Balbriggan continued their Div 2B campaign with a win over Birr on a very windy Sunday in Balrothery. Picking up the bonus points may be very important by the end of the season and a bonus point means they are only two points behind the only unbeaten team Roscrea.
With the wind howling down the pitch Birr decided to play with it. The home team also had the difficulty of playing into a very low sun which had just decided to come out for a few minutes. Birr used the wind to keep Balbriggan pressed back in their own half but Balbriggan were up to it and were very good defensively. After 10 mins a silly penalty was given away and Birr took a 3-0 lead.
Balbriggan bounced straight back and managed to regain the ball and by keeping it to hand, made good ground. J Mullen was punching holes through the Birr defence and letting the pack set off again. Connor Burke was dominant in the line out and with good accurate throwing from Sean Malone Balbriggan were very good out of touch. A penalty saw Balbriggan 5 metres out and after a couple of recycles Sean Malone got over for the try. Balbriggan started to attack from the kick off with the same pattern of maul off load to the next pod and then the backs. With Mullen and Verdon making good ground Balbriggan were making good ground even against the wind. Birr defended well and were managing to thieve the ball and launch clearing kicks deep into the Balbriggan half. The pressure eventually began to tell and a clever kick ahead by Healy saw the Birr full back have to scamper to touch with Tommy O’Toole hard on his heels, unfortunately he tripped as he carried the ball to safety and suffered a nasty ankle injury which ended his interest in the game. From the ensuing line out Balbriggan mauled the ball forward. With Anto Whelan urging the maul forward Birr were caught napping when skipper Malone peeled off the back and went in to score.
The Malone brothers seemed to be in competition to see who can score the most, as minutes later younger brother Sean crossed for his second try. While playing at 6 Sean was popping up supporting players everywhere. Half time saw Balbriggan 15 – 3 up.
The expectation should have been that they would kick on from there with the wind at their backs. While they had plenty of possession this was not being converted into points. As the second half went on Birr came back into the game and started to spread the ball wide. The defence was up to it and Murphy and Mullen tackling close in with winger Staunton tackling hard on the wing. Eventually Balbriggan got the much needed bonus point when Skipper Malone crashed over for his second try. Leigh O’Toole continuing his come back made a great run to add the fifth try which Healy converted. Balbriggan lost J Mullen when he was injured making another trade mark tackle. Birr eventually got over for a try which was deserved for their perseverance. It is hard to see how Birr are bottom team in the league which perhaps shows how competitive it is.
Balbriggan played some of their best rugby of the season in the first half but the second half will leave coach Casey with some thinking to do. In the second half instead of moving ahead the team struggled to convert effort into points. The backs need the opportunity to be put through their paces if they want to win this league. Defensively the team are playing well and the pod system shows that there is good ability to attack however with the potential of such a potent backline there is a need to let it loose. Murphy at out half is a good distributor of a ball and Mullen and Verdon are becoming a good 12/13 combination and there is plenty of speed on the wing with Staunton and Healy. O’Toole at full back also adds a great attacking option but the ball came seldom to them and when it did they were too static. This potentially is the best backline Balbriggan has had in a long time and with Stu Mullen still to return and the likes of Andrew Miller on the bench there is plenty of options there.
In the pack the back row were everywhere. While the Malone brothers were scoring the tries it was the ongoing work of Connor Burke that gives him the man of the match award. Connor was 20 on Monday but shows a maturity of greater years. As mentioned earlier his line out work is immense but he is an out and out 7, snaffling the ball at every opportunity and when he gets the opportunity is a strong runner. He has shown his team mates how to carry strong into the tackle and stay on his feet until support arrives and then quickly gets to ground and make the ball available.
Away to Athy will be a big test next week and with every game a must win game they will be hoping that J Mullen is fit as it seems to be a ground he likes.
T O’Toole, D Healy (A Miller) , J Mullen, D Verdon, D Staunton, I Murphy, K Healy, L O’Toole (P Quinn), J Davis, C McDonnell, A Whelan, G Geraghty, S Malone, C Burke, C Malone
Balbriggan celebrated 90 years since the Club first affiliated to the IRFU with a Gala Ball in the Bracken Court last Friday. The founding members of the Club included McGowan’s, Cumisky’s and Gallen’s and it was great to see representatives of those families there on the night. There was one other connection with the past with Tommy McCormick whose father won a Provincial Cup medal with the club in 1928 and then went on to represent Ireland in 1930. Tommy brought his father’s International jersey and Cap for all to see.
The other guest of honour on the night was Brendan Griffin who restarted the Club as a youth Club in 1967.
The Hon Sec, Robert Cashell in his welcoming speech introduced the many Club legends who were in attendance on the night, Major Collins, Mal Malone, Des O’Connor and Paddy Joyce. He challenged the current crop of players as to who would be considered as legends when the centenary is held in 10 years time.
After a fine meal President Dave McFadden looked to the future and for the Club to continue to develop with an emphasis on family and community as we continue to develop in the future.
The guest speaker was the President of the IRFU, Martin O’Sullivan and he congratulated the Club on all that they had achieved and wished them well for the future. The President of the Leinster Branch also joined the celebrations later on having been at Leinster’s close victory over Ulster. Over 160 enjoyed a great night and the dancing carried on till late. Former coach and proprietor of John D’s,Tom Young and wife Elma were there on the night and were warmly welcomed by all.
Now just to wait for the centenary.