Banbridge’s drive for promotion into Division 1B of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League came to a shuddering halt on Saturday when they conceded six tries in a comprehensive defeat by University College Cork.
Not that it was all one-way traffic – indeed Bann coach Daniel Soper said afterwards that he was actually pleased with the way his team had performed when in possession.
“When we had possession we did what we’d been working on in practice, shifting the ball and playing with plenty of width,” he commented.
“But the defence was simply not up to the standard we’ve set for ourselves. We gave away far too many scores cheaply. When you remember that in the previous 120 minutes against them, the second half in Cork and then our home game, we didn’t concede a single try, it’s very disappointing to then go and let six in today.”
The game hadn’t been going for two minutes when UCC crossed the whitewash, after Bann had failed to deal with the kick-off.
A set scrum and couple of recycles later and full-back Chris McAuliffe had touched down to open his team’s account.
Bann spent the next quarter hour in opposition territory and UCC conceded several penalties in their efforts to keep their line intact before eventually No 8 Stephen Irvine went in at the posts, with Adam Doherty’s conversion putting his side ahead.
But again Bann failed to deal with the re-start drop-kick and when UCC attacked off the set piece Bann conceded a penalty in front of the posts which Kevin O’Keefe slotted home for a 7-8 lead.
On 21 minutes centre Kevin Slater found it all too easy to carve through Bann’s midfield defence on a 35 metre run to the try line. And the same player did the groundwork for his team’s third try just three minutes later, feeding his centre partner Paul Kiernan with the try scoring pass.
O’Keefe had the easy task of adding the extras and now Bann were 7-22 in arrears despite having the benefit of the wind.
The rest of the half belonged to the home side as they dominated possession and territory.
Josh Cromie’s neat inside flip pass put centre Andrew Morrison in under the posts from 20 metres out and then the scrum-half nipped in for a try of his own after Bann had again pummelled at the visitors’ line. Doherty’s two conversions brought his side back to 21-22 at the interval.
Five minutes into the second half UCC No 8 Eddie Earl crossed for a converted try to leave Bann two scores in arrears and from then on the Rifle park men were chasing the game.
They did make inroads on occasions into the opposition “22” but a knock-on or turnover would hand back possession and the astute wind-assisted kicking of College out-half Tim Clifford would consign them to a further period defending their own line.
Earl picked up his second try on 65 minutes and by the time Kiernan collected his second touchdown, converted by O’Keefe on 73 minutes, it was already a lost cause for the home side.
The loss of three players through injuries picked up in the previous Saturday’s game against Ulster Juniors may have affected Bann’s game but Soper wasn’t using that as an excuse.
“We had our chances in the second half but just weren’t clinical enough. Maybe if we’d had our normal line-up things might have been different but there are no “what ifs” about today’s game. Those “what-ifs” are really about the games we lost earlier in the season to the three sides which ultimately filled the bottom three places in the league.
“If we’d won just one of those three away games we wouldn’t even have been in a play-off situation, we’d have been up automatically. Today we were beaten by a good side who played better than us and deserve to contest the final of the play-offs.
“But the players know we’ve improved over the season and with a young squad that’s staying together, we know we just have to improve on our form away from home and we can kick on next season.”