The veteran Ards IV side controlled this McCambley Cup final at Ravenhill on Saturday afternoon running out winners by 23 – 6 against Ballymoney IV’s.
Report from Robin Johnston, Ards.
The game was played in perfect dry conditions and Ards played with the breeze at their backs in the first half.
The opening exchanges up front were frenetic with the Ards pack giving no quarter. Ards dominated early possession, and when a Ballymoney player infringed at a ruck in the 5th minute, up stepped Joe Montgomery to calmly bisect the uprights with a penalty to give Ards a 3-0 lead.
The same player kicked expertly out of hand in the opening quarter, keeping Ballymoney pinned back. A superb driving maul from the forwards in the 13th minute saw JD Gamble spinning the ball to Stephen Bell. He passed to Shane Stewart who came onto the ball at pace, splitting the Ballymoney defensive line. A well timed pass found Jack Flynn with enough space on the left wing to dive over the line for a well executed try. Montgomery calmly added the conversion to give Ards a deserved 10-0 lead.
Ballymoney then enjoyed some territory in the Ards half, but strong tackling and effective work at the break down kept the opposition at bay and they never threatened the try line in the first half.
In the 16th minute a superb line out take by Graham Hill gave the backs excellent front foot ball to work with. Once again, Bell and Stewart combined well to release Jack Flynn on the left wing. On this occasion, he had more work to do with three Ballymoney defenders trying to get him into touch. Flynn had other ideas and showed composure and his killer instinct by stretching forward at the last second to touch down in the corner.
A 15-0 lead was a fair reflection on how the game was progressing at that stage. The forward battle remained intense with the Ards front row of Gary Dempsey, Aaron Ward and Stuart Stevenson having the upper hand on their counterparts. Julian Patton and David Savage were working their hearts out in the second row and the tackling and support play of flankers Philip Gill and Nigel Lynch was outstanding.
Towards the end of the first half Ballymoney were penalized once again, for illegal play in the ruck, but an Ards player responded to an overly robust challenge only to find the referee flashing a yellow card to both him and a Ballymoney player.
There was some speculation as to whether a 15-0 lead would be enough as Ards now faced a stiff breeze for the second half. Just three minutes later Ballymoney got on the score board with a penalty and when Ards were penalized just seven minutes later the same Ballymoney player added a further penalty to reduce the Ards lead to just 9 points.
Ards made a number of replacements in the second half with Geoff Garrett, John McKeag, Rab Irwin, Ross Sinnamon and Brian McFarland all entering the arena at crucial times to add their experience and ability to the Ards effort. Both sets of forwards were still battling away with the Ards men just edging several close encounters.
In the 58th minute the reliable boot of Joe Montgomery extended the Ards lead to 18-6 with an excellent penalty. Cyril Stocker was a calming influence at fullback throughout the game and was a constant counter attacking threat. He linked well with Gordy McBride on several occasions to make significant inroads into the Ballymoney half with McBride almost scoring an individual try only to be denied by an awkward bounce. Ards then kicked a penalty to the corner and had no difficulty in securing possession from the line out. A rolling maul was set up with Ballymoney defended aggressively. The Ards pack retained possession and showed considerable composure and it was the outstanding Graham Hill who finally barged over in the 64th minute for a superb try.
Ballymoney then threw everything into attack and the introduction of their South African player, Benji Van de Byl saw their back line on the move for almost the first time in the game. Ards defended as if their lives depended on it when Ballymoney exerted extreme pressure near the Ards line.
Wave after wave of attacks were repelled with vigour and when the pressure was cleared Ballymoney had given it their best shot but without success. Ards finished off the remaining minutes of the game in control to deservedly regain the McCambley Cup.
Ards: Gary Dempsey, Aaron Ward, Stuart Stevenson, Julian Patton, David Savage (Capt), Philip Gill, Graham Hill, Nigel Lynch, Jonathan Gamble, Stephen Bell, Jack Flynn, Shane Stewart, Joe Montgomery, Gordy McBride, Cyril Stocker, Geoff Garrett, John McKeag, Rab Irwin, Ross Sinnamon and Brian McFarland