The race to be crowned Ulster junior champions is set to go to the wire after Ballyclare defeated Kukri Ulster Championship One leaders Instonains at the East Antrim venue.
The 14-9 win avenged a 17-14 loss to the Belfast club at the start of the season and with a game in hand the advantage has swung in Ballyclare’s favour.
Instonians went into the game at The Cloughan six points clear at the top, but also aware that their hosts had a game in hand.
The win closed the gap to three points - Inst picking up a losing bonus point, but that game in hand for Ballyclare could now prove crucial in the race for the title.
Michael Kirk’s try in the third quarter was the difference between the top two in a very tense encounter.
Ballyclare kicked off in near perfect conditions knowing only a win would do and immediately took the game to the Inst Old Boys.
However, for all their early possession they only had a penalty from Robert Smith to show for their efforts.
James Campbell quickly equalised for Inst, but it was Ballyclare who continued to dominate.
A teak tough visiting defence continued to frustrate the home side but another Robert Smith penalty on 26 minutes saw them edge back in front at 6-3.
After soaking up more pressure Inst paid a rare visit to the Ballyclare ‘22’ and again came away with points as James Campbell kicked a penalty following a Ballyclare infringement at a scrum to send the teams in level, 6-6, at the break.
Instonians made a bright start to the second half and another Campbell penalty saw the lead for the first time in the game at 6-9.
The lead didn’t last long as on 50 minutes constant pressure from the Ballyclare pack saw them create an overlap and quick passing from Robert Smith and Joel McBride put winger Kirk in for an easy finish in the corner.
Ballyclare extended their lead to five points on the hour when Robert Smith landed his third penalty and they continued to dominate proceedings but were unable to kill the game off as Inst continued to fight and stay in losing bonus point territory.
Eventually they found a gap in the Ballyclare defence through scrum-half Matthew Keane as the clock turned red, but the home defence regrouped, and Aaron Playfair forced Michael Melville into a knock on following a big hit on the left wing.