BALLYCLARE were favourites to lift the Powerdale Towns Cup on Easter Monday afternoon at Ravenhill, but they had to be content to share the trophy following a 28-28 draw with City of Derry II.
Two well matched teams couldn’t be separated even after extra time, so the famous cup that is the oldest adult rugby trophy in Ireland will be in The Cloughan trophy cabinet for only six months.
This was the second time that these two clubs contested the final, the first being in 1980 when it was another draw, with Ballyclare winning the replay.
It was an interesting contest in perfect, albeit very cold, handling conditions, with the teams employing different styles. Bob Young’s men were keen to throw the ball around, with their backs having the edge on their opponents, while the Derry men favoured kick-and-drive tactics.
With the seconds ticking away and the score 28-23, the trophy seemed to be heading for the Maiden City, but the ‘Clare contingent were cheering winger Nathan Loughlin crossed in the corner to level the scores.
So it all depended upon the difficult conversion attempt from the touchline. Full back Robert Smith lined it up, but from the widest possible angle and against the wind, he was unable to guide the ball between the posts.
Smith was no stranger to pressure, for it was his last gasp penalty in normal time that took the tie in to the extra twenty minutes.
Ballyclare had the majority of possession in the first half, but were unable to translate possession in to match-winning points.
Wing forward Gary Weatherup opened the scoring when he crossed after centre David Clarke had made the initial break. Smith converted this one and his Derry opposite number did likewise when they got their first score.
Weatherup, who had an outstanding game, doubled his tally when he touched down beside the posts, and when Smith goaled this one Ballyclare led 14-7 at the break.
Early in the second session Smith was on target with a penalty, but then Derry’s purple patch, in which their impressive number 7, Mark Walker, stood out, produced a converted try and two penalties that nosed them in to a 20-17 lead, with fifteen minutes remaining.
When skipper Mo Finlay was yellow carded and the momentum with the opposition, a Derry win seemed on the cards, until Smith came to the rescue with an equalising penalty in the dying seconds.
In extra time Smith was sent to the sin bin when referee Mark Patton spotted him tugging a Derry jersey, but his replacement, Gareth Byers, regained the lead at 23-20 with a penalty.
With seven minutes remaining an unconverted Derry try following a sixty metres solo dash (and several missed tackles) silenced the large ‘Clare contingent, but their hopes soared when winger Nathan Loughlin levelled at 28-28 when he crossed in the corner.
Right at the death Weatherup almost won it for Ballyclare when he was stopped ten metres short to be denied a hat-trick.
Ballyclare: Robert Smith; Gary Weatherup, Stuart Cusack, David Clarke, Nathan Loughlin; Niall Lawther, Colin Morrow; Al Boyd, Mo Finlay (Capt.), Rory Henderson, Graham McKinstry, Rob Boyd, W Logan, Gary Weatherup, Michael Rainey. Replacements: Gareth Byers, Ian Holmes, Rodney Hall, Adam Wardrop, JJ Baird.
City of Derry II: D Murdock, P Blenerhasset, G Boyle, R Peoples, A Blair; A Park, P Duffy; S Duffy, C Cregan, R Balfour (Capt.) B McKillop, J Fawcett, J Lyons, M Walker, R Scott. Replacements: SJ Duffy, G Beatty, R Harkin, S Brennan, R Logue.
Referee: Mark Patton.