HAVING already suffered defeat twice at the hands of league pace-setters Ballynahinch Thirds, Bann Thirds can hardly have relished the thought of travelling to Ballymacarn Park for this first round Crawford Cup game.
In the end the favourites duly took their place in the next round but not before they had survived a stiff test by a spirited Bann side.
The visitors enjoyed the significant breeze in the first half, but it was their failure to fully capitalise on the elements that ultimately brought about their defeat. A 5th minute penalty attempt by ‘Hinch drifted wide and when the home side were caught off-side from the long “22” drop-out Bann had a chance to set up an attacking line-out. But Robin Thompson’s kick was caught by the wind and ran dead.
Prop Stuart Cromie set the standard for his team-mates with two crunching tackles on the opposition lock. And as Bann continued to enjoy field advantage left winger John Haughey just failed to collect Thomson’s deft cross-field kick just inside the home “22”.
Unfortunately for Bann, the confident opposition saw this as their own opportunity to attack – and they did so in style, creating room for their left winger to outstrip the defence and run in from all of 60 metres for an unconverted try.
Bann knew they had to produce something special to break down the home defence and they did just that in the 27th minute. Andrew Davidson’s powerhouse run set up quick ruck ball in front of the posts and Stuart Wilson’s miss pass gave Haughey the room he needed to squeeze in at the corner for the equalizing try.
Despite their best efforts the visitors were unable to add the scores that would have given them the cushion they needed for the second half into the wind. Instead it was ‘Hinch who were ahead at the interval thanks to a 32nd minute penalty.
That three point lead was extended by a second unconverted try eight minutes after the break, a neat chip behind the closing defence letting the ‘Hinch right winger effect the touchdown just before the ball ran dead.
The expected rush of tries to put the result beyond doubt didn’t materialise as a determined Bann side snuffed out any backline moves, not least through the efforts of centres Wilson and Stephen Cowan. And with Davidson, Andrew McCleane and skipper Ryan Ringland working hard up front, the ‘Hinch pack was never able to gain the domination to which they are accustomed.
Where they did have the advantage was out-of-touch, with a solid lineout contrasting with Bann’s inability to secure their own ball on a consistent basis. And that paucity of supply restricted Bann’s opportunities to get the score that would have put them back within striking distance.
After being unavailable for most of the season, Thompson made a solid return at out-half, while coach Andy Duke was impressed with the efforts of the hard-tackling David Adamson on the wing. This performance merely served to underline the potential within the Thirds squad, which can only be developed by consistent player availability and regular training.