Ballyclare failed to book a trip to the Kingspan Stadium for the Junior Cup final when they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Omagh.
The lead changed hands several times in a pulsating match at The Cloughan, where the Qualifying 2 side made Robert Boyd’s lads pay dearly for a yellow card, by adding eight late points to clinch an 18-12 win.
Both teams kept it tight in the first half with back play at a premium, so scoring was restricted to penalties with the hosts turning round 6-3 ahead, courtesy Robert Smith’s trusty boot.
Omagh started the second session strongly and forged ahead for the first time with a fine converted try by their full-back, who joined the line at pace to cross unopposed.
Omagh were penalised for an illegal challenge on Smith, and while he was receiving treatment Byers reduced the deficit to a single point from the resultant penalty.
The mobility of Ballyclare’s back-row trio - Gary Weatherup, Jordan McKinstry and Willie Logan - kept the locals moving forward and Smith regained the lead at 12 -10 with another penalty success.
Then it went pear-shaped for Ballyclare. Smith was sin-binned for swiping the ball from the scrum half’s hands. Omagh converted the penalty to lead 13-12, and then made their numerical superiority count by adding a further five points in the closing stages.
Having reached the final last season while still in Qualifying 2, it was most disappointing to fail at the penultimate hurdle this time, against a team from a lower division.
Ballyclare: G Byers; M Kirk, S Beasant, D Crawford, J Greer; R Smith, C Morrow; A Boyd, I Holmes, D Lawther, G McKinstry, R Boyd (C), G Weatherup, J McKinstry, W Logan. Replacements: R Tweed, K James, P Morrow, R Montgomery, J Brownlee.
The 2nd XV opened their Crawford Cup campaign with a fine 40-12 home win against Lisburn II.
There were mixed fortunes in the Forster Cup, with the Thirds losing 40-25 in Lisburn, while The Fourths had a walk-over in to round two when Dromore III couldn’t field a team.
This weekend’s fixtures: 1st XV v Clogher Valley, away; 2nd XV v CIYMS II, home; 3rd XV v Donaghadee II, away.