Ballynahinch win in vain and take Braidmen down
And then there was one — on a far from memorable day for Ulster club rugby, Ballynahinch and Ballymena were relegated from Division 1B while Dungannon, who were also embroiled in the final day battle against the drop, did enough to survive and will now be the province’s sole representatives in the top flight next season.
Ballynahinch’s chances of escaping the drop always looked the most tenuous of the four clubs — which along with ‘Hinch included Ballymena, Dungannon and Buccaneers — involved in a last-ditch wrestle for survival which was always going to see at least one Ulster club relegated.
However, they did manage one of the criteria, which resulted in a bonus point win over Ballymena at Ballymacarn Park, and though their impressive 35-20 result was not enough to save them it also ushered the Braidmen through the exit door after both Dungannon and Buccaneers won their games against Galwegians and Young Munster respectively.
All Ballymena required from their Ulster derby with ‘Hinch was a win and when winger Tommy Seymour got over the line after 17 minutes it looked as if John Andrews’ squad were on target to achieve their objective.
Indeed the Braidmen, who led 18-14 at the break, saw Seymour cross the line again, but they never managed to get clear and ‘Hinch, with Ulster flanker Willie Faloon in their ranks, had other ideas.
Faloon’s fellow flanker Michael Graham led the way with a hat-trick of tries alongside solitary efforts from winger David Nicholson and centre Stuart Morrow. Ryan Bambry also kicked 10 points as the result sent both sides on their way to Division Two.
Meanwhile, over at Stevenson Park, Dungannon yet again managed to escape dropping out of the top flight thanks to a combination of their 24-15 win over Galwegians and Ballymena’s defeat.
‘Gannon hardly made a promising start when prop Mark Farquhar was binned in the first-half, but he made up for it with a try which at least closed Galwegians’ lead to 15-10 at the turnaround.
The visitors — with former Ulster player Kieran Campbell, who is expected to return to Dungannon next season, in their ranks — scored one more time in what remained while ‘Gannon crossed the line twice with scores from Glen Telford and Derek Hall.
Out half James Shiells converted all three tries and added a penalty to ‘Gannon’s total which saw them finish two points ahead of relegated Ballymena and ‘Hinch.
Meanwhile, in Division Two — which will contain five Ulster clubs next season — both Belfast Harlequins and Malone completed their league campaigns with defeats to Dublin University and Lansdowne respectively.
Quins were defeated 32-7 in Dublin, a result that sees Andy Ward’s squad finish tenth in the table, one place and a solitary point above Malone who earned a losing bonus point after losing 34-28 at home to the division’s runaway winners Lansdowne