Cooper's late score helps sink Bann and keep Malone ahead of the pack
Even though Malone slightly extended their lead at the top, after beating Banbridge, the league table is still looking highly compressed and showing little sign of losing any of its volatility.
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A case in point is with City of Armagh's bonus point win over Buccaneers which saw them make the leap from seventh to third.
Indeed, even though Malone now lead nearest challengers Old Wesley by three points, there are only six points separating the Gibson Park side from St Mary's College who are the ones now occupying seventh position.
However, such considerations are not on Ballymena's current agenda as they now look increasingly cut off at the foot of the table and are now seven adrift of Old Belvedere, the Dublin team being outside the danger zone in eighth after hammering the Braidmen.
Back at the top, Malone will be encouraged at putting more space - albeit by small margins - between themselves and those in pursuit after overcoming Bann 22-15 in what was a closely fought Ulster derby at Gibson Park.
Although there was inevitable rustiness after the break in games, Malone - who have now won three on the bounce - pulled away after trailing 12-11 at half-time with two Rory Campbell penalties and a late try from the excellent Peter Cooper giving Bann too much work to do to turn things around.
Campbell had kicked two earlier penalties for the home side in a first half that had also resulted in a Nathan Brown try to cut Bann's lead to a point at the interval.
The visitors for whom Peter Cromie and Caleb Montgomery scored tries did, at least, leave Belfast with a losing bonus point courtesy of Adam Doherty's injury time penalty which was their only score of the second half.
The point was some consolation particularly after they had turned down the chance to kick for goal shortly beforehand, only to be turned over, but meant that Bann slipped from second to fourth and now trail Malone by five points.
Armagh made considerable gains after their 32-27 victory over Buccs at the Palace Grounds.
The result - which saw the hosts fall behind early on - brought Willie Faloon's squad their second try bonus of the AIL season after scores from Neil Faloon, Shea O'Brien, Nigel Simpson and a penalty try.
Buccs, though, earned two points for their efforts which did damage to Ballymena.
The Braidmen could only register a Tim Small try and conversion from their 52-7 collapse at Old Belvedere.
Ballynahinch lost 19-17 at home to Old Wesley and stayed sixth. Rory Butler and Aaron Cairns scored Hinch's tries.
1B: Hinch 17 Wesley 19, Malone 22 Bann 15, Belvo 52 Ballymena 7, Armagh 32 Buccs 27