Braidmen win and end up clear of relegation zone
Safety was the priority for Ballymena on the last day of regulation season action, an outcome which Ballynahinch already had though it had only been freshly acquired on the penultimate weekend of Division 1B games.
And though the Braidmen got what they wanted there was no hiding from the fact that neither Ulster club exactly managed a great return from another season spent in the top flight.
Much food for thought then at both Eaton Park and Ballymacarn Park ahead of next season’s AIL challenge when there will be three Ulster clubs in the upper tier after Banbridge secured promotion by winning the Division 2A title in Cork.
And it could even be four Ulster clubs battling it out in 1B for the next campaign should Malone come through the play-off process that starts for them this weekend at Dolphin.
It was a tricky enough closing day for Ballymena as they hosted Shannon with both sides hardly in the ideal place as the loser faced the possibility of ending up ninth if Dolphin had managed to win their last game with a bonus point.
Ballymena, though, were the most vulnerable to this unwanted outcome so their 13-10 victory was very timely as it moved them up to finish in sixth and away from Dolphin who still won at UL Bohemians though there was no bonus point which kept the Cork side in ninth and facing their impending play-off semi-final with Malone.
So, a disappointing season at Eaton Park at least ended on an upswing and brought an end to a particularly damaging run of having shipped six losses from seven going in to last weekend’s closing round of games.
And it took a monster, but wind assisted, penalty from halfway, which was impressively hit by winger Josh McIlroy, to secure the much-wanted result for the Braidmen and allow Andy Graham’s squad end their campaign with something positive to take towards what needs to be done ahead of next season.
The Braidmen led 10-3 at the break courtesy of a Rodger McBurney try which was converted by Richie McMaster while McIlroy had also managed a penalty into the wind.
And the Limerick visitors, who were awarded a penalty try in the second half which was converted by Ronan McKenna, left Eaton Park with a losing bonus point and ended up in eighth place, one point in front of Dolphin, and of the relegation zone.
All at Ballymena, though, know that next season has to be about a better outcome after Graham’s men — who had earlier in the campaign been pushing for a top four finish — fell away badly on that bad run of form after Christmas.
Elsewhere, Hinch headed to already promoted champions Buccaneers knowing the pressure was off them in relation to digging out a result.
And that wasn’t all as the Co Down side had also factored in having to play the rather more pressing issue of today’s Deep RiverRock Towns’ Cup final.
Taking all that into account, it was no great surprise that Hinch came out on the wrong end of a 40-10 defeat at Dubarry Park.
Not that Hinch wanted it to end this way for long-serving coach Derek Suffern’s final game in charge of the senior team, after over a decade of service, but the squad’s significant achievement had been the week before when securing their place in Division 1B by acquiring a losing bonus point in their home defeat to UL Bohemians.
Hinch scored all their points in the opening half at Buccs, through tries from David Nicholson and Aaron Cairns, both of which were unconverted.
They also actually led the champions by 10-7 at the break, but it didn’t last.
Indeed, after the restart, the floodgates opened and the Connacht side — who will play in 1A next season — ran in five tries to rack up a total of six touchdowns in the game.
The outcome, though, will hardly concern Hinch who ended up seventh in the table.
Results: 1B: Ballymena 13 Shannon 10, Buccaneers 40 Ballynahinch 10, Galwegians 16 Naas 27, Old Wesley 19 UCC 5, UL Bohs 10 Dolphin 16
Champions and promoted to 1A: Buccaneers.
Promotion play-off semi-finals to be played this weekend: Garryowen v Old Wesley, Naas v UL Bohemians.