Ballyclare 16 Enniskillen 17

Enniskillen 1st XV did the seemingly impossible last weekend in their penultimate league game as they triumphed 16-17 away in Ballyclare. 
Not too many would have given Skins a chance going into the game but coach Willie Gibson felt that his side finally showed what they are capable of with a wonderful performance against a side that have been at the top of their game. Ballyclare were unbeaten at home in the league this season prior to last Saturday, vying for the title of league champions, which they were ultimately denied, and with a Town’s Cup Final in their sights this Easter Monday but Skins produced a determined display to ensure that they avoided the automatic relegation place.
 “It was a great performance and we had so many players who played really well. That is the performance that we are capable of but for whatever reason we haven’t got it this season,” said Gibson.
“We had watched Ballyclare last Tuesday against Clogher and they are a very good side and we could only see a couple of areas that we felt they would maybe be vulnerable in and in fairness to the boys they focused in on those and we’re delighted with the win,” he added.
Skins are not out of the woods altogether yet as they presently sit in the play-off spot but a win over Coleraine on Saturday week will have them safe.
“We’ve one game left and if we win that then we are completely safe and that’s what we will be focusing on,” stated Gibson.
On Saturday, Skins were dogged from the beginning, pressuring everything and displaying an intent that had been absent in many away fixtures this season. An early score came for Skins as a kick through was pressured by Jarlath Maguire, in only his second start for the 1st XV, forcing a fumble from the ‘Clare wing which Maguire kicked ahead and dived on for his first try in Q1, converted by Lendrum.
Uncharacteristic errors continued to come from the home side as Skins showed immense tenacity in defence, forcing knock ons and ripping the ball in contact numerous times, much to Ballyclare’s frustration. Too much eagerness at the breakdown allowed Ballyclare to get on the scoreboard with a successful penalty to bring the scoreline to 3-7.
Skins responded immediately from the restart and James Ferguson’s score summed up the rewards of such doggedness as he charged down an attempted clearance kick, which then bounced up nicely for the 13 as he used his considerable pace to sprint for the tryline, converted yet again by Lendrum to go 3-14 up for an unprecedented dream start.
The Skins defensive effort was impressive with the entire line up working intensively to shut down the dangerous Ballyclare attack, giving them very little breathing room; tireless tackling coming from Fox, Donnelly and Gormley. 
Gareth McCoy lining up at 12 showed his experience in marshalling the defensive line in the backs alongside a back three of Balmer, Finlay and Maguire who proved solid under the high ball. Skins struggled to hold the formidable Ballyclare scrum on occasion but some disruption at the line out from Gavin Parke blunted the home side’s attack with some crucial steals while the Skins line out functioned well.
After a big carrying display from Skins, with Buchanan and Kelly battering the home side’s defence, Ballyclare showed their frustration with a breakdown penalty that Lendrum subsequently punished with three points from the boot, bringing Skins 17-3 up.
The home side came back hard in search of points before half time and a good carry from their 8 brought them into the Skins half. Again Skins were deemed to be slowing down the ruck and Ballyclare managed to convert a kick at goal before half time to finish 6-17.
Skins were undoubtedly aware Ballyclare would be a proverbial wounded beast in the second half and they weren’t to disappoint, starting strong with the wind behind them. A good kick deep into the Skins’ 22 had them defending a Ballyclare maul and a series of carries that resulted in a scrum to the attacking side. They used their reliable weapon well and a pick from their 8 just made it over the line from the back of the scrum, unconverted to trail 11-17.
A sudden turnover shortly afterwards during a period of Skins attack caught the back three out of position and a kick over the top was chased by the Clare winger and touched down despite the desperate backtracking of Ashley Finlay, conversion missed to bring proceedings to a mere 16-17.
With still a fair chunk of the final half to go Skins were under serious pressure from the now rampant Ballyclare and they regrouped for a final stand. From the restart they set up in the opposition half and attacked hard within metres of the try line with good close quarter carrying from returned export Gavin Warrington and energy sapping rucking from the support. Ballyclare somehow kept Skins out and eventually turned over ball, attacking again down field with Enniskillen tracking back. The tackling effort was superb and a few crucial turnovers kept the home side from gaining too much ground. Skins were fortunate to see a kick at goal drift wide after their dogged defence earned them a penalty for coming through the ruck. Shortly afterwards in the dying minutes an attempted choke tackle slipped high to give Ballyclare a chance to win with the final kick of the game. The ball shaved wide of the posts and Enniskillen erupted, a lucky escape but a deserved win against the odds.