Ballymena set for Armagh final after squeezing past Hinch
Ballymena will face Armagh in the First Trust Senior Cup final on February 8 but had to withstand an anxious final few minutes before eliminating league champions Ballynahinch 22-20 at Eaton Park.
Ballymena began with a surge with winger Johnny McMullan going in at the corner. Within a few minutes it was 12-0 when Timmy Small, who had an outstanding game, found a gap and nipped through under the posts to add the conversion.
"It was a great start but maybe it was a bit too easy, too soon as we then lapsed and gave away a simple try," Ballymena coach Andy Graham said. "Hinch took a tap penalty and, catching us unawares, they suddenly reduced the deficit to three points after 30 minutes."
The try came following an excellent phase of play when Ross Adair broke through and touched down for Richard Reaney to goal an then added a penalty. The home team made it 19-10 at the interval when a number of driving mauls resulted in Conor Smyth crashing over for a converted score.
Smyth was yellow carded after the restart for a high tackle and Hinch took advantage when Hugh Gibbons put Jonny McPhillips in for a try close to touch which Reaney brilliantly goaled. The visitors were now within two points and, close to time, proceeded to take the lead for a few minutes with a Reaney penalty.
All looked lost for Ballymena but then two excellent pieces of play followed. Firstly, Smyth jumped high to win their drop-out and they maintained possession to bring play to the Hinch line where a Small penalty regained the advantage.
"We thought the tie was over at this stage but there was still time to restart. Hinch were then awarded a penalty around halfway and decided to kick to the corner. Fortunately for us our No8 James Gallagher kept the ball in play and proceeded to kick for touch and that was the end. It had been a few minutes of nerves but I feel we deserved our victory," concluded Graham
Armagh were too strong for junior AIL 2B opponents Rainey 31-15 at Palace Grounds. Rainey had a number of opportunities but too many kicking points were squandered. Cormac Fox goaled an early Neil Faloon try but Rainey upped their efforts and went in front with tries by Damien McMurray and Cieran Devlin. Armagh stormed back to make it 19-10 at the break with Tom McNeice and Andrew Willis tries for Fox to goal the former.
Later Armagh made it 31-10 with a second Willis try and one from Chris Colvin which was converted by Roy Purvis. Rainey had a late Andrew Brown score.