long periods they were outplayed by a Greystones side which had the pace out wide to expose Bann’s defensive flaws.
But on the positive side Bann showed a spirit and resilience which opposing teams will discount at their peril. This weekend’s visitors to Rifle Park, Rainey, have also registered a win over Greystones. It will take an improved display, and in particular a better first half display, if Bann are to hold onto the top four place in which they again find themselves.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 2.30pm.