The loyal Banbridge supporters who travelled to Cork to support their team left the Mardyke on Saturday evening scarcely able to believe that their favourites had just picked up a bonus point win over the students of UCC.
Forced to take the field without injured first choice locks Jonny Graham and Chris Allen and further handicapped by the loss after just five minutes of flanker Nico Vorster, Bann had changed ends facing a 22-5 deficit.
But an outstanding second half display saw the Rifle Park lads run in three tries without reply for a win that lifted them into seventh place in Division 2A of the All-Ireland League.
President Alan Harvey was full of praise for the way the young team had turned the game around. “I think it says a lot about the character in the squad,” he said beaming broadly in the clubhouse after the game. “We were poor in the first half, struggling at the lineouts and leaving too many defensive gaps.
“But that was an amazing transformation in the second half. I knew we had to score first after the break to have any chance of even picking up a losing bonus point but a bonus point win, well I don’t think even the most diehard supporter was thinking that possible at the interval.”
A neat chip in behind the Bann defence had given right wing Cillian Ansboro an easy run-in for UCC’s 4th minute try. Five minutes later the students exercised full control as they drove a lineout close to the line before releasing their threequarters with centre Cillian Monahan crossing close to the posts for Kevin Kidney to add the conversion.
Bann lost a couple of turnovers before managing to retain and recycle the ball sufficiently to put centre Andrew Morrison in for an unconverted try on 16 minutes.
Still it was the students who looked the more dangerous and Ansboro was almost in for a second try only to be denied by a knock-on. But his pack took the set piece against the head and hooker Brian Vaughan went in from close range to extend the home team’s lead.
Kidney added the extras and stroked over a penalty on 28 minutes to give his side that comfortable interval lead, with the eventual outcome seemingly a formality.
Bann’s Assistant Coach Simon Best had some stern words with his young charges at the break and 15 minutes after the re-start Aaron Kennedy broke from the base of a scrum to put Adam Doherty in for a try which the scrum-half bettered.
John Porter’s try on 65 minutes owed much to Jonny Little’s neat flick on when the centre came under pressure, leaving the winger to display his unique finishing prowess. Kennedy again found the mark off the tee to reduce the deficit to 22-19.
But UCC were far from finished and it took some gritty defensive work, exemplified by a pulverising tackle from Peter Cromie and a superb turnover effected by his namesake Stuart, to prevent the students from adding to their first half tally of tries.
Morrison’s clearance kick eventually relieved the pressure and from the midfield scrum that followed Little’s searing break took Bann deeper into home territory. The Bann threequarters were by now brimming with confidence and left winger Adam Ervine finished off another impressive backline move as he raced in for the try that not only took Bann into the lead but also assured them of a try bonus point.
With just 40 seconds left on the clock UCC were awarded a penalty in a kickable position. Having been denied victory at Skerries by a last-kick conversion, the Bann support had visions of another heartbreak. But Kidney’s effort drifted wide and Bann saw out the time remaining to clinch a memorable win.
“That’s probably the youngest side we’ve ever fielded in the AIL,” remarked Harvey. “But they showed remarkable qualities in overturning that interval scoreline and they will take a lot of confidence from that. We’ve a two week break now from AIL action and we should have some of our injured players back in the mix for selection for the home game against Seapoint.
“But that result today showed that we have depth in the squad and we can approach the final five fixtures in a very positive frame of mind.”