Birr 14 v Balbriggan 25
Balbriggan earned a deserved and much needed bonus point victory away to Birr in the Leinster League on Sunday. In doing so they kept their play off hopes for promotion to Division 2A very much alive. Final score 14 v 25.
Balbriggan showed immense character by picking themselves up after the two heartbreaking defeats in recent weeks in the League. They had a difficult away match to Birr which was a must win for the North County outfit. Balbriggan started well, dominating the early stages of the match. However, reward for their pressure only came after nearly 20 minutes of the first half had elapsed. Balbriggan’s forwards, dominant for much of the afternoon, drove up field in a series of pick and drives, followed by short bursts from loose forwards. Getting ever closer to the Birr line, captain Ciaran Malone broke from a maul, and with support from prop forward Graham O’Reilly, bulldozed over the Birr line for Balbriggan’s first score. The try was unconverted, but Balbriggan didn’t have to wait too long for their dominance in this period of the game to tell. Balbriggan won possession of the ball in their own half of the pitch and Kyle Healy was quick to see space out wide to his left. He broke forward, gaining at least 20 metres before passing the ball deftly to Ciaran Verdon who was close to the left hand touchline. Verdon made further ground slipping out of one desperate defending tackle before drawing further defenders on to him. At the last moment, having created space on his inside right, he passed the ball to wing forward Connor Burke. Burke received the ball on the Birr 22 line and ran in for a great team try with two Birr defenders dragging him down only after he had crossed the line. The conversion was missed but Balbriggan had two tries and a 0 v 10 lead with just under 30 minutes played.
All thoughts of an easy victory were quickly dispelled however as Birr struck back with a try through one of their prop forwards. The prop, zig zagged his way through despairing Balbriggan tackles before he gamboled his way over the line for a well taken try. The conversion had narrowed the gap to 7 v 10. Birr went through something of a purple patch from that point. They maintained control of the ball for much of the remainder of the first half and will feel unlucky not to have added a further score to their try. Indeed, despite having the benefit of a strong wind in the first half, their kicker missed two penalty kicks at goal which would have give the game a very different slant at this stage.
Early in the second half, Balbriggan, having endured a brief period of Birr pressure, moved up field and settled into a siege of the Birr line for about 5 minutes. Balbriggan drove repeatedly at the Birr line but were held up. Eventually Balbriggan pressure resulted in a penalty which Healy landed giving Balbriggan a 7 v 13 lead with about 10 minutes of the second half played. Birr were far from done however and they now enjoyed their best period of the game. Their game plan for much of the match centred around their forwards picking and driving with their backs keeping the ball close to their forwards as much as possible. This was a classic 10 man game from Birr. Their endeavours paid off when they scored a try close to the Balbriggan posts with about 20 minutes of the second half played. The conversion was added and for the first time Birr held a lead in the match.
This is where Balbriggan showed true courage and character. The team lifted themselves and with great determination, they worked their way towards the Birr 22. Balbriggan pressure resulted in a number of penalties being awarded to them. A kick to the corner secured a lineout 5 metres from the Birr line. After a number of surges, a further penalty was awarded just short of the Birr try line. Balbriggan opted to scrum down for the penalty. This was a brave but clever decision and it resulted in Balbriggan’s forwards driving the Birr pack backwards. Captain Ciaran Malone broke from the scrum and dived over for his second and Balbriggan’s third try of the afternoon. The conversion was missed but Balbriggan had their noses back in front – just at 14 v 18.
There was still over 5 minutes of the game left to play. Balbriggan upped their efforts again and went looking for the bonus point win. In fairness, they also had to keep working hard to ensure that a very lively Birr did not find a way back into this match. Balbriggan worked their way back into Birr’s 22 and when a penalty was awarded to Balbriggan, the forwards took the responsibility and opted again for a scrum. There was a series of these efforts in this late part of the game. One final scrum saw the Balbriggan pack push Birr back again and Ciaran Malone seized his chance to secure his hat trick of tries and with it the bonus point for Balbriggan. The conversion was added and with that kick the referee blew his whistle for full time.
Balbriggan won a hard fought game and were deserved winners on the day. Birr did give them an almighty scare but on the day the difference between the sides was in the power of the Balbriggan forwards and the defensive tackles put in by the Balbriggan back line. Balbriggan are now just one point behind second placed Athy who are their next opponents at home in the League. The league goes into a break now and the last two matches are played at the end of February and in early March.