Rugby has been the main sport of the school throughout its history and the school has a great tradition of producing renowned players and administrators within the game.
Recent international representatives include Luke Marshall and David Humphreys, but the two most famous ex-internationals are British Lions and world rugby legends, Syd Millar and Willie-John McBride. Indeed, the 1st XV pitch (Millar- McBride pitch), located on the school’s grounds on the Galgorm Road, is named after these two great icons of the game. Another great ambassador for Ballymena Academy rugby is the current IRFU President, Ian McIlrath, who is a former pupil, teacher and governor of the school.
The tradition of supplying representative players continues to this day with the current Ulster professional squad containing 4 fulltime professionals, 5 Academy players and 1 sub-Academy member who attended Ballymena Academy, giving the school the largest representation of players from any school in Ulster.
The school last won the Ulster Schools Cup final in 2010 when they defeated Belfast Royal Academy by 10 points to 7, having beaten a very strong MCB team in the semi-final. Previous wins were recorded in 1972 and 1981. The school has also won the Subsidiary Shield on seven occasions.
The Medallion (under 15) team reached the final of the 2019 Shield narrowing losing to Methodist College, Belfast. In 2018 Ballymena Academy won the Ulster Schools Medallion Shield, having defeated Campbell College in the final, a competition which the school last won outright in 1970. A share of the Shield was also secured on 2 other occasions after drawn finals.
Ballymena Academy has a long-standing relationship with Methodist College and the schools compete annually for the Allan Young Cup, a trophy presented by the Young family to commemorate the life of Allan, whose last game for Ballymena Academy, before succumbing to illness, was our traditional October fixture.
RUGBY ANNUAL REPORT(2021/2022)
This year we saw the return of a full season of competitive school-boy rugby. The boys returned highly motivated and excited for the season after a hard and demanding pre-season period.
We started the season off well with a comfortable win against Bangor GS scoring a number of good team tries in a 49-0 win. We followed this up with another victory against a strong Coleraine team away from home, providing us with a positive mindset from the beginning.
However, after a tough run of games against teams such as Methodist College and Campbell College we soon realised if we were going to be a contender for the Ulster Schools’ Cup, we were going to have to up our game and put in a huge effort over the coming months.
We possibly faced our toughest opponents this year when Kirkham Grammar School returned to Ballymena having previously played us two years ago on tour. Kirkham, a team that would go on to be in the English schools’ cup final, gave us a tight game, full of exciting and intense passages of play. Kirkham did go on to beat us that day, however from our performance we could see a lot of positives which gave us confidence for future games.
The return of the very successful U16 cup winners to 1 xv rugby was a major boost to the squad as it brought extra competition for places amongst the squad, pushing everyone to try their best in training and match days.
With the new year upon us, preparation for schools’ cup rugby was in full flow. The squad’s hopes and aspirations grew after a flourish of wins against other top schools such as Sulivan, Dalriada and Wallace High.
The first round of schools’ cup rugby was back after a long two year period. We were drawn against Coleraine at home. A local derby to start our schools’ cup campaign, the game lived up to its reputation. We took the lead from the start with an unconverted try and a penalty kick. After a period of Coleraine attack which we held out they pulled it back to within two points. However, with control and composure we saw the game out to make the final score 19-14.
The quarter finals were the next round and we were drawn against a strong Wallace side who were the previous holders of the cup. We travelled to Lisburn, followed by our enthusiastic Ballymena support who made sure they were heard!
What did give us great belief we could win was the fact we had previously defeated this Wallace side. Wallace took the early lead this time with a try under our posts and converted. Shortly into the start of the second half Wallace were able to capitalise on a long period of sustained pressure on our line, but we were not yet defeated and we got back into the game with a converted try bringing the score to 12-7.We pushed for another score but due to some unforced handling errors and some critical injuries, we were unable to get over the line and unfortunately the match finished at 12-7. A hard loss to take for the whole squad who had put in a huge amount of effort.
For the Year 14 boys we got the opportunity to pull on the academy shirt one last time against St Anselm college from Liverpool. With a short period to prepare for this game we were able to give a great performance to win 26-22, making it a memorable way to finish our rugby playing days at Ballymena Academy.
On behalf of the 1stXV squad I would like to thank our head coach Mr. Andrews for all his hard work on and off the pitch, Nikki Andrews for her strength and conditioning coaching, backs coach Mr. Shane Kelly and finally to Mr Black for his support throughout the season. Our coaching team was ably supported by Mr Johnson and Callum Smith. All the players will be forever grateful for the work and dedication of the Ballymena Academy staff throughout this season.
Senior Rugby, at Ballymena Academy, went through a rebuild period after losing a large number of players from the previous season. Added to this was the introduction of the newly formed U16 tournament with the culmination of the final in November. This was good for our senior set up as it allowed players who previously wouldn’t have had a chance, an opportunity to get a taste of 1st and 2nd XV rugby. The first match of the season was against RBAI 3rd XV at Osborne Park. The Ballymena side showed great inventiveness with the ball in hand and ended up winning the game 29-0.
The next two matches were home games against Bangor Grammar and Foyle College which the Ballymena side won 38-14 and 39-14 respectively. The first two defeats of the season came at the hands of Methodist College and Campbell College, Belfast. Both of these opponents would later fight it out in the final of the 2nd XV Schools’ Cup so it was no surprise how well drilled and organised they were. Ballymena lost 29-0 and 38-0 respectively in both games.
The next number of matches, during the run into the 2nd XV cup, saw Ballymena play away to Foyle College beating them 38-12. The next game was at home against an organised Carrickfergus Grammar 1st XV team, who the Ballymena men beat 26-12. The last game before the start of the 2ndXV competition was against Rainey Endowed at Eaton Park. This was the first game that involved the U16 rugby players and they did not disappoint. Ballymena finished the game by winning 42-0 and showed an exciting amount of flair and creativity in attack. The first round of the 2nd XV school cup competition was against Rainey Endowed away. This was a very different team Ballymena had previously played against, with the game ending in a 17 all draw. The replay was played at home a few days later which Ballymena easily won 66-7. At the start of January the Ballymena players worked off their Christmas turkeys by beating Wallace High school 42-17. This was a good warm up game in preparation for the quarter final game of the 2 nd XV cup away to RBAI. The quarter final was played at a very high level with both teams creating chances to win the game. Unfortunately, even though the Ballymena players fought well, they ended up losing the game 27-15 in what was a far closer contest than the score line would suggest. The players were, understandably, very disappointed however no one could fault their effort and resilience. This result, although disappointing, does bode well for next season, as the majority of the team was made up of lower sixth and fifth year players.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the parents for their unwavering support through the good times and the challenging times throughout the season. I would also like to thank Mr. Andrews for his help and leadership with senior rugby, not just this season, but over the last 11 seasons during which I have been involved with rugby at Ballymena Academy. A mention also needs to be given to Mrs. Andrews who put in a tremendous amount of time with the players in strength and conditioning.
Finally, I would like to thank the players. Even though the season may not have ended up as everyone had hoped for, it was still a very enjoyable season with a lot of fun and laughter throughout. Thank you for all your hard work and I wish you well, especially those year 14 players who have been a tremendous servant to rugby at Ballymena Academy and will no doubt continue playing at club level.
Mr. S Johnson
The 2021-22 season saw the return of Ballymena Academy’s Mighty 3rds. Under the leadership of Captain Adam Gaston and Vice-Captain Jonny Campbell the 3rdss started their campaign with a series of wins over RBAI, Bangor and Foyle. Despite losses to strong Methody and Campbell sides, the 3rds came back strong in a battling win against Foyle where Sam McClurg was truly unleashed. The 3rds played a number of tightly fought encounters with Methody during this period both away and home. Memorably in the away match, Jonny Campbell brought out his inner Ma’a Nonu with a crunching tackle sending shock waves all the way back to the Galgorm Road. In the return leg Methody managed to get away with a 12-12 draw.
January brought the start of the 3s cup where we began our campaign with a comprehensive victory over Wallace. The Quarter Final brought us to a tie against Bangor Academy 1sts, unfortunately losing 23-7. However, there was still time for more games. The 3rds were truly in full flow against Antrim Grammar with an abundance of tries and offloads with our mercurial winger ‘Burt’ (Kurtis Tuff) putting on a masterclass. 3rds rugby at its finest. The 3rds finished off a great season with a battling win against BRA.
Adam Gaston – Year 14
The under 16’s season was bizarrely both short and unbelievably long coming, as it did, after a Covid-disrupted Medallion season in 2020-21. Indeed, it would make sense to see our U16s in 2021 as the extension and culmination of the 2020-21 Medallion season rather than a season in its own right.
The players dealt with the disruption in a very mature, professional manner. They were eager and quick to learn; dedicated to their fitness and conditioning and played the game in the right way – fast, aggressive and intense. Ultimately it is the players that decide upon the success of any team and a key factor in the success of this squad of players was the standards that they set for themselves and the desire and commitment to meet those standards – very often the group were down heartened after a win because their performance wasn’t to the level they were expecting. This should be a lesson to all other players in the school.
One thing of note was the depth of talent in the group. This squad was able to absorb injuries to key players in key positions and carry on as if nothing had happened. I have not experienced that in Ballymena Academy before. I hope they continue playing at whatever level they can and hold onto the love of the game as they move into 6th form and become senior players within the wider senior squads.
I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching them and want to thank Jimmy Carson and Mr Ross for all their help and assistance over the 18 months they were with us.
Danske Bank U16 Schools’ Cup
Final Report – November 2022
As we ran out from the changing rooms through the tunnel on to the iconic pitch at the Kingspan Stadium, the noise was like nothing any of us had experienced before. The turnout and support from the school was unbelievable, with their chants and songs giving us the boost of an extra player. We had tried to stay as calm and collected in the build-up to the game as we could in the circumstances, ready to play the same style of rugby that had carried us to the final. Receiving kick-off, we settled into our structure right away, building a number of phases of play before Robbie Coleman executed the first of many effective clearance kicks to take us up the pitch and calm some nerves.
After a number of phases of play in the opposition 22, Henry Casson won a penalty with a superb ‘jackal’, giving us the opportunity to pin Methody back. From there we worked closer and closer to the try line, first with a 20 metre maul and then patiently moving play from side to side until Sean Mckay’s beautiful hard line picked a hole in Methody’s defence with such precision, before stepping the fullback to complete a wonderful try. Mckay added the conversion to give us a 7-0 lead and the dream start.
Soon after McKays try, we were awarded a penalty and opted to take the scrum. The backs ran a move straight off the training ground that worked to perfection, as a gaping hole appeared for Mckay to dot down under the posts for his second try. He once again added the conversion to establish a 14-0 lead. Another quick move from the backs a few minutes later, resulted in Michael McLean, in acres of space, securing our third try and leaving us 21-0 up at half time.
Methody started strongly in the second half and after an early score their confidence soared. They were aggressive around the fringes, carrying hard and winning penalties at the breakdown. Methody continued to exert pressure with their half backs looking to kick to the corner at every opportunity. We were once again unable to hold off this sustained pressure, as Methody made their way over our line for a second time. The try was converted, bringing the score to 24-12.
In need of a spark to grab back control of the game, substitutes were made to give the team fresh legs and a burst of energy. With a re energised front row on the pitch, we won a scrum against the head eventually resulting in a try from Joshua Harvey. When the final whistle was blown, pandemonium ensued as we celebrated on the pitch, with with the same ecstatic reaction from our magnificent support in the stands. We lifted the inaugural Ulster Schools’ Under 16 Cup above our heads on the famous steps at the Kingspan, overjoyed with the feeling that we had accomplished the job we had set out to do, and that we would be bringing the trophy home to Ballymena.
Stevie Bristow – Captain
The 2021/2022 season for the Medallion XV started out in early September with our new coaching team of Mr. McClelland and Mr. Pedlow and a squad of approximately 25 boys. Our first fixture resulted in a good win against Ballyclare High but was then followed by two defeats against Wallace High School and RBAI. Despite being defeated in these games there were encouraging signs of increased cohesion and teamwork. This teamwork was evident in the next two matches resulting in large victories against Bangor Grammar and Coleraine Grammar.
Methodist College were the next visitors to Ballymena Academy, and it was this victory that started to instil in the boys a sense of belief that we could compete with any school in Ulster, at this level. The next few games however, resulted in narrow defeats to Sullivan Upper, Rainey Endowed, Wallace High School and Campbell College. At this point in the season thoughts turned towards the Medallion Shield competition and Harry Andrews joined the coaching team and immediately had a positive influence in the forwards, resulting in more secure ball from the lineout and rucks. The team also benefited with three players coming up from the Under 14XV in key positions and, like any good team, with good coaching we started to peak at the right time with a victory against Dalriada and a narrow loss against Methody either side of Christmas. However, the game that really let the boys know they were coming into good form was a 50-0 victory away to Belfast Royal Academy. A team that up until this year we had never defeated as a year group.
Our opponent in the fourth round of the Danske Bank Medallion Shield on the 22nd of January was Sullivan Upper. Played on the Millar/McBride pitch in front of a large and vocal home crowd, the game was evenly contested in the opening exchanges, however, we did manage to build up a comfortable lead, scoring three tries along with ten points from the kicking tee to win the match 25-17. This was a superb win for the team and every eye was on the next round to see who our opponents would be.
In the fifth round Ballymena Academy was drawn at home against Regent House on the 5th of February. The conditions could only be described as’ horrendous’ with a gale blowing from one end of the pitch to the other and torrential rain for most of the match. This resulted in a very close game in which the Ballymena boys showed their resilience and commitment to earn a narrow victory of 10 points to 7. Despite the small winning margin Ballymena were the better team and were now into the semi-finals.
Royal School Armagh were our Semi-Final opponents and were definitely favourites for the game held at Friends Lisburn School on the 26th of February. Armagh started well with a 14-point lead after as many minutes. However, Ballymena rolled the sleeves up and proved why they are a hard team to beat, scoring four tries and playing excellent team rugby to lead 24-19 with ten minutes to play. Here the team spirit really came to the fore as we held Armagh up over our own try line three times to take the victory and book our place in the Medallion Shield Final.
Unfortunately, due to a large fixture congestion and unfavourable weather, our team did not get the opportunity to play the final at the Kingspan Stadium. Nonetheless, this was soon forgotten when we took to the pitch on the 8th of March at the Queen’s playing fields in front of almost 1500 supporters against Campbell College. Ballymena were the underdogs against a very strong Campbell team that had only lost one match all season. Yet again the weather had a major role to play with a gale force wind blowing straight down the pitch with Campbell opting to play into the wind and managing the elements to turn around at half time 12-5 up. Ballymena gave it their all in the second half against the wind, but the final score was 23-5 in Campbell’s favour. As a team we were disappointed to lose but very proud that in the 111 year history of the Medallion Shield competition we are only the ninth team from Ballymena Academy to reach the final. After the Medallion Shield, we played in the Ulster Schools’ Sevens competition where we were defeated in the Semi-Final, and this brought the curtain down on our very successful season. Our coaches of Mr D. McClelland and Mr H. Andrews, ably assisted by Mr J. Andrews, Mrs. N. Andrews and Mr. J. Pedlow, along with the boy’s commitment and determination, were the main reasons for this seasons success and as a team we thank them for their hard work and commitment.
The following players represented the Medallion XV in the 2021/2022 season.
Matthew Wright, Ben Millar, Tauren MaCartney, Matthew Cahoon (VC), Luke McCluskey, Tommy Evans, Harry Young, Charlie Hargy, Callum Peden, Harry Lamont, Rhys Macartney, Jamie Sims, Adam Hunter, Harry Weir, Zack Shaw, Daniel Patterson, James Gregg (C), Reuben Allen, Connor McKenna
Peter Bailie, Tom Wylie (VC), Isaac McClintock, Zack Fleming, James McMahon, Leo Kidd, Callum Cranston, Luka Killen
James Gregg (Captain)
This year’s U14 squad was a hard working and talented group of players. Large numbers turned out to train each week allowing us to field two teams on a regular basis. The season for the ‘A’ team started with victories at Ballyclare, Wallace and a pleasing 7-0 win over Methodist College Belfast at home. The forward pack quickly developed a strong and powerful game up front, looking secure in the scrum and eager to carry the ball when given the opportunity. In the backs, the team had quality distributors in Seth Park, Seth McCready and Ollie Collins, which allowed for a quick and open game when required. Just under 30 boys made an appearance for the ‘A’ team this year, showing the strength and depth of the squad. This was particularly important when a number of senior players moved to the Medallion XV for the Shield.
The ‘B’ team, or, ‘The Mighty B’s’, were a close knit and determined group of individuals who developed a real pride when representing Ballymena Academy. They played a number of fixtures against ‘A’ opposition, including a series of games against Antrim GS. The highlight of these encounters, and the entire season, was a last minute try from Harvey White, who ran from his own 22 to score in the corner to secure victory. The collegiality this group of players developed across the season was a joy to see and I hope they continue to enjoy their rugby in the coming years.
The highlight of the U14 season was of course the O’Kane tournament. Many former pupils of the school recall their own memories of winning the O’Kane and it has become an important part of the rugby calendar here in Ballymena Academy. This year’s team won their group, defeating Larne GS, Foyle College and drawing with Dungannon. The team faced Dromore HS in the Semi-Final of the competition before securing the trophy in a closely contested final against Larne GS.
A final word must go to the captain, Charlie Hargy, who led from the front throughout the season. Charlie set an example for others to follow in his attitude to training and how he played the game. Charlie scored a crucial try in the final of the O’Kane tournament in what was a fitting end to the season. Well done U14’s – I wish you well as you continue your rugby journey at Ballymena Academy.
Thanks to Thomas Bell, Jack Fleming and Alvin McCready for their support this year both at afternoon training sessions and on match days.
Mr D Ross
The Ballymena U13s can be proud of their first full season of rugby. After a narrow early season defeat to Belfast Inst, the boys went on a run of 13 wins out of 14 matches and an overall record of 15 wins, 1 draw and 3 defeats in the regular season. This included notable wins against strong teams from Coleraine, Methodist College, BRA , Campbell College and Dalriada. The ‘A’ team’s success was built upon a combination of strong defence and some excellent running rugby.
A common feature throughout the season was the team’s ability to defend their own try line to thwart the opposition. Some early season victories gave the boys confidence, so if they did go behind they showed the character to fight back. One example of this was an away match to Campbell College when they went behind to two early tries but fought back to win comfortably in the end. There were many excellent individual performances during the season. Billy Wylie scored a hat-trick of tries on more than one occasion. The wingers, Dylan Harrison and Patrick McCarey, scored a multitude of tries, along with Pearce Kane who burst through to score on many occasions. There were also match winning tries from the likes of Ollie Shaw, Alexander Madeley, Leo Smyth, Reuben Skelly, Zac Topping and Alex Comisky – often set up by runs from Rhys Hunter, Ruari Simms and Rob Kelly. Jamie Gregg conducted things from the scrum half and scored the occasional try of his own. There was also some excellent conversion kicking from Robert McCluney, Billy Wylie and Nathan Glenn which was vital during some close matches. Dylan Ritchie, Alfie Maclean, and Daniel Thompson also performed well.
The ‘B’ team were not to be out done by the A’s as they had many fantastic wins throughout the course of the year. They had an intense rivalry with Methody, who were their most played opponents. It was always a tight affair, but they won all three of their clashes proving that they were one of, if not the best second team around. Many of their regular outstanding performers fitted in just fine if they were called up to the A team. Off the back of their good performances some players retained their places in the first team such as Ruari Simms and Rob Kelly and became regulars within the squad. This caused all players to work hard and stay motivated knowing that their spot could be taken at any point by someone who was just as talented as they were. The season concluded with three away tournaments. In the Methody Cup the boys performed well but lost out in the semi-final to a Methody team they had beaten twice earlier in the season. This was slightly disappointing, but it gave the team some great experience of tournament play.
The boys finished the season in fine style, winning the NEBSSA shield and Mowbray shield tournaments! The Mowbray shield, held at Foyle College in glorious weather, was a memorable day with excellent wins against City of Derry, Foyle College, Enniskillen and Coleraine to get the team into the final. In the final against Dalriada, Leo Smyth picked up the ball from a rumble to score the opening try before Pearce Kane scored a second after handing off several tackles. In the second half there were further tries for Dylan Harrison and Billy Wylie (2). Remarkably, the team did not concede a single point during the tournament! Just two days later, the boys played in the NEBSSA shield at Cambridge House. 8 teams competed across two groups. Ballymena had excellent group game wins against Antrim Grammar, Dalriada and Coleraine Grammar. In the semi-final Ballymena had a comfortable 31 points to nil win against Larne Grammar with tries by McCarey, Harrison, Madeley, Smyth and Shaw. Special mentions to Zac Topping who made some barnstorming runs, Rhys Hunter with his dummy passes which bamboozled the Larne defence, and Nathan Glenn with three conversions.
The final was against Ballyclare High School who had earlier defeated Dalriada in their semi-final. Ballymena again started the match confidently. Deep in their own half, the ball was passed through the Ballymena back line to Dylan Harrison who beat his man and sprinted more than half the pitch to score under the posts. Dylan soon scored his second try when he was released through a good passing move and good work from the Ballymena pack who were excellent all day. Ballyclare fought back in the later stages, but Ballymena finished worthy 14-7 winners of the NEBSSA shield. Ballymena’s Pearce Kane was named Player of the Tournament. It was a fantastic way to finish the season!
Leo Smyth – Year 9
Year 8 rugby kicked off on Saturday 4 th September as part of the Ballymena Academy Sporty Saturday induction program. The emphasis of fun and enjoyment over the first 6 weeks helped the new group of boys settle into senior school while learning to play Rugby and the teamwork and camaraderie that is a major part of the sport.
As the weeks went on a focus turned to our first game against Belfast Royal Academy which was scheduled for the Friday before the half-term break. This was a very enjoyable Friday afternoon as 75 boys travelled to Roughfort to play their first game of Rugby for Ballymena Academy and for most it was their first game ever. Year 8 rugby is played in a 12-a-side format across a half pitch, with scrums and lineouts uncontested this allows the game to flow safely with plenty of try scoring. The boys got off to a winning start which set the tone for the rest of the season and for the bus journey home.
Throughout the year the boys played 12 games against the other top schools in Ulster and proved a match for them all. The season ended with two tournaments, the first was at BRA with the top 8 schools in Ulster competing across two groups. The Ballymena boys finished 3rd in a very tough group losing by 1 try to RBAI, drawing with Sullivan and then winning the final game convincingly.
The NEBSSA year 8 tournament is held annually at Coleraine GS where all the schools in the North Eastern Area compete for “The Arthur Topping Shield”. Ballymena Academy won all their games on the day convincingly before finally beating Rainey ES in the final.
This is another very talented year group with a very high level of skill and athletic ability with a great depth in numbers. There will undoubtedly be several who will go on to represent Ballymena Academy 1 st XV, Ulster Schools and maybe even play professional rugby. Their first year at Ballymena Academy will hopefully have instilled a love for the game and its values for all to enjoy for many years as players, coaches, or officials.
Thanks to all the parents and volunteers who turned out on Saturday mornings to assist with the coaching and organising.
John Andrews – Head of Rugby