Simon Hogan.

Little consolation in yet another narrow defeat

At one stage towards the end of this All-Ireland League Div 3 game on Saturday it looked like Navan were going to do 'a Connemara.' A few weeks ago Leon Jordaan's side produced a scintillating second-half display to defeat Connemara after finding themselves well behind at the interval. It was a similar scenario in this encounter at Hamilton Park on the edge of Newtownards. With less than 20 minutes played Navan trailed by 0-12 after what could charitably described as a slow start. They were behind 8-17 at the interval and 10 minutes into the second-half the score was 20-8. The prospects for the visitors looked about as promising as the dark, brooding clouds that were starting to roll in from the Ards Peninsula. Then suddenly Navan sparkled. They started to throw the ball around with purpose, their attacks were co-ordinated and carried a real threat. They put together a spell of controlled rugby when they ball was moved through the phases. One sustained move soon after 54 minutes involving Maurice McAuley, Bernard Smyth, Martin Coll, David Geraghty, Mark Harrington and Leigh Jackson forced Ards to concede a penalty about 30 metres out. Up stepped Navan stand-off Coll to nail the kick. Ards hit back almost immediately with a try from their quick, muscular number six Ryan Diver. It wasn't converted. The score didn't discourage Navan. They continued to play some quick tempo rugby, showed adventure and quick hands and were awarded when scrum-half Ciaran Jocye finished off a fine move with a try. Coll converted. There were 67 minutes gone at that stage and the small but dedicated contingent of Navan supporters started to get animated – and hopeful. Five minutes later another purposeful Navan attack involving Joyce, Coll and Tom Boyle resulted in Simon Hogan (pictured) winning possession about 20 metres out. He switched on the after-burners and sailed past a number of tackles before touching down under the posts. Coll converted and suddenly the sides were level, 25-25. It looked at that point that Navan had enough momentum to push on and win the game. They just couldn't do it although they were unlucky when Rory Gleeson had a late 'try' disallowed for an alleged knock-on. Instead Ards dominated the closing minutes and their full-back Jason Morgan arrowed over a late penalty from a difficult angle to clinch the narrow win. Navan will look back on this game and think what might have been. They will in particular reflect on the opening 20 minutes or so when they just weren't at the races. Ards hadn't won a game before Saturday's encounter so they had that motivation to make a big effort to put right. The home side certainly weren't lacking in motivation for this one. Recently their 36 year old South African coach Cois Beukes died after an illness. There was a minute's silence before the game in his memory as this was Ards' first home outing since his passing. He left behind a wife and a young baby both of whom were in attendance. Ards made a whirlwind start and Navan were on the backfoot. That Ards didn't lead by more at the interval was partly down to a couple of penalty attempts missed by their place-kicker Morgan. It was also down to some stubborn defending by Navan who only started to tap into any kind of form midway through the opening half. Hogan has played much of his career on the wing. For this encounter he filled in at full-back and was arguably Navan's man-of-the-match. He teased the Ards defensive formation with a couple of tasty, swerving runs that had opponents clutching at air. Just before half-time he produced one of those runs from his bag of tricks to find a way through for the first of his two tries. Part of the problem for Navan was that just when it looked they were going to apply some sustained pressure they infringed and allowed Ards to regain the initiative. At times Navan players carried the ball into breakdown only to cough up possession and that must have disappointed coach Jordaan. On a positive note Navan's scrum proved to be strong and it provided the platform for the visitors to launch their second-half revival. At other times the Balreask Old players went through the phases, displaying secure handling skills. When they drew level in the second-half it looked like the visitors would push on. However Navan just couldn't sustain their challenge in the closing stages. Instead Ards pushed on to grab a late winner – and a victory they clearly savoured. Ards – J Morgan, A Todd, S Young, J McLaughlin, T Ferguson, S Paul, R Eaves; J Wiley, C Piper, J Mawhinney, K McIlwaine, J Dowey, R Diver, K McCombe, S Minnis. Navan – S Hogan, D Geraghty, J Davis, M Harrington, M McAuley, M Coll, C Joyce; R Gleeson, D Harlin, E Dunne, J Duffy, P Feeney, T Boyle, B Smyth, L Jackson. Subs – J McCaghy for Harlin, D Kiernan for Dunne, T Clarke for Boyle, Harlin for McCaghy, D Delahunt for McAuley. Referee – William O'Connor (Munster Branch).