After conceding two tries in the opening 10 minutes, Banbridge fought back to retain the Ulster U19 Roland Barr Cup in Saturday’s final at a sun-drenched Ravenhill.
If the large band of Bann supporters were expecting their side to run away with the game, Ballynahinch gave early and clear notice that they weren’t there just to make up the numbers.
A clean midfield break almost yielded a try in the opening minute, with a last-ditch tackle stopping the ‘Hinch ball-carrier two metres short.
But that was just a taste of what was to come. Three minutes later the men in green sliced through Bann’s front-line defence again and when the ruck ball was moved wide to the right flank, Philip Barr finished off in the corner.
Aaron Kennedy’s penalty effort from 40 metres range was wide of the mark as Bann tried to work their way back into the game. But it was ‘Hinch who were dominating possession and when a speculative kick was put into the Bann 22, Keir Patterson fielded but was put under immediate pressure. With just hooker Tim Savage back in support, Hinch centre Mark Stephens took advantage, picking up the loose ball to race over the try line for a second unconverted try and a 10-0 lead with just 10 minutes played.
Gradually Bann began to work their way back into contention, with Kennedy’s 20th minute penalty from 38 metres getting them off the mark.
Five minutes later, a blistering 50 metre break from centre Ben Cross took play deep inside the ‘Hinch 22. Adam Kelly won clean ball from a five metre lineout and after Richard Graham had set up a ruck under the posts, the ball was moved left for Cross to dummy and touch down.
Kennedy’s conversion tied the scores, arguably unfair on a ‘Hinch side that had sparkled so brightly in the opening exchanges.
Bann were still losing too much ball at the breakdown and their malfunctioning lineout failed to maximise their chances, with another set piece five metres out going against the throw-in. However, the threequarters were starting to look threatening when in possession and a fine run down the right flank from Patterson set up the score which would see his side take a lead into the interval.
When the right winger was brought down outside the opposition 22, Jason Gribbon was on hand to take the pass and the scrum-half’s pass inside to flanker Graham left Bann’s POTY to steam in under the posts for a try which Kennedy converted.
Kennedy added a 48th minute penalty to extend his team’s lead but this was neutralised by a similar effort from ‘Hinch’s Lee Spence.
In the 66th minute, ‘Hinch were reduced to 14 men when the referee yellow-carded a player for foul play. Bann took advantage almost immediately, with Kennedy scything through the diminished defence into the 22. Jonny McCreery made further yardage before linking with Kyle McConnell who set up a ruck just short of the try-line. McCreery again carried well before feeding Adam Kelly with the try-scoring pass.
Kennedy’s conversion left ‘Hinch needing two converted tries to draw level but that was never going to happen against a Bann side now playing close to their best.
Even with the bench cleared, Bann remained on top until the final whistle and skipper Kelly lifted the trophy to the delight of the Bann supporters, who had now seen their side complete the Ulster League and Cup double.
BANBRIDGE U19S: Aaron Kennedy, Keir Patterson, Ben Cross, Gareth Liggett, Adam Stirling, Macauley Little, Jason Gribbon, Lee Geddis, Tim Savage, Jonny McCreery, Alan Thompson, Stuart Walker, Neal Cochrane, Richard Graham, Adam Kelly (C).
Replacements: Adam Copes, Matthew Beck, Richard Moneypenny, Kyle McConnell, Kenneth Wiltshire, Julian Funes.