Big thank you from

Oh So Close


Friends' charge forward against Ballymena. US0910-526cd  Action from the Schools' Cup quarter final replay between Friends' and Ballymena Academy. US0910-522cd
Friends' charge forward against Ballymena.
Action from the Schools' Cup quarter final replay between Friends' and Ballymena Academy. US0910-522cd 

FRIENDS must still be wondering how they did not reach the semi-finals of the Schools' Cup after suffering an agonising last gasp defeat in their replay with Ballymena Academy on Saturday in Lisburn. There was absolutely no cause for concern in the Friends camp as the Lisburn side had been entrenched inside the Ballymena Academy 22 for quite some time, seeking to bring the replay to an end by adding a second try. They were already 10-6 ahead, and in full control of the game as the clock ran down.

Friends' bid to hold off a challenge from Ballymena Academy. US0910-521cdTheir opponents were also down to 14 players after a sin-binning minutes earlier but as the Ballymena boys secured the ball inside their own 22 and launched one final last gasp attack along the right touchline and the large home support could only watch their dreams of watching Friends' appearing at Ravenhill disappear.

With the Fiends defence stretched, Ballymena swept through to score in the corner to give them a one point advantage and while they failed with the conversion attempt from the touchline the referee immediately brought the game to a dramatic close and the dream of an appearance in the semi-final of the Schools Cup — not to mention the final - was over.

It had all started so brightly for the young Friends side who showed plenty of confidence in the early exchanges.

With the game only five minutes old the home side were certainly going to be a force in the lineouts with David McGuigan and Ross McCaughey prominent while it was also encouraging to see scrumhalf Ben Semple and Rory McIvor getting their backline moving.

Fullback Craig Lewsley had a long range penalty sail just to the left of the posts and as the Lisburn side continued to test the Ballymena defence the visitors forced winger Paddy Pringle into touch after Lewsley joined the line and linked well with centre Michael Cochrane. Outhalf McIvor was orchestrating the Friends attacks and charged down an attempted clearance by his opposite number to warm the hands of the vocal home support from the sidelines. This brought the home side deep into Ballymena territory just in front of their posts but from this position Friends failed to take advantage and against the run of play were to find themselves three points behind after 15 minutes from a long range penalty. The Lisburn side kicked off the second half and could have found themselves further behind after the Ballymena Academy outhalf's drop goal attempt failed to get off the ground but he was soon to make amends after a handling error in the Friends back-line allowed him to give the visitors a 6-0 advantage. With eight minutes of the second half gone and a fine backline movement by Friends the home side had an opportunity right infront of the posts only for fullback Lewsley to screw the ball right across the posts though he had only minutes to wait for a second opportunity a little further out and this time the penalty dissected the posts to bring the home side right back into the match.Action from the Schools' Cup quarter final replay between Friends' School and Ballymena Academy. US0910-518cd

Friends began to peg the opposition back into their own 22 and some indiscipline by the Ballymena forwards midway through the second half gave the home side another opportunity to test the opposition defence. No8 McGuigan burst through on the left leaving the defence in his wake and he found winger Pringle on his shoulder for an easy touchdown and the Magheralave Road side were ahead for the first time in the match when fullback Lewsley converted. to make it I0-6.

With 60 minutes gone Friends pounded the Ballymena right wing and were almost over for a try before a punch sent Cochrane to the floor and the referee showed a yellow card but the home side failed to take full advantage. After a fine break by centre Vance, Friends got themselves into a good position on the edge of the 22 only for Cochrane to be the victim of a late shoulder charge only for Lewsley to send the penalty wide and short of the posts. After enjoying so much pressure inside the Ballymena half and waiting for the final whistle, one piece of opportunism was to find Friends out of position to defend a final foray into their half and the dream of playing in a Ravenhill semi-final was gone.

Ulster Star