A wet, wintry Irish Independent Park was the setting for Banbridge’s tenth Ulster Bank League game of the season.
Having squeezed home against Dolphin on home territory the previous weekend, the Rifle Park lads knew they would have to front up if they were to repeat the victory in the return fixture in Cork.
As expected, they were made to fight for every point but in the end they had done enough, just, to record a seventh AIL league win.
Dolphin were penalised in the opening minute, allowing Bann skipper Ian Porter to kick his side into a three point lead. And when Adam Doherty was taken out following his chip into the home “22”, Porter doubled his side’s advantage off the tee with 14 minutes played.
But three minutes later the influential scrum-half had to retire injured, forcing Bann to re-jig their back line, with Josh Cromie taking over at pivot and Ben Carson coming off the bench to fill the No 10 position.
Barry Keeshan pulled back three points for the home side with a successful penalty kick in the 22nd minute after mishandling in the Bann ranks had caused an infringement.
Bann were still trying to stretch the Dolphin defence and despite the conditions put together a fine move, with slick handling almost putting them in at the corner. But the referee had seen an earlier midfield infringement and Doherty stroked over his side’s third penalty for a 9-3 lead.
There was no further scoring before the break despite Josh Cromie’s 55 metre run down the narrow side, with John Porter just failing to get his pass away with the line beckoning.
Dolphin dominated the third quarter, kicking astutely and using their strong pack to keep Bann contained in their own half. Keeshan’s penalty effort on 51 minutes came off an upright but Bann knocked on to give the home side a five metre scrum. The pressure was relentless and eventually the defence cracked, with flanker Barry Fitzgerald crossing midway out for a try that Keeshan couldn’t better off the tee.
As the game went into the final quarter it was still the home side calling the shots and a drop goal attempt went just wide of the uprights. But Bann did well to retrieve the ball from the drop-out re-start. Lock Matthew Laird picked up the ruck ball and his storming 40 metre run took play into the Dolphin “22” for the first time since the interval. The Bann forwards then went through the phases, taking play close to the line and prop Stuart Cromie finished off with a try close to the posts.
Doherty’s conversion took the score to 8-16 with 13 minutes remaining. Keeshan’s penalty made it a one score game with none minutes left on the clock but Bann had enough nous to see the game out without offering the opposition a serious scoring opportunity.