CITY of ARMAGH 4XV…………..21
FRESH off the back of winning the Minor League Southern Section last week with a resounding win over local rivals, Portadown in the process this Armagh team were brimming with confidence as they welcomed Inishowen 1XV from Donegal to the Palace Grounds for the first round of the McCambley Cup.
The conditions couldn’t have been better for a game of rugby football with temperatures around seven degrees, unusually high for this time of year. On a dry day with the wind favouring neither team it was perfect.
What wasn’t perfect was the start to the game from an Armagh perspective. The lads never came out of the blocks at all and only for a few bad kicks by the opposition who missed two consecutive penalties in lockable positions, this Armagh side could have been trailing six points to nil.
The northerners were up for this game and were causing the Armagh defence a lot of problems with wave after wave of attack. They had a ball held up over the line by Captain, David Loughran in the corner and it wasn’t too long before the visitors eventually crossed the line.
Inishowen scored a try in the corner of the pitch at the hotel/golf club end through a great run down field and between the Armagh backs. A superb last ditch tackle by Armagh Full-Back, John Johnston saw him fall short of the line, the ball was recycled quickly where the visitors ran in for their first try. Thankfully the conversion was missed and the score was 0-5 to the Donegal men mid-way through the first half.
Armagh still had not awoken and from the restart the Donegal Full-Back caught the ball and started the attack, weaving his way through the Armagh bodies he was given the ball and cut a great line to finish the move under the posts. The extras were added and Armagh looked to be in real danger of letting this tie slip by them.
Conceding this try seemed to be the wake up call that the lads needed. With the restart they piled on the pressure and caused a knock on. They won the resultant scrum and worked the ball down field. They attacked the Inishowen line furiously with great drives by Robert Nicholl, Jonny Kirkland and Paul Cully in particular all falling just short.
The visitors discipline was beginning to let them down and eventually Armagh chose to go for the posts. The penalty was hit by Loughran between the posts to register Armagh’s first score on the stroke of half time.
Half time score: City of Armagh 4XV (03) - v - Inishowen 1XV (10).
Armagh emerged for the second half and whatever was said between them during the break appeared to work wonders as they got a try almost immediately after the play had resumed.
Armagh worked the ball well down field and from a free-kick they opted to go for the line. A monster kick by Centre Michael O’Neill saw the lads with a Line-out on their 5m line.
A flawless throw by the athletic Armagh hooker, Gareth Graham was taken by Adam Hume. The Armagh forwards got a maul formed and started their drive towards the line, where Graham peeled off the back on the open side and dived over the line for Armagh’s first try of the afternoon. The resulting conversion although on target just dropped short of the crossbar, this left the scores at 08-10 to the visitors.
Inishowen were furious at how they had conceded the try and went back up the field and attacked the Armagh line with the intent of cancelling out that score straight away. The Armagh defensive line stood strong and the ball was held up over the line by Fly-Half, Ross Crozier.
Armagh could only quell the storm for so long as the men from Donegal scored their second try under the posts and got the conversion to leave nine points between the sides, with the scores at 08-17 to the visitors with 15 minutes of the second half played.
The tie was beginning to get a bit heated and this was evident when both teams had a man dismissed to the sin-bin as a result of an altercation between the Inishowen scrum half and the Armagh fly half, Ross Crozier. A quick re-shuffle of the team saw Utility player Paul Cully drop from the pack to fill the hole at ten.
Before the altercation there was a penalty awarded to the visitors and they opted to go for the posts. Their effort went wide of the right hand post in what was yet another let off for the men in red and black.
Armagh kicked off and worked the ball downfield similar to how they did for their first try. In fact Armagh were to score again in what would be a carbon copy of the one they scored earlier in the half with the only difference being the Armagh Hooker Graham would break around the blindside and touch down in the corner. The conversion was missed by Loughran and there was only a single score between the sides with the scores at 13-17.
Inishowen’s discipline was causing them all sorts of problems as they were reduced to 14 men with their scrum half receiving his marching orders for a second yellow card.
Inishowen had a penalty shortly after and despite their relatively poor afternoon from the tee, they opted to go for the posts, in a decision that paid off for them as they scored the penalty to increase their lead to seven points with the scores now at 13-20 as they entered the final 10 minutes of the contest.
The afternoon soon turned sour for the men from the Hills of Donegal as they had a second man dismissed this time on a straight red card for a kicking offence on the Armagh fly-half.
Now playing against 13 men, Armagh sensed this was still a game they were in and could win, but they had to make the most of their numerical advantage, and they did.
There was a lot of stoppages in this game and City of Armagh 3XV players came across from the front pitch after their game had finished to lend their support to the 4XV as they desperately pushed towards turning this game on its head.
Ulster Rugby talk of their ‘16th Man’ well every one of 3XV encouraged their fellow players and were undoubtedly the 16th Man this Armagh side needed.
Working the ball downfield through some strong runs by Michael O’Neill and Niall McKee Armagh soon found themselves inside the Opposition 22m line. The ball was sent out to the backs through the hands and Full-Back John Johnston showed a clean pair of heels and broke through a few tackles to run across the line and touch down in the corner.
The conversion was narrowly missed by Loughran who watched his effort sail just past the left upright with the scores left at 20-18 as we entered the final few minutes of the half.
Inishowen from the restart marched the ball up field and were rather harshly awarded a penalty as a result of an infringement at the breakdown. They opened to go for the posts in an attempt to run the clock down. Their effort dropped short and what happened next will not be forgotten for a long long time by these players.
The ball dropped short and was caught by Gareth Graham who decided to take off and run the ball up the field. The free kick Armagh had won inside their own 22m line was kicked to touch by O’Neill.
The Line-out was stolen by Hume who was having a superb evening stealing much needed ball at the set-piece. The ball was spread wide with good ground made up through strong runs from Johnston and Adam Brennan, who won a vital penalty just inside their 22m line. The visitors were furious and could not believe the decision to award the penalty. The referee has signalled that this kick would be the last kick of the game.
With the scores now at 20-18 only a successful kick would see Armagh safely through to the second round.
Armagh Captain, David Loughran stepped up to take the crucial kick. There was an eerie silence around the pitch with many of the Armagh players and supporters too nervous to watch. That silence soon erupted into raucous cheers as Loughran had split the posts and sent Armagh through to the second round of the cup in the process.
The referees final whistle went and the players from both the City of Armagh 3XV and 4XV bombarded Loughran as they all celebrated this memorial comeback.
In truth the Armagh’s intensity upped massively with 10 minutes to go and a couple of scores down. They showed real heart and determination to get the job done, having not lead the game at all they managed to take the lead when it mattered the most.
Overall, this was not a vintage performance from this side by any means, with plenty to work on in the week off between now and the second round.
Armagh’s name will now be in the hat for the second round of the McCambley Cup with the draw scheduled for this Tuesday night.
Congratulations to all the players and their management team of Ian Watson and Graham Crozier on this fantastic win.
There were two players namely Jamie Monaghan and Robert Davidson who picked up injuries. It is hoped that neither of these injuries are too serious and the lads will be back on the pitch shortly. Team (1-15): P. Chapman, G. Graham, R. Nicholl, P. Cully, A. Hume, Oran Campbell, Niall McKee, J. Kirkland, R. Davidson, R. Crozier, C. Campbell, A.Brennan, M. O’Neill, D. Loughran ©, J. Johnston. Replacements: S.Knipe, J. Hughes, J. Monaghan.