Never has the saying ‘a game of two halves’ been more appropriate than for today’s Provincial Towns Seconds Cup clash between Ardee RFC and Balbriggan RFC, where the Ardee men slumped to a last gasp 22-27 defeat at Townparks.
Ardee came into today’s game needing a positive reaction after last week’s disappointing end to the league campaign, one that ended in relegation to Division 3 for the 2017/18 season. Balbriggan are familiar foes for Ardee RFC by now with the sides having already faced each other twice in Division 2B in the current campaign.
The Townparks side couldn’t have asked for a better start. After Ben O’Brien kicked an early penalty through the posts, Ardee continued to go up the gears to race into the lead. Just after the 10 minute mark, nice play from Aaron Keeley, followed by a good run from Barry Finnegan gained the home team some great field position.
Opting to run the ball, Ardee charged towards Balbriggan’s try line, with James Monaghan coming within inches of the opening try. Luckily for Ardee, Barry Finnegan was able to force the ball over the line, right beside the Balbriggan posts. O’Brien’s successful conversion gave Ardee a 10-0 lead with little over 15 minutes gone.
The home side were ruthless in their attack and within five minutes grabbed their second try, thanks to great work from John Devitt in the middle of the pitch who was able to feed centre Cathal Bradley to get over the line by the corner flag.
A third successful kick from Ben O’Brien extended Ardee’s lead to 17-0. Balbriggan’s heads were down as the home side were in total control. It seemed things couldn’t get better for Ardee, yet just four minutes later another try came their way.
A kick from Cathal Bradley was rebounded into touch for an Ardee lineout. Great play from Ben O’Brien and centre Conor Reilly moved the ball across the pitch to Conor Hennessy who charged through the Balbriggan rear guard to score Ardee’s third try.
This time O’Brien’s conversion attempt sailed wide, but Ardee were now in command, leading 22-0.
For once the crowd had a chance to breathe as the two teams fought for possession in the middle of the pitch. Ardee’s scrum was very effective throughout.
However there was one last score to come in the half. With five minutes remaining, Balbriggan forced Ardee back into their own territory before charging down the centre towards the line.
Some good Ardee defence held off Balbriggan’s efforts briefly but they eventually broke through to score. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful making it 22-5 as the game entered the break.
The visitors came out rejuvenated from their late first half try and immediately set the tone as they attacked hard from the off. A line out deep in Ardee’s half was forced inside where Balbriggan charged to score by the posts.
A successful conversion reduced Ardee’s lead to 22-12, bringing the two sides within two scores.
The game developed into a pattern, with Balbriggan taking control of proceedings. Ardee’s resistance held strong with Cillian O’Neill and Joe Austin making their presence felt with some huge tackles, but with just ten minutes left that resistance broke.
Following a lull in action Balbriggan pressure was finally reward as they pushed forward and scored a try by the corner flag. A tough conversion attempt sailed wide but the score narrowed to 22-17.
Then, just five minutes later, following a Balbriggan scrum the visitors charged forward and despite a crunching tackle from Conor Hennessy Ardee were unable to prevent conceding another try.
Another tough conversion attempt was missed but amazingly the game was now tied, after 22 consecutive points scored by both sides.
The spectators were looking concerned and rightfully so. After what seemed like an eternity Ardee’s heartbreak was confirmed.
Following a scrappy spell of play, Balbriggan forced one last attack down the left hand side to score the game winning try, to huge celebrations from the visiting support.
The conversion attempt was missed leaving the final score at 27-22 in favour of Balbriggan and means Ardee bow out of the competition in the cruelest way imaginable. Home support rightly questioned how long referee Joe Elliott played at the end.
Nevertheless, Ardee will be left ruing their second half performance but will need to pick themselves up ahead of two crucial games on the horizon.
Still to come for Ardee RFC before the season’s end are the McGee Cup final against North Meath whilst they also have a Jenkinson Cup last four clash with Dundalk RFC to navigate. There’s still so much to play for.