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Ballynahinch storm back to sink Malone in Senior Cup decider

By Michael Sadlier

On an absolutely foul night at the Kingspan Stadium, Ballynahinch came from behind to lift the First Trust Senior Cup for the second time and made up for last year's defeat against Queen's University by taking the silverware back to Ballymacarn Park.

Hinch battled back through their pack from being 10-0 down after 25 minutes, when Malone had the elements behind them, with a first-half try from Stephen McAuley, accompanied by second-half scores from man of the match Michael Graham and Richard Reaney.

Malone, who have now lost seven finals in a row and have not won the cup since 1992, scored a first-half try from scrum-half Jack McMurtry and led 10-7 at the break but their challenge fell away in the second half.

On a night when both sides' kickers naturally struggled, Josh Pentland opened the scoring for Malone after nine minutes with a penalty after Hinch tried to carry the ball out of their 22 while playing into the conditions.

Hinch then had a chance to equalise, after some great approach work from their pack, but Reaney's 15th minute penalty strike into the conditions went wide to the left hand upright.

Pentland was then wide with a long range penalty shot after 20 minutes and five minutes later he did the same with a closer effort after Hinch were again pinged at the breakdown.

Then with their first meaningful attack deep in Hinch territory, Malone produced a well-worked score when McMurtry got over after an interchange of passes between Pentland and winger Michael Barker as the Belfast side hit the blindside flank after the forwards had taken it through several phases.

Pentland then converted the 25th minute score and Malone led 10-0.

Hinch now needed to respond and did so three minutes after the half hour after full-back McAuley broke free and then somehow regained his own grubber kick, when Ross Adair was steaming up and awaiting a scoring pass, to actually get the touchdown in the corner.

Reaney then added a superb conversion from the touchline and Malone's lead was cut to 10-7 and the half ended with the Gibson Park side turning down a kickable penalty to go for the corner only for a forward pass to halt their momentum.

The second half was only four minutes old when Hinch had a good chance to stretch their lead but Reaney's penalty hit an upright and stayed out and then, bizarrely, the same happened again 10 minutes later after Paul Pritchard's hit won Hinch another penalty, though this one was further out.

But Hinch did strike next and on 55 minutes number eight Graham barged over after Aaron Cairns had made the initial break and the pack had picked and jammed their way to the Malone line. Reaney, though, was well wide with the conversion but Hinch had the lead for the first time at 12-10.

Malone's Nathan Browne was then knocked into touch after Kieran Joyce launched a scything attack into Hinch territory with Hinch flanker David McGuigan helping stop a certain score.

Then in the 68th minute, Hinch shunted Malone off their own put-in at a scrum and after keeping possession for multiple phases, Graham gave the overlapping Reaney the scoring pass in the left corner. Reaney failed to convert his own score but Hinch now led 17-10.

With conditions worsening, Pentland then missed a penalty from close in with just 10 minutes remaining and Malone's chances seemed to be ebbing away which is how things worked out despite their strong finish.

Belfast Telegraph

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