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Braidmen face dogfight to dodge drop zone as Hinch reach safety

 

By Michael Sadlier

It was hardly a memorable penultimate weekend of regulation games for Ballynahinch and Ballymena as both lost but only Hinch came away with something of substance as they still managed to nail down their all-important presence in next season's Division 1B.

Not so for the now eighth-placed Braidmen as Dolphin's surprise win over Old Wesley means that Andy Graham's squad face a nervous coming weekend of regulation games as they could still be overhauled by the Munstermen, who are now four behind, on the last day.

A home victory over Shannon - who are in seventh - will safeguard Ballymena's status in 1B and rule out the result of Dolphin's final game at UL Bohemians, even though the Limerick side are hot favourites to win anyway and copper-fasten second place and a home semi-final.

Should it all go wrong, and the Braidmen end up in ninth, then the Eaton Park club would enter a relegation play-off semi-final with Division 2A's fourth-placed side, either Nenagh or, more likely, Malone.

Ballymena ought to reach safety - Bohs do look too strong for Dolphin - but, still, these are unsettling times for them especially as Ballymena have lost six of their last seven AIL games after once looking like strong contenders to finish in or around the top four.

While Hinch grabbed a dramatic victory at Naas in the previous round, a result which essentially laid the groundwork for their survival, Ballymena were on the end of the Leinster club's backlash last Saturday.

Graham's squad were hammered 40-15 by the play-off chasing Leinster side and slipped to eighth in what was has been a notably dire season for them since the turn of the year.

The Braidmen were, admittedly, missing Ulster squad members Mark Best, Stephen Mulholland and Matty Rea, but they did start well at Forenaughts and led 10-5 at the turnaround thanks to tries from second row Conor Smyth and winger Johnny Rossborough. But, from there, things went rather rapidly against them and Naas ran in five more tries to run out comfortable winners with Ballymena just managing one score in the second half which came late on through a try from number eight Adrian Hamilton.

Meanwhile, sixth-placed Ballynahinch faced a pretty mammoth task in trying to overcome UL Bohemians, even at Ballymacarn Park, and were defeated 18-13 by the second-placed Limerick men with the losing bonus point, and Galwegians failing to win at UCC, meaning that Derek Suffern's squad had done enough to avoid enduring a nerve-jangling last round of games.

And that final outing was ominously at champions Buccaneers so now going into this game without having to take anything from the journey to Dubarry Park will be a massive relief for the Co Down club.

Hinch trailed Bohs 7-5 at half-time with Aaron Cairns - who also ended up being yellow-carded later in the game - having scored for the home side.

Their only points for what remained of the game came from a Peter Nelson penalty in a clash, which for all its openness, only saw two tries scored.

Results: Div 1B: Ballynahinch 8 UL Bohs 13, Naas 40 Ballymena 15, Shannon 13 Buccaneers 19, UCC 24 Galwegians 22, Dolphin 22 Old Wesley 10.

Belfast Telegraph

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