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Ballymena dig deep for derby success

By Michael Sadlier

The Ulster derby at Eaton Park certainly lived up to its billing with Ballymena coming back from trailing 13-3 to overturn Belfast Harlequins late in the game to triumph 17-13.

The victory ensured that the Braidmen, in second spot, closed the gap with leaders Galwegians to just one point, after the Connacht side fell to a shock defeat at Shannon, and though Quins are still bottom of the table, there was some benefit for them as the losing bonus has kept them in the hunt to escape their predicament as they are two behind now ninth-placed UL Bohemians and three adrift of Corinthians in eighth.

It had all started fairly well for the underdog visitors who scored a first half try through Rory Scholes which was converted by Michael Heaney who also added a penalty while all Ballymena could manage was a solitary penalty from Richie McMaster.

But the Braidmen turned things around in what was very much a tale of two halves which saw Quins fail to trouble the scoreboard again while the home side were able to score 14 unanswered points.

First up, flanker Stephen Mulholland got over for a try with McMaster adding the extras and then, with four minutes left, winger Jordan Foster raced home over the Quins line which McMaster also converted.

Also in Division 1B, struggling Malone ended a damaging run of four straight AIL defeats when they turned Corinthians over at Gibson Park by a winning margin of 27-11.

Two tries from hooker Paul Jackson and one from John Creighton helped Malone arrest their recent slide in form and lifted them to sixth in the table though this Saturday's derby clash with Quins looks like a pivotal game for both sides.

The only down side for Jacques Benade's squad was that they failed to take maximum points and that key player Conor Joyce shipped what could be a serious injury.

In Division 1A, Ballynahinch lost out 31-24 in a high scoring encounter against UCD at Belfield but at least made the journey home with a losing bonus point.

Hinch scored three tries through Ross Adair, Paul Pritchard and Jordan Grattan with Chris Quinn converting all three and landing a penalty in a game which saw the Co Down side take an early lead before losing it and then briefly regain it just before the half hour mark.

However, by half-time, Hinch trailed 21-17 and though Grattan's late try made it 28-24 to the home side, it was the students who finished things off with a last minute penalty.

Hinch stayed in sixth after this reverse and their coach Derek Suffern, though clearly disappointed with the result remained upbeat after his charges had put in a positive display to take the bonus point.

"I thought we marshalled our midfield defence well against what was essentially a Leinster A backline," said Suffern.

"And though we came back well to stay in touch in the game, we gave away just far too many soft penalties and conceded far too many cheap points against them."

"It was another away defeat for us but we got the bonus point and now know we need a win this Saturday at home," he added.

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