Armoy 2nd XV v Ballynahinch 6th XV
Armoy 15 v Ballynahinch 28
Hugh Thurgate reports from Lime Park
It was too good to be true; game after game played in balmy autumn sunshine came to an abrupt end in the shadows of the mighty Knocklayd, at a baltic Lime Park, home of Armoy Rugby Club. The team warm up was spent taking it turns to hide behind the grandstand and it was gone two o’clock before Armoy ventured out of their changing room. Ballynahinch welcomed back Darren Cairnduff after an early season knee ligament injury and Matthew Shields came in for an injured Gareth Chambers.
Michael Evans made his debut at eight replacing Mark Magowan away sunning himself on the black sands of Tenerife and the absence of Lee Jordan gave Richie Cullen a welcome chance to see first half action. The Ballynahinch men soon took the wind out of the Armoy Armada sails with a very early try for Hugh Thurgate, once again gifted a try scoring opportunity by Ben Wilson. In a swirling wind and from as far out as you can get Michael ‘Lammergeir’ Bell slotted over an outrageous conversion to make it seven up.
Hinch hit the ground running and pressed hard for a second score. Ritchie Spiers was unlucky not to get through, held up for a five yard scrum but wasn’t to be thwarted, managing to cross the chalk moments later, Bell adding the conversion. The Ballymacarn men sensing blood continued their onslaught. Great sniping and energy at the fringes put The Drones out half under huge pressure, twice unable to get his kick away inside his goal area.
The Sixes extended their lead after Matt Shields neatly chipped over the encroaching defence. Ben ‘Reedling’ Wilson launched after the kick and managed to outstrip the Armoy blindside wing over twenty two metres and won the race to the touch down. Bells conversion caught a huge up draught and floated shy of the uprights to leave it at 19-0.
With the prospect of braces and hat-tricks on the horizon Hinch lost the plot. They started to take completely unnecessary risks and became very disjointed and ragged. It was as if the cold suddenly started to drain them of coherence and focus. Matters were made worse when Richie Cullen had to leave the field of play with a very nasty slice wound to the cheek. He was later to make a brave return after being patched up by a local sheep farmer.
Armoy came right back into the game and their forwards who had shown good physicality in defence started to demand the ball in attack. Two soft tries in rapid succession and a penalty goal brought them within a try of Ballynahinch. Half time just couldn’t come quickly enough for the visitors.
The realisation that their unbeaten record was in serious jeopardy seemed to galvanise Ballynahinch. They started to play a much more controlled game and tackled tenaciously. Michael Evans in particular upped his game both with ball in hand and in defence. Hinch did particularly well in the mauls holding up man and ball and changing the momentum in the loose, back pedalling one minute surging forward the next.
Bell continued to slot the kicks over which slowly but surely extended Ballynahinch’s lead and undeniably had a demoralising impact on an ephemerally resurgent Armoy. The Drones sails started to billow in the wind and finally they were set adrift in the doldrums as Hinch closed down the game in their opponents half. Once again the pack punched way above their weight. Turner and Truesdale yet again performing heroically but for his impressive, committed debut Michael Evans received the Man of the Match award.
So, despite all the folk lore and mutterings of ovine intimidation in the run up to the game, there wasn’t a sheep to be seen. Cryptosporidium, what Cryptosporidium? Though in a dark twist Armoy may yet have the last laugh; as his team mates trooped out of the raging inferno of the pavilion showers and with visibility down to just six inches, Brendan Warn was left floundering around on his hands and knees in billowing clouds of steam, myopically rooting around for a missing bar of soap muttering Kevin, Kevin is that you; the Kiwi man showing worrying signs of the early onset of hairy shaker disease?
So, Ballynahinch came away with the win, a score line and scorers that were uncannily aligned with Michael Isaiah Bells forecast. Ritchie’s apple cart led a charmed life, at times teetering on one wheel and on the verge of cowping, but after eighty hard minutes it remains upright and free wheeling, unbeaten and charging onwards and upwards to next weeks top of the table clash with Holywood.
Team: Wilson, Alan; Thurgate, Hugh; Wilson, Benjamin; Shields, Matthew; Cullen, Richie; Bell, Michael; Spiers, Richie; McCarroll, William; Carson, Darryl; Cairnduff, Darren; Warn, Brendan; Wilson, Andrew; Turner, Johnny; Truesdale, William; Evans, Michael.