On a cold but thankfully dry Boxing Day afternoon Dungannon retained the Jack Kyle Cup when they beat Ballymena 26-15. It was a terrific game, well contested and played in a good spirit by two evenly matched teams.
Dungannon had a very inauspicious start to the game when they failed to gather the kick off that bounced into touch. However they subsequently moved the ball well and Bradley Mulholland showed good pace and balance as he raced down the touchline before chipping the ball deep into the Ballymena half putting pressure on the Hosts. The game quickly settled and the spectators were entertained by the contest. The game ebbed and flowed with both teams working hard to maintain their lineout and scrum possession. Ballymena were the first team to press but the Dungannon defence held and the lines were cleared. The game featured a marked reluctance by either side to resort to the boot to relieve pressure on their goal line.
On thirty minutes Ballymena moved the ball with intent and the strength of hooker John Glover counted as he forced his way over the line well out on the left.
5 – 0
After thirty-six minutes the Mikolajczyk brothers featured in an equalising score for Dungannon. Daniel threw the ball in, Arek caught it and the pack executed a fine fifteen metre drive that resulted in Daniel touching down. Aaron Nelson pulled his conversion attempt.
5 – 5
Sad to report a second failure by Dungannon to even look remotely like collecting the Ballymena restart kick. The pace of the game was kept up until the halftime whistle.
Dungannon were first to get on the offensive in the second half and following a series of drives the Ref adjudged the Gannon were held up over the line. From the resultant scrum Bradley Mulholland raced over to put Dungannon in the lead. Aaron Nelson converted with a good strike after forty-six minutes.
5 – 12
Ballymena went on the offensive from the restart (that Dungannon collected) and on fifty minutes scrum half Ben Scullion dived over after a couple of forward drives.
10 – 12
The game did not settle with both sides trying to get the upper hand although the smaller Dungannon pack were showing good continuity and retained possession well. On the hour Ballymena brought on former Dalriada boy Andrew Graham who had a big part to play five minutes later. Following a sloppy lineout Andrew deflected the ball to scrum half Scullion and after a few surges out half Finlay Walker scored a good try to give Ballymena the lead again.
15 – 12
Following a sustained assault on the Ballymena line Skipper Daniel Mikolajczyk burst over for his second try in the seventieth minute, Aaron Nelson converted. This put Gannon back in front.
15 – 19
The game was still wide open and when Dungannon were awarded a penalty that they decided to kick for the posts the Ballymena supporters were relieved when the attempt drifted wide.
In the last minute Gordon Stewart took a lineout cleanly; as Gannon attacked round the back Gordon was on hand to collect a short pass and use his strength to break a tackle and then a second one as he stormed away to score on the left from forty metres out. A fine try and a fine conversion by Aaron Nelson
15 – 26
This was a good game to watch and Dungannon coach Jonny Wright was very pleased by his charges, “They may be inexperienced but the boys executed the basics well and showed great spirit to come from behind twice. A great game, I think both clubs will be happy although obviously we as the winners will have the bigger smiles.”
Team: Lorcan McGrath. Bradley Mulholland, Aaron Nelson, Aaron Perry, Jonathan Shrestha. Craig Gibson, Fergal Goan. Mark Douglas, Daniel Mikolajczyk, Zack El Marif. Arek Mikolajczyk, Jack McDonald. Joel Stewart, Stewart McAllister, Micah Anderson. Mark Willis, Ben Cunningham, Lee Evans, Matthew Scott, Ryan Ross, Jack Kennedy, Jonathan Wright, Gordon Stewart.
Referee: Tim McLennan.