Larne 2nds reach Crawford Plate Final after beating Ballymoney
By Stephen Johnston
On Saturday 11th March, Larne ¬2nds travelled to Ballymoney for their highly-anticipated game in the Semi Final of the Crawford Plate competition.
With perfect playing conditions, this was shaped up to be a good encounter for the spectating crowd.
Larne kicked off the game and immediately the ‘Money men looked to attack through their forwards in the first phases of play before unleashing the back-line in spreading the ball wide.
Not to be outdone, the Larne pack themselves came back with hard runs from Colin McKinty and Stuart Johnston, got the momentum for the visitors.
Knowing it would be a daunting task of beating Ballymoney up front in the pack, Larne did what they could against the driving scrum inside the 22, but gave away some early penalties and the home side converted a Penalty within the first 10 minutes.
The 3 – 0 score line didn’t seem to phase Larne, but struck back through interplay with the forwards carrying hard and be rewarded with a penalty themselves but failed to convert. Regrouping after the miss, Larne kept the momentum going to give veteran out-half Stephen Marshall space, to feed Ian McIlheron, stepping his way past the home defenders before driving over the try line for 5 points. Aaron Carter with the conversion for a small lead on the home side (3 - 7).
Larne kicked another penalty through Carter, but the dominance in the scrum allowed Ballymoney to hit back through a driving scrum to keep them well in the game.
The game was brought to a halt just before half time through foul play and a yellow card for both teams saw them lose 1 forward each and down to 14 men for the 10 minutes of the 2nd half.
B’Money kicked off the 2nd half, but Larne were determined to stay in front after veteran Gary Dooey’s half time encouraging team talk kept the Larne spirit and fight alive.
In a ragged affair, both teams exploited gaps in the defence and loosened the game up, but credit being given to each defence.
With Larne tightening up in the scrums, they took the Ballymoney’s weapon of attack away and kicked the possession deep into the Money half and resulted in a rolling maul try for Stephen Marshall to score – his first in his illustrious 30+ years of rugby. Carter converting the try from the right-hand corner. 8 – 15.
The game stopped again through a lengthy injury concern to Ian McIlheron with an ambulance and stretcher called for, but remained at the side of the pitch for moral support.
Ballymoney capitalised on the tiring Larne defence through a quick try, but missed the crucial conversion in the final 2 minutes of the game.
Larne retained the kick off and kept the ball in the forwards to seal the victory 13 - 15 and set up a rivalry final with Ballyclare.
Our best wishes go to Ian McIlheron for a speedy recovery.
Larne 2nds: A.Ferguson (c), C. Smyth, A. Hyndman, M. Gilbert, Stuart Johnston, D. Harvey, Mark McIlheron, Colin McKinty, M. Calwell, S. Marshall, J. Bell, Ian McIlheron, A. Carter, J. Wilson, G. Rennix, Stephen Johnston, D. Robinson, Jonny McKinty.