Ballynahinch secured their Ulster Bank Division 1A status in fine style with a convincing 35-13 victory over Connacht side Buccaneers in a relegation/promotion play-off.
Hinch’s form towards the end of the season brought them into the game in good fettle as they looked to ensure one Ulster club maintained their status in the top tier of All Ireland rugby.
Ballynahinch coach Derek Suffern said: “It was a game which I thought we deserved to win, we took control of play pretty early with a couple of scores and went into halftime ahead.
“I was very happy with how we did in the first half but they put us under real pressure in the second half after we had got a yellow card and they battered our line for a long time.
“The key point of the game was the quick lineout by McIlwaine and Simpson which resulted in the fourth try and that took the momentum out of their game.
“I am very happy with all the work ethic throughout the final weeks of the season.
“To retain our position in 1A is much deserved and is just reward for all these efforts.
“The last quarter of the season has been phenomenal, to coach in this division is not easy, the attention detail that is needed is as close to Ulster Ravens games as you would get.
“The Leinster ‘A’ team have a large number their players placed in their Division 1A teams and our boys have really stood up to the intensity of this new challenge.
“From a coaching point of view we have had to adjust the way we do things and how we play, it is as close to professional rugby to an extent as you can get in the All Ireland League.
“We now know how teams play, we now know how to win games in this Division, we now tactically know what we need to do and get better at.
“It is so exciting for next season, the coaching staff are all on board again, the majority of our players will be here and I would say the group can not wait to get into it next season.”
A David McIlwaine penalty goal in the fourth minute gave the home side the lead but Jack Carty had his Athlone side back on level terms in the 10th minute.
McIlwaine put Hinch 6-3 up with a second penalty goal in the 13th minute.
From the restart Rodger McBurney counter-attacked and after a number of pick and goes the ball was flashed wide where Robin Harte dived over to score.
McIlwaine added the extras to take the Hinch 13-3 clear.
Buccs hit back with a well worked try by winger Shane Layden, Carty adding the extras to make it 13-10 with 28 minutes played.
The Hinch scored their second try 5 minutes before halftime; McBurney was on the end a move, which he finished off behind the posts. Buccs tight head Diarmuid Higgins was yellow carded for playing a man off the ball. McIlwaine’s conversion made it 20-10.
The third Hinch try came in the 37th minute when Aaron Cairns made a blind side break passing inside for McIlwaine to finish. The conversion was missed leaving the Hinch with 25-10-halftime lead.
McIlwaine added three more points to the Hinch tally with a 44th minute penalty goal but this was countered by Carty in the 48th minute 28-13. As pressure mounted on the Hinch line Cairns was yellow carded a deliberate defencive infringement in the 58th minute.
The County Down men secured their victory with a wonderful piece of quick thinking between McIlwaine and James Simpson. McIlwaine found Simpson with a quick throw in catching Buccs cold Simpson passed outside to McIlwaine who sprinted in underneath the posts to score. The conversion took Hinch 35-13 clear.