Dee’s first taste of All–Ireland Action Ends in Victory
Donaghadee opened a new chapter of their 127 year history on Saturday when they travelled to North Mayo to face Ballina in the opening round of the All-Ireland Junior Cup.
Donaghadee welcomed back Rory Garnham for this away trip but largely remained unchanged from the team that defeated Cooke in the domestic league the previous Saturday.
The home side started strongly and although they missed an earlier penalty attempt they scored the first points of the afternoon in the 8th minute, when their right winger capitalised on an overlap after a series of Ballina phases. The conversion attempt was successful.
Donaghadee started to find their momentum after this early score and minutes after the two centres Nigel Barker and Paul McKenzie combined well to release Billy Allen who got stopped just short of the line. In the phase of play that followed Richard Millar broke through a number of tackles before offloading to Barker who managed to find the supporting David Murray who finished superbly. Barker added the extras with a difficult conversion.
Donaghadee continued to dominate possession and although the Ballina outside half was able to find and kick into space at times Allen and McKenzie were able to clear the lines effectively. In the 20th McKenzie found touch deep in the Ballina 22 and as the ball was touched in flight Dee were able to secure line-out ball off their own throw. Donaghadee Prop forward Ali Barnes, becoming a real asset with ball in hand, was able to dent a hole in the home defence and when the ball was released to Millar 15 yards out he attacked the Ballina line, showing considerable strength as he fended off a couple of tacklers to score. The conversion was unsuccessful to give Donaghadee a 12-7 lead.
Ballina had two opportunities at the end of the half to reduce the deficit but both penalty attempts drifted wide.
Half-time: Ballina 7 Donaghadee 12
Close to 100 Donaghadee supporters had travelled to watch the side on Saturday and they were treated to perhaps the most cohesive Donaghadee performance of the season, with the second half starting as the first had finished with Donaghadee playing an attractive, open style of rugby.
In the 43rd minute captain Ali Lockhart took a quick penalty and after a purposeful dart into the Ballina half, he released Chris Hamilton who found himself on the left hand flank. Hamilton did well not to be bundled into touch and was able to feed what he thought was a scoring pass to supporting Barker, however the try was not allowed with the final ball adjudged to have been forward.
Barker did not have to wait long until he did get across the line. In the 48th minute the lively Garnham fielded a Ballina clearance kick and, as he had done all afternoon, initiated a counter attack - releasing the ball to Barker who, still 30 yards from the line, sliced through the Ballina defence to score under the posts to give the away side a 12 point lead with Barker successfully converting his own very fine try.
Ballina enjoyed better possession in the middle part of the second half and if they had been more clinical with a couple of penalty opportunities they may have been able to build a better momentum to get back into the game.
On the 62nd minute Donagahdee effectively won the game with their fourth try of the day courtesy of player/coach McKenzie. Ali Lockhart put Ballina on the back foot with a well-executed box kick that was impressively collected by Chris Hamilton. Hamilton who has developed a good rugby brain decided not to offload to the supporting Kalave Aualiitia but instead took play into the centre of the pitch. When support did arrive the ball was fed to McKenzie who was able to create enough space to run unopposed and score under the posts.
Ballina added to their early try in the 65th minute with a well taken try by their lively outside centre; however it was to be mere consolation as Barker added two late penalties to ease any late nerves.
With important league games coming up against Academy and league leaders Portadown, Donaghadee coaches McKenzie and Hennessey will be delighted with the recent form shown by their team. Ballina went into this game very much as favourites but the Dee men not only came out clear winners, they did it playing a terrific tempo of rugby with a squad that continues to grow in confidence.
Club Chairman Ronnie Porter was keen to acknowledge the fantastic support that travelled to Ballina on Saturday with the visiting support outnumbering the locals support. Porter went onto comment “The 1st XV are playing a quality style of rugby at present which bodes well for the season ahead. We look forward to the draw for the next round of the All Ireland Junior Cup but ultimately we now focus on league action and look to build upon recent results."
Donaghadee Team vs. Ballina: B.Allen, C.McGivern, N.Barker, P.McKenzie, R.Garnham, P.Blewitt, A.Lockhart; N.McCullough, Gareth Gordon, A.Barnes, K.Aualiitia, R.Black, D.Murray, C.Hamilton, R.Millar (Subs: D.Thompson, A.Cash, P.McCaughey, R Irvine, A Torrans)
Scoops Man of the Match: The back row were magnificent on Saturday. Hungry for the ball, supporting each others breaks, denting holes in the Ballina defence, disciplined in defence and setting a tempo and benchmark to which the rest of the team followed.
The MOM award however goes to Nigel Barker who give an excellent all round performance. Tough tackling in the centre of the pitch, a number of purposeful line breaks, one of which resulted in an exquisite score and successful penalty kicks at key times of the match.