With the tape in sight, Ballyclare Rugby Club’s 1st XV faltered on the run-in, and failed to clinch a fourth-place Qualifying 1 finish that would have guaranteed entry to the All-Ireland Junior Cup.
A home draw against Clogher Valley and an away defeat by Portadown in their final two fixtures demoted Robert Boyd’s lads to a disappointing seventh place finish.
However, in their first season at the higher level, Ballyclare proved to be a surprise package and they and Clogher were the only two teams that managed to beat champions Instonians.
Ballyclare’s draw with Clogher two weeks ago meant that Saturday’s clash with Portadown was a dead rubber, with fifth spot up for grabs. But despite a late surge the White Hare lads collected only a losing bonus point in a 23-22 defeat.
A Bobby Smith penalty and a Gareth Byers try converted by Smith left Ballyclare trailing 15-8 at the break at Chambers Park.
Second-half touchdowns by Willie Logan, Andy Watson, both goaled by Smith, set up a tense finish, but the County Armagh side held out to finish two places above The Cloughan men in the table.
Reflecting on the game, team manager Peter Kirk picked out Smith, Logan, Watson and Gary Weatherup for special mention.