Coleraine Seconds dug deep at Ravenhill on Easter Tuesday but at the final whistle they were two points adrift and the Crawford Cup went to Ballynahinch Thirds.
It was a very entertaining and hard fought encounter, with both sides showing great commitment and passion throughout the entire match.
Coleraine went from 14-0 down in the first half to get within two points at the final whistle. Their determination to score was countered by a resolute defence from the Ballynahinch men, who hung on fiercely to their slender lead.
There was warm applause for both teams from the large crowd of supporters as the Crawford Cup started its journey to the Co Down club.
Coleraine were disappointed with the result but happy with the level of effort and skill shown by every one of the players. There were some very strong individual performances but it was the overall team effort that brought the most praise.
Captain Paul Shiels said after the game: “We gave it everything we had and I have to thank all the players for their commitment and effort today. We were the underdogs but we came so close to retaining the Cup against a very strong and experienced side.
“We are disappointed but everyone really enjoyed the experience of playing in the final. It was a great team effort.”
A large contingent of supporters traveled with the Coleraine team and their vocal support certainly brightened the afternoon and gave encouragement to the players.
The Coleraine men were under the cosh from the start of the game as Ballynahinch went on the offensive and only eight minutes into the match Ady Nevin was injured and replaced by Gary Blair.
There were further problems three minutes later when Coleraine captain Paul Shiels was adjudged to have made a dangerous tackle and was shown the yellow card.
The penalty went to Ballynahinch and provided a platform for attack. As the pack pressed the Coleraine line Gunson eventually forced his way over for the try beside the posts and Irvine claimed the conversion.
Shiels returned to the field but the Ballynahinch pressure continued and four minutes later Coen took the ball over the line for a try. Irvine was on target for the extras and Coleraine were trailing 14-0.
Coleraine regrouped and started to attack. With just over half an hour gone Coleraine were awarded a penalty and Cameron Jinks was just wide from a very difficult angle. As the first half drew to an end Coleraine were on a charge but despite several promising attacks were unable to get a score.
As the second period started Coleraine were immediately on the offensive and within two minutes were awarded a penalty. Jinks lined up the kick but had to watch the ball drift just wide of the post.
The pressure continued with some very promising breaks.
Stevie Callaghan and Tommy Van Wyk combined to make a penetrating attack deep into the Ballynahinch 22 but a handling error saw possession go to Ballynahinch in a penalty.
Steven Dickey stole the ball as Ballynahinch attacked and stormed away before passing to Nigel Hall then to Callaghan who chipped forward and chased, earning a Coleraine scrum, again deep into the opposition 22.
From the scrum Coleraine retained possession and following several phases of attacking play Andrew Hutchinson powered through the last of the defence and over the line. Alan Gourley secured the extras.
Just on the half hour Ballynahinch attacked and a last gasp tackle from Gourley prevented a seemingly certain score. A penalty was awarded but Ballynahinch’s Irvine was off target.
Four minutes later it was Ballynahinch in bother as Graham was sent to the bin.
Coleraine seized their opportunity to attack and after a concerted forwards attack play switched to the left wing. Brian Cochrane set off on a tremendous solo run from just inside the Ballynahinch half. He evaded tackle after tackle, forcing his way to the try line and a great score. Gourley was inches wide with the conversion, leaving Coleraine two points short.
The remaining five minutes saw both sides attack but there were no further scores and as the whistle blew Ballynahinch had the win, and the Crawford Cup, with a scoreline Ballynahinch 14 Coleraine 12.
It was a bruising encounter during which all the Coleraine subs were used. Both sides played a very intense and committed game and the scoreline is testament to the balanced makeup of the two sides.
There is no let up for the team when this weekend they play host to Clogher Valley Seconds, as they clear up the remaining league fixtures of the season.
Coleraine Seconds Crawford Cup Squad: A Nevin (G Blair), M Hunter, A Hogg, H Tate, R Caskey, Greg Neely, S Dickey, A Hutchinson, A McKnight (A Kettyle - J Boyd), C Jinks (A Gourley), N Hall, T Van Wyk (Graeme Neely,), B Cochrane, S Callaghan, P Shiels (Capt). Subs: G Blair, J Boyd, Graeme Neely, A Kettyle, A Gourley.