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Ballymena edge closer to coveted Ravenhill decider

By Ronnie Ingram

Ballymena IV were obliged to play two Forster Cup ties in four days and have now reached the semi-finals with a 34-0 win over Dromore III on Wednesday evening and a 27-17 success over Lisburn III on Saturday.

The weather was atrocious in the Dromore tie, with the home forwards dictating the possession.

Young winger Paul Rainey scored the first and later kicked through from 60 metres out to win the touchdown. Donny McKendry, Robbie McGreer, Jarryd Bowes and James McKevitt added others for Rainey to goal two.

Ballymena knew it was going to be much tougher against Lisburn, as in their previous meeting they only scraped through 13-10.

To make matters worse, they lost the services of centre Maurice McDowell with a knee injury after 10 minutes and with no substitutions allowed, they were really up against it as Lisburn had already taken a well deserved lead.

It was a jittery start for Ballymena and their opponents took advantage when the ball was whipped out and Robert Hall scored in the corner.

Karl Morris kicked an easy penalty to reduce the arrears but Lisburn ran in an excellent try when Owen Hilliary spun out of a weak tackle to touch down for Mark Crowe to add the points.

Lisburn mounted attack after attack and would have gone further ahead by half-time but for a try-saving tackle by Alan Hughes, so the score remained 12-3.

The Braidmen rethought their tactics during half time and it was soon obvious they had made the right changes.

Ten minutes in, Hughes picked the ball up from the base of a scrum to dive over for his ninth try of the season for Morris to goal and they were back within two points.

A pick and drive resulted in prop Rodney Hall crashing over to put them ahead for the first time. They were recycling the ball efficiently and winning possession and a forward drive led to hooker Pete Taylor being driven over.

The try of the tie came when McKendry picked up on the Lisburn 10 metre line and showed outstanding strength to burst through a tackle and hand off a couple of defenders to run in from 40 metres out to bring his try tally to double figures.

Morris converted, but Lisburn were still not finished as a well worked move created space for Austin Irwin to score out wide.

Ballymena Manager Alan Reynolds said: "There will be a few aching bodies over the next few days but they gave everything and it shows how determined they are to reach Ravenhill.

"We now face a tough game against Monaghan II but there is a possibility there could be an all-Ballymena final.

"The holders, our V's, still have to face the team they defeated in last season's final, Armagh III, in the quarter-final."

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