Enniskillen 1st XV 28 Ballymoney 1st XV 7

Enniskillen remained top of the Championship One table following a 28-7 bonus point win over Ballymoney at Mullaghmeen on Saturday.

The sides had met a week ago in the ‘round robin’ stage of the Ulster Junior Cup, Skins coming out on top on that occasion too and it was another win and performance that pleased Enniskillen Backs’ coach, Connor Keys.

“We’ve played Ballymoney three times now and all the games have been tight. They’re very well drilled, like to run the ball, hit hard and defend well – so we were pleased to get the win and the bonus point,” he said.

After the cup the week before it was back to league matters on Saturday for Skins against a Ballymoney side sitting fifth in the table and pressing for a top four finish and a place in next season’s All-Ireland Junior Cup. Skins are challenging for the top spot, with Ballyclare, who have a game in hand, with Cooke and City of Derry all in the reckoning.

Playing conditions were dry, apart from some light drizzle, cold and relatively wind free. Enniskillen kicked off and had most of the possession for the first quarter. Mattie Dane was orchestrating play well from scrum-half and Skins came close to opening the scoring on several occasions, but it was the away team who would score first, on a relatively rare incursion to the Skins’ 22 compared to the previous week. This was converted to make it 7-0 to Ballymoney on 23 minutes.

Enniskillen struck back almost immediately. Regaining possession just inside their own half, Daire Hill broke the line, fed Andy Dane, who put Foster into space and take it to the opposition 22.

Under pressure, Ballymoney conceded a couple of penalties, leading to a lineout maul coming close, before Keenan scored from a quick tap. Keys converted to draw the sides level with 10 minutes to half-time.

And he soon knocked over his second, converting a fine try by Hill. Harry Ingram had come off the left wing to take a ball wide on the right from a long pass by Eddie Keys that cut out several defenders. Ingram committed the last tackler and fed Hill who had looped outside.

Skins still had to defend a lineout maul on their five metre line to retain the 14-7 lead at the halfway stage.

Shortly into the second period, Skins went down to 14 men for 10 minutes after a yellow card. They had to defend for most of that period, with the game finely balanced. Neither team would score though, before parity of numbers was restored.

Skins’ captain Stephen Fox and centre Stevie Balfour, came off the bench, making welcome returns from long term injuries. Going into the last quarter Sam Balfour set up a ruck at midfield just outside the Ballymoney 22. With an overlap created, quick ball was moved by Andrew Johnson-Martin, to Jack Rutledge, Henry Keys and Eddie Keys who put Mattie Graham into space on the right wing. The tight-head prop carried into the 22 where he was tackled high, giving Skins a penalty which they kicked to the corner and Keenan scored his second from the resultant maul. Keys added the conversion.

Ballymoney were still battling for the win or at least a bonus point if they could close to within seven points. Play ebbed and flowed, with Skins also seeking a try to make it four and gain the bonus point.

Ingram crossed in the left corner after the ball was moved swiftly from one side of the pitch to the other following a quick throw in. The ref was unsighted and couldn’t give the score.

From the goal line drop-out, Foster fielded and started off the next sequence of phases, in which backs and forwards worked really well together to keep Ballymoney in their own 22. With a number of penalties conceded near the try line, Ballymoney received a yellow card to finish the game with 14 men. Keenan then crossed the line again, for what would have been his hat-trick, but for the third time there was no clear sight of the grounding.

With time running out, Skins remained composed and continued to press, the forwards driving from a series of rucks that eventually saw Henry Keys crash over. Eddie Keys converted to leave the final score 28-7 to Skins.

It is Towns’ Cup action for Skins who head to Limavady next Saturday for the quarter-final of the Towns Cup with kick-off at 2.30pm.