Ballina 7 Clogher Valley 34

An army of Clogher Valley supporters arrived in Ballina at the weekend to witness the next step in their club’s ­continuous progress.

Advance parties headed off on Friday night but most arrived on Saturday morning.

Down the N59 they came in their carloads full of anticipation and excitement about the upcoming season.

That anticipation and excitement though had to be parked for a while as Ballina would dominate most of the opening 40.

Playing on the unfamiliar all-weather surface was to be a learning process and up against a very determined home side the Valley struggled to hold on at times.

Ballina threw everything they had at the visitors. The Quinn brothers; Cian at scrum half and in particular Calum in the centre caused all sorts of issues for the Valley rear guard but once again the defensive effort was immense.

Clogher only managed to get into the Ballina half on three occasions in the first period, one with a positive outcome, so most of the time it was to the barricades to stop Ballina in their tracks.

Eight minutes in Ballina had the first opportunity, a penalty 40 metres out, but thankfully from a Valley perspective, it sailed wide.

Five minutes later after a nice inter exchange of play the Valley made their first visit to the Ballina half. Alas, it didn’t last too long and they were soon in defensive mode again.

The back row deserved most of the plaudits, Callum Smyton, David Stinson and Aaron Dunwoody were simply outstanding.

Time after time they downed the Ballina ball carriers in fact the work, of the ball, by all 15 was something to admire.

Ballina tried to punch holes in the Clogher defence and suck in defenders but the visitors held their nerve and defensive space to frustrate the home side. Matthew Bothwell’s defensive kicking was also a big asset to Clogher in the first half.

Half an hour in the Valley struck from deep.

Ewan Haire caught a kick deep in Valley territory, he had tried before to counter-attack but slipped on the 4G surface. Not this time. He and David Maxwell carved holes in the Ballina defence before a sweeping move took play almost to the try line.

Ballina managed to stop it and turned over possession. In their desperation to clear, the kick was sliced into touch.

While the defenders were struggling to get organised, Aaron Dunwoody took a quick line out to Paul Armstrong who surged towards the line resulting in Ewan Haire squeezing in at the corner for the first-ever Clogher Valley try in the AIL League. David Maxwell missed the difficult conversion but his time was yet to come.

Ballina regrouped and set about addressing the deficit.

They encamped on the Valley line with a multiple-phase attack. Eventually, they breached the Valley defensive line, scrum-half Cian Quinn crossing close to the posts for a try which was then duly goaled to wrap up proceedings in the first half.

Clogher were probably relieved to be only two points down at the break but the second half was to be a completely different scenario.

Playing with the breeze at their backs and down the slight slope they produced some free-flowing rugby which was a joy to behold. David Maxwell was the perfect ten His decision-making was on mark, he ran the plays well and his kicking out of hand was sublime.

A Taine Haire break led to a Clogher penalty in front of posts which David Maxwell duly converted to retake the lead.

A midfield battle ensued for a period with Callum Smyton and David Stinson putting in some massive hits.

A Ballina lineout wasn’t dealt with properly and the first to react was Matthew Bothwell. The scrum half pounced on the loose ball and evaded several defenders to dive over in the corner. It went unconverted but a six-point lead and Ballina visibly flagging the omens were good for Clogher.

Several minutes later a superb 50/22 from David Maxwell put the visitors in the driving seat again. Lineout won and several phases later skipper Paul Armstrong crossed for the Clogher third try. Maxwell added the extras.

Ballina responded again and forced a strong field position but a tremendous turnover by Callum Smyton saved the day and as a result, play returned to midfield.

As the half progressed the Coach used all five subs to good effect.

Robbie Mills came on with ten minutes to go and made an immediate impact. He became first receiver for a Maxwell wrap around with the outhalf evading all on his way to the line for the bonus point try. Duly goaled by himself.

On the stroke of full time Robbie Mills himself scored under the posts after a nice show and go had split the Ballina floundering defence. Man of the match Maxwell added the final two points of the day. There is an old cliche in rugby that the forwards win the games and the backs decide by how many.

It was never more so on Saturday. Callum Smyton and his pack won the day and David Maxwell and his backline decided it was to be by 27 points.

The adventure continues next Saturday with a first home game in the AIL with the visitors being Tullamore. 2.30pm kick-off and all support will be required.