YET again, Ballynahinch showed scant regard for reputation as they powered to a fully deserved AIB Cup final triumph at Dubarry Park yesterday.
More than 1,000 supporters made their way south to see history made as Ballynahinch became the first Ulster and the first Division Two club to win the trophy, grabbing the title enthusiastically from an injury-hit, but lack-lustre Constitution side.
The second-half loss of both half-backs, Jeremy Manning and Chris Nolan, might have hurt Constitution’s ability to rescue this match, but it certainly wasn’t a key factor in their defeat.
Ballynahinch, as conceded gracefully by defeated coach Brian Walsh, were simply a class apart.
They were powered by a magnificent pack, particularly an immensely talented backrow trio of the captain Stuart Lamb, Michael Graham and Willie Faloon, and they carved out most of the openings.
Had out-half Ryan Bambry been on song — he rescued them from the jaws of defeat in the quarter-final against Shannon — this game would have been all but over at the interval.
Walsh said: “We didn’t play that well in the first half when we needed to; we lost our half backs after the break and lost our shape completely. Ballynahinch were very good in the set pieces and we struggled; overall we can’t have any complaints.”
Bambry and Manning each missed penalty attempts in the opening 15 minutes before Con came desperately close to carving out an opening for the first try, with Tom Gleeson’s pass to Frank Cogan going astray, seconds before Manning was stopped short.
But Ballynahinch’s brave decision to play against the wind after winning the toss worked a treat as they held out under Constitution pressure and the Cork side had to settle for a penalty goal from Manning after 27 minutes.
The winners grabbed the initiative eight minutes later when Graham got in for the opening try near the posts and Bambry converted to shock the Cork side.
It was a great try, fashioned from a line-out steal way back in Constitution territory and it was fitting that the poacher, Faloon, should provide the scoring pass after scrum-half Harry McAleese cleverly changed the point of his side’s first sustained attack.
Manning kicked a long-range injury-time penalty to give Constitution some hope for the second half, but things never improved enough.
Ballynahinch enjoyed a lot of possession and territory in that period and Con, despite bravely battling a rearguard action, could only hang on. In the space of three minutes they lost the half-backs, and the resultant re-organisation in the back division didn’t help.
That they survived without yielding more scores for so long was mainly down to mistakes from Ballynahinch, and to Bambry having an off day with his goal-kicking.
But the Kiwi import did get it right in the 65th minute to put more daylight between the sides.
It was left to substitute Ed Leamy to inject some spark of enthusiasm into the Constitution challenge, but finding and using territory against a strong wind was always a mammoth task.
After failing to claw their way back, Con had to survive more pressure near the end before substitute John Gunson provided the killer blow with a try that Bambry converted to spark off huge celebration.
Amongst that support group was, remarkably, a Mallow man by the name of Billy Cronin, former Garryowen and Munster number eight, who watched his Belfast-based son Jerry pick up a prized national medal after producing an impressive performance at tight head prop.
At least there was one Cork family afforded the opportunity to celebrate.
CORK CONSTITUTION: D Lyons; C Healy, T Gleeson, E Ryan, S Zebo; J Manning, C Nolan; G Murray, L Gabrial, T Ryan; D Kelly, M O’Connell; B Holland (capt), F Cogan, P O’Mahony.
Replacements: J Moloney for Kelly, 47; R Lane for Nolan, 53; T Kenneally for Manning, 57; E Leamy for O’Mahony, 62.
BALLYNAHINCH: J Cullen; A Ferris, S Morrow, D Harris, K Corrigan; R Bambry, H McAleese; C Stevenson, N Hanna, J Cronin; G Rourke, C Napier; M Graham, S Lamb (capt), W Faloon.
Replacements: P McAllister for Stevenson, J Gunson for Rourke, both 72; R Greer for Graham, 73; D McGregor for Hanna, 76; L Johnston for Cronin, 79.
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).
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