Compared to last weeks game against Cashel, Saturdays match looked like something from the twilight zone, Black/White, Chalk/Cheese, Cold/Hot, any adjectives that included opposites would not be sufficient to describe the difference between the two games.
Over the last few weeks we have watched this team comprised of youngsters mixed with a few older heads (The number getting smaller every season) come together and gel slowly into a unit, yet you felt that you were never seeing them at their full potential, that they hadn’t just quite clicked as of yet. The new defensive systems being put into place showed good potential, attacking lines were looking good, and some of us felt good with the progress but it needed that one game to snap together, before it all would work. You felt that when, not if, it came together, that it would be hard to play against us.
Well all of that changed on saturday as we saw one of the most fantastic performances put together by a Bruff XV in many a month. From 1 to 22, defensive and attacking lines came together. Line breaks worked, the last pass just went to hand and stuck. Moments of brilliance came from young and older (Apologies to Tom, Garry & Brendan) and this game turned from one of a dreaded tough opening game against a club that had beaten us twice last season into Eighty-odd minutes of brilliantly pure Autumn Gold for the partisan Bruff Crowd.
Bruff were put under the cosh for the first ten minutes, having to spend most of their time defending strongly against a young Ballymena squad who right from the getgo wanted to stamp their imprint on the game. Time and time again the Bruff line were asked questions but didn’t break, and Ballymena, despite looking good right across the pitch, started to appear a little frantic and the final pass on a few occasions let them down, more often than not resulting in a knock-on allowing Bruff the opportunity to clear their lines. A couple of scrums went against the usually staunch Bruff pack. resulting in turnover on two occasions, however it took a full thirteen minutes before the duck was broken courtesy of a Brian Carroll penalty for the opening chink to appear in the Ballymena armour.
The referee got tired of Bellymena’s constant indiscretions at ruck time and yellow carded Hughes, the Ballymena 13, as the next man penalised on 15 minutes. This allowed Bruff to come to the ascendancy and dominate matters resulting in a nicely worked try between Mark Cosgrove, Paddy Clery with Brendan Deady’s sweet footwork cutting through the Northerners defence, letting him get the touchdown on 23 minutes. Extras were added by Brian Carroll to see daylight appear between the sides. 10-0.
Some fine defensive work by Bruff and some further handling erros by the Ballymena squad saw them waste good possession, but Bruff began camping in the Ballymena twenty two and following the introduction of Player/Coach Cathal O’Regan, and then Ger Collins, things Shored up. They began to level things up front and even assert some dominance at scrum time. Some fine work within the red-zone and they were awarded a couple of penalties, some of which were converted to scrums but Ballymena managed to scrape a defence together and held them out until 3 minutes into injury time when Brian Carroll slotted his 2nd penalty of the day to give Bruff a 13-0 half time lead which they were more than value for.
The 2nd half saw more of the same, Bruff not letting up but Ballymena managing to hold them out until following a ruck between the Bruff 10 meter and halfway, the Ballymena winger slotted into the scrum-half position and lobbed up a pass to his first centre. However he was watched carefully by Bruff 13 Garry Leonard who snatched an intercept to romp home the fifty odd meters and touch down just right of the posts, despite the attentions of three Ballymena players attempting to bring him down. (He claimed afterwards it was the sight of the former Bruff Chairman on the footpath behnd the goalline who was waving his arms like that guy on an aircraft carrier that guided him home, We’ll have to buy Pat Dunne those orange hand-held cones to help him out next time).
By this stage Bruff had the game by the scruff of the neck, Another almost certain try by Brendan Deady following two beautiful sidesteps was deemed knocked on over the line as a flailing Ballymena defender managed to just rip the arm of the Bruff full back at the crucial moment. But with Bruff charging ahead, Ballymena were losing shape and agitation crept in resulting in another yellow this time for their No. 8 Mulholland for barging at a ruck.
More Scrums on the Ballymena 5 meter line followed a purple patch by Bruff and with the third in a row moving backwards at a rate of knots, the Ballymena 6 stuck a boot in the ball resulting in a penalty try, duly converted by Carroll on 62 minutes to put them 25-0 clear.
A rough edge started to creep in and when it boiled over into afters following a ruck in defence, Yellow for Garry Leonard on 71 minutes followed for offside at ruck time. With a man down, the Bruff defence finally caved allowing Riki Andrew to touch down for a consolation score for Ballymena.
I know it’s only the first game and one win doesn’t make a season but things are looking up for this new fresh Bruff squad. A good start to what will be a very long season. Local derby this year is Buccaneers and we have five away trips to Ulster so it’s still early days.
Bruff Scorers: Brian Carroll 2 pens, 2 conv. Tries: Brendan Deady, Garry Leonard, Penalty Try.
Ballymena: Try: Riki Andrew.
Bruff: 15: Brendan Deady, Mark Cosgrove, Tom O’ Callaghan, Garry Leonard, Robbie Finn, Brian Carroll, Eoghan Maher,
1: David Horan, John Hogan, Colm O’ Sullivan, Maurice O’Connell (C) Padraig Clery, Paddy Clery, Danny Keogh, Mike Carroll.
Subs: Cathal O’Regan, Ger Collins, Dumani Mtya, Willie Casey, Brian Carroll.