After an extremely pleasant charabanc trip up and down the rolling, manicured roads of Co Down we arrived in Ballymacarn Park, home of Ballynahinch Rugby Club.
Carved out of the drumlins over the village, one word sums up this venue . . . rugged. I would say that if ‘Hinch stay in division 1A, and I think they will, then this ground will take on legendary status. My advice to anyone coming here in late January or February would be to wear double thermals, or alternatively, grow fur, or as a last resort, wear a heavy coat with a woman inside it. Saturday was a mild December day but the wind coming off the nearby hills was filled with the promise of nasty winter days to come.
Ballynahinch rugby comes with pots of local defiance as well. Like their lumpy, bumpy, surroundings, ‘Hinch play vigorous, physical, committed rugby. It was no surprise that they jumped out to a quick start with two penalties as Clontarf paid early for the referees refusal to countenance any competition for the ball after the tackle. It helped, also, that they were playing with a strong wind at their backs and that they had a kicker whose style, or lack of it, took nothing away from the result. Richie Lobb simply smacks the ball into the air happy in the knowledge that it will find its own way over the posts after weaving around for a while like a child’s radio operated toy.
Unfortunately for the home side they are learning that in Division 1A mistakes can be very costly, so when they set up ball in their own 22 for a relieving kick, and delayed too long, Martin Garvey was alert to the block down and regathered his own effort brilliantly. The ball went right at pace into a shapeless defence and winger Mick McGrath bounced his opposite man and scored in the corner.
That set the pattern for the rest of the half with Clontarf dominating the phases and Ballynahinch continuing to benefit from a regular supply of penalties. Just before half time with ‘Tarf down 12 – 5 they set a maul in the ‘Hinch 22 and rolled the home defenders back for a score to Cian Culleton and 12 – 10 at half time.
The second half saw Clontarf with the benefit of a strong breeze, which was crucial, because ‘Hinch refused to buckle despite spending most of the half in their own 22. Clontarf landed two penalties for 12 – 16 but were put to the pin of their collar by a home side who defended like lions and were well drilled in maintaining possession into the elements. Having finally worked a gilt edged line-out opportunity in the ‘Tarf 22 ‘Hinch, agonisingly for their home support, made a dogs dinner of it and ‘Tarf cleared their lines gratefully. That was the last significant event in the game which was willed to an end by the increasingly nervous visiting support.
So Clontarf top for Christmas . . . Next up, Lansdowne in Castle Avenue on 4th January.