Missed chances either side of the break cost Dungannon dearly in this very entertaining Senior Cup First Round. That said, the hosts can take heart from a much improved performance with newcomers, Lucca Avelli and Guilhem Lopez fitting in well. Dungannon got off to a flying start taking the game to Ballymena at every opportunity but suffered a setback when out-half Connor McGeough was forced off through injury on the third minute. John Buckley replaced him, as the lively start continued. Bradley Mulholland who had a fine game on the left wing then raced in at the corner for a try on six minutes. Avelli landed a superb conversion and the hosts went 7 points clear. Dungannon kept the momentum going and Avelli fired over a penalty on 12 minutes. The Braid men were now showing signs of settling and despite getting pinged at two lineouts the forwards tightened up on possession. From a lineout drive on 17 minutes back rower, Stephen Mulholland was driven over to cut the deficit. Five minutes later Ballymena added a second try per scrum-half, Glen Baillie and when Sam Millar added the extras the visitors went ahead 12-10. Dungannon hit back and when a Braid flanker went offside Avelli launched an offensive. However with 40 metres gained David Leyburn was forced into touch. A further attack was spoiled by a ‘knock on’ and the half time score stood at 10-12. Ballymena kicked off the second half but it was Dungannon who made the first sortie towards the try line. Andrew McGregor made a notable break, Avelli and fellow centre, Mervyn Brown carried on the move. Alas for the hosts, an infringement spoiled a chance. Indeed the third quarter looked like finishing without a score until Millar popped over a penalty for the Braid men. With just 5 points between the sides it was all to play for in the final quarter. Ballymena then made a determined run from defence but were whistled up for a crossover. Avelli duly converted the penalty to make it 13-15. Then 5 minutes from time Dungannon gambled as they went for an intercept but the visitors survived as Josh Bill made good ground before Baillie touched down for Millar to convert. With a 9 point lead the visitors now looked favourites for a place in the second round. Dungannon did close the gap to 4 points when Mulholland dived over to complete his brace as the game finished 18-22. Team manager, Brian Magowan was quite pleased with the team performance but felt that the concession of one or two ‘soft tries’ gave the game away.
Dungannon:- Andrew McGregor, Matthew Montgomery, Mervyn Brown, Lucca Avelli, Bradley Mulholland, Connor McGeough, Jack Ravey, Ross
Stewart, Daniel Maxwell, Glen Sinnamon, Peter Doran, Guilhem Lopez, Stephen Todd, David Leyburn, Mark Riddell, Daniel Mikolajcryk, Sean O’Hagan, Alex Gormley, John Buckley, Conor Milnes.