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Ballyclare HS 10-9 Ballymena Academy: Heartbreak for Ballymena after McDowell kicks hopes into touch

By Ronnie Ingram

There were only two third round ties in which two seeded teams faced each other and one was at Ballyclare where the home team needed a very late converted try to eliminate neighbours Ballymena Academy.

Ballyclare having reached a final and played in five semi-finals in the last seven years under Daniel Soper now have a new coach in Michael McKeever, a former RBAI player who is assisted by Gareth Shaw, a former pupil of their opponents.

Team captain Matthew Brolly and winger James Beattie played in the unsuccessful 2012 final when they lost to Methody 22-6 and their influence made a big difference in this encounter.

A scrum infringement allowed Matthew McDowell to put the home team into the lead but they then conceded penalties and Ballymena out-half Andrew McGrath was in top form.

He was successful with three before the interval, two of which were from close to halfway.

The visitors should have been further in front by half-time but their pressure around the line was not rewarded. During the period Ballyclare's McDowell was always a danger and Jack Magee, Zac McMorran and Matthew Darling, the brother of last season's captain Jonny, made their presence felt.

Ballyclare used the wind better after the restart and with long and accurate kicking kept their opponents contained for long periods. When it looked as though Ballymena would keep their opponents at bay and qualify for an away tie at Coleraine Inst, the home team struck and brought the score to within a point when second row Ross Johnston crashed over 15 metres in from touch. So now it all depended on the conversion and lower sixth pupil McDowell stepped up and despite the awkward wind kicked Ballyclare into the quarter-finals.

Gavin Murray who coached Ballymena along with John Andrews, thought his team had survived until that try in the 67th minute. “We played right and well but either team could have won,” he said.

“It wasn't a day for open rugby but Andrew McGrath made a few breaks and in the forwards, Jonathan McKeown played his heart out. Our captain Duncan Maguire carried the ball well and was awesome in defence.

“We did have a couple of opportunities with Jonathan Rosborough making an excellent break in the first half but it wasn't our day.”

McKeever (below) knew it had been close.

“I must praise the efforts of Matthew McDowell for stepping up and taking that vital conversion right at the end. He was involved with the Ulster under-16 training camp in the summer and that experience paid dividends as he is developing into one of our best players,” he said.

“This game was a tremendous forward battle and I feel we kept control and attacked when required. We gave away a couple of unnecessary penalties early on but then showed character and maturity in the second half when we ground away at the Ballymena defence. Our captain Matthew Brolly's leadership was excellent and his control outstanding but we had to call on all our reserves to overcome such a fine team.”

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