Ballyclare will be chalking up the miles next season, having qualified for the prestigious All Ireland Junior Cup.
A top four Qualifying League Section 1 finish was required to join Bangor, Instonians and Clogher Valley in the cross-border event, and despite a 36-14 defeat in Bangor in their final fixture they held on to that coveted fourth position.
Due to Bangor’s participation in the Towns Cup on Easter Monday, Ballyclare travelled to Upritchard Park to play their final league game of the season on Thursday March 24. A lot was at stake, where a bonus point victory would secure Bangor the league title, while a point of any description would secure Ballyclare’s cherished fourth place irrespective of other results. Ballyclare were finding the strong forwards difficult to contain, and they provided a good platform for their athletic backs to attack, and after 25 minutes Bangor had scored three tries to lead 17-0. As the first half was drawing to a close, the White Hare men were struggling to get out of their own half, Bangor had a half time 24-0 lead, with the bonus point secured at the break. In the second half Ballyclare contained Bangor well for the first 20 minutes but they remained patient and got two further scores to go 36-0 up. Weatherup rallied his team for the last quarter when the Clare lads showed some gutsy determination.
From a line out close to the line a driving maul was set up. Bangor couldn’t curtail the advance, and ended up bringing the maul down illegally. The referee awarded a penalty try and with Smith adding the conversion they had clawed back to 36-7.
Ballyclare continued to exert pressure, and a break by young scrum half Thomas McGookin, followed by a clever underarm reverse pass to Robert Smith, allowed the full back to cut through and score. To keep the momentum going Smith quickly drop-kicked the conversion.
Ballyclare left empty-handed as the league champions celebrated. Ballyclare now had an anxious wait until Saturday when Omagh’s failure to beat Clogher Valley ensured that Ballyclare would be competing in the All Ireland Junior Cup.
Team: 1-15; R Scott, D Chambers, A Boyd, R Boyd, W Logan, P Robinson, G Weatherup, R Tweed, T McGookin, G Clotworthy, JJ Baird, S Cusick, D Clarke, A Butler, R Smith. Replacements; W Rea, M Robson.