Gritty display takes ‘Briggan to the summit
BALBRIGGAN are back on top of Division 2B but had to work hard for this 20-point victory over Birr on Sunday afternoon.
Seven of the Birr tally came off the last play of the game, which gave the scoreboard a more respectable look from their point of view, but overall they were less efficient at taking their chances and couldn’t match Balbriggan’s strong defence.
Birr kicked off straight into the arms of skipper Caldwell who returned the ball with interest with a typical barging run. Balbriggan worked their way through various moves and won a lineout near the Birr line. Caldwell took the ball and after a couple of forward moves it came to the backs and after a nice wrap-around move Mike Hanley opened with a try which he duly converted.
After the kick-off Balbriggan attacked in a similar manner and another lineout was won close to the line. Whitney jumped high to win the ball and this time it was flashed across the line, with O’brien sending a pass out to full back Downes who appeared as if he had been given a hot potato. Nevertheless, he managed to hang on and ground the ball for a second try, with Hanley again converting for a 14–0 lead after 15 minutes.
Birr struck right back and their outside centre found a gaping hole in the Balbriggan defence to score under the posts. The Offaly side attacked again from the restart and while Balbriggan defended well and cleared their lines, the visitors kept coming back. Having won a penalty in midfield, they kicked to the corner and mauled over for a try to bring them within two points after 20 minutes.
Balbriggan then gave away another penalty for offside and there was a further kick to the corner. However, good defending by Bryce led to a penalty to the home side and brought some relief.
The hosts worked their way up the field and won another penalty and had the benefit of another 10 metres when the Birr men disagreed with the referee’s view. This time Balbriggan decided to take a scrum rather than the three points and those on the sideline who thought that may have been the wrong decision were silenced as Smith and Caldwell worked their trademark slip pass for a try under the posts. Again, Hanley converted to leave Balbriggan 21–12 up at half-time.
Balbriggan’s kick-off didn’t go the required ten metres at the start of the second half, but it worked in their favour when scrum half Smith robbed the ensuing scrum and fed Ciaran Malone who made about 20 metres before being hauled down illegally. Hanley kept his scoring record intact when adding three points from the penalty.
The best score came when a ball was delivered quickly from the lineout and Henry Bryce was set away by Hanley. Bryce rode a number of tackles before squeezing over the line.
Balbriggan were over the whitewash again when substitute Staunton was put away and left everyone on his wake, but the referee adjudged the pass forward.
Andy Whitney received a 10-minute sin-binning for a high tackle but was soon followed to the rest area when the Birr flanker received a straight red for taking a swing at the Balbriggan scrum half. Luckily contact was not made as it would have been a knockout punch.
From the penalty Balbriggan went to the corner and from the following maul another switch between Smith and Caldwell saw the skipper get in for his second try and Hanley completed the Balbriggan scoring with the conversion.
The match finished with Birr disrupting a Balbriggan attack and forcing an intercept to score a consolation try under the posts.
Overall, it was a good win for the home side even though they didn’t have it their own way. For long periods Birr dominated the forward encounters, but good play from Hagan and the Malone brothers ensured that they made very little progress.
Balbriggan were under pressure in the scrums, but the introduction of Anto Whelan sorted that out, while Ciaran Malone made good yardage when the opportunities arose.
The backs ran the ball when they could and Mike Hanley’s distribution was excellent. However, the man of the match award went to the player who to many was least visible but was doing a huge amount of work, particularly in defence - Ian Murphy.
With Edenderry slipping up at Athy the same day, Balbriggan now reclaim top spot, with an away game to come against strugglers Garda at Westmanstown next Sunday afternoon.
Action from Sunday’s clash between Balbriggan and Birr. Picture: Caroline Mcfadden