City of Armagh travelled to Cashel in Tipperary on Saturday for the first of back to back fixtures in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League.
With both teams level on points in the league, a close encounter was expected and this proved to be the case and it was Cashel who came out on top by a narrow margin, 13-10.
Following their epic win over Queens University the previous week, Armagh travelled with confidence but were missing key back row players, Ali Birch, Neil Faloon and James Morton. John Faloon returned in the centre and Chris Cousins started at outhalf.
Armagh kicked off in fine conditions but found themselves penalised eight times inside the first ten minutes play for various rucking offences. Coached by former Ireland player, Denis Leamey, the Munster side were keen to dominate up front but once the game settled, it was obvious that the packs were evenly matched. Early pressure from Cashel led to the game’s opening try when their hooker touched down following a well-controlled rolling maul. The conversion went wide but a successful penalty ten minutes later from Dara Lyons put another three points on the score board to see the home team ahead, 8-0.
In response, Chris Cousins kicked a penalty to narrow the score to 8-3 at half-time.
Following the restart, it was Armagh who raised their game, looking to cut out the errors from the first half.
The Cashel outhalf cleverly pinned Armagh back in their half with good positional kicking looking for his forwards to drive towards the Armagh line. The visitors were able to fight their way twice from their five metre line to launch attacks into Cashel territory from this defensive position.
Despite this resolute defence, the Cashel pressure paid off with their second try of the game midway through the second half. The conversion was unsuccessful but with the score at 13-3, Cashel seemed to have the match under their control.
Again, however, the Armagh resolve came good when, following a number of phases number 8, Robert Whitten broke clear and reached the Cashel 22 where he was tackled by the home full-back. Following some good recycling, winger Ryan Purvis scored a fine try close to the left post. Chris Cousins’ conversion brought the score to 13-10.
In the dying moments of the game the home team were seen to tire and Armagh began to dominate if a little too late in the game and the whistle went for full time with Cashel holding out for a narrow 13-10 win.
Armagh 3rd XV played just their second match at home this season and with the 1st and 2nd fifteens both away they hosted Ballymoney 2nd XV on the main pitch in front of a healthy crowd of spectators.
The Armagh boys were keen to avenge a close defeat at Ballymoney three weeks earlier but with team captain Neill Lutton and others unavailable it was a changed side that took to the field with Connor Chapman and Andrew Fletcher propping and Paul Campbell at full back.
rom the kick off Ballymoney applied real pressure forcing Armagh to concede several scrums to knock-ons and being camped inside their own 22m line. However the Armagh defence stood up to everything Ballymoney threw at them and some good attacking kicks from Trevor Girvan and Glen Faloon Armagh managed to clear their lines and on 9 minutes, against the run of play, stand-in captain Luke Crozier broke through the Ballymoney back line for an individual try under the posts.
The conversion by Andrew Knipe gave Armagh a 7-0 lead. Despite some ragged play and conceding a number of penalties Armagh’s defence was resolute and it was second row man Con Oliver who managed to break through from close range and feed Gareth Megaw for Armagh’s second try under the posts. The conversion brought the lead to 14 points. From 25 minutes Armagh conceded a series of four penalties inside their own 22m line which Ballymoney took as scrums.
Once again the Armagh second row, Con Oliver and Jordan Faloon with flankers Jack Gilpin and Connor Simms were aware of the danger points and kept the visitors at bay. Another clearing kick from Girvan relieved the pressure and allowed the Armagh forwards to work their way downfield and Con Oliver to score in his own right. Con must have been running on adrenalin, his wife having given birth to twins during the week. Unfortunately Armagh continued to concede penalties and on 33 minutes the ref sent Glenn Faloon to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.
This gave Ballymoney a chance to get back into the game and an unconverted try gave them 5 points in the closing stages of the half. But they then conceded a penalty for a deliberate knock on which was knocked between the posts by Knipe for a hard earned half time lead of 22-5. Back on the field after half time it did not take Luke Crozier long to get back into his stride and some slick interchanges across the back line of Faloon, Jeff Dougan, Knipe, and Andrew Brady with fullback Paul Campbell and it was Luke who went over for the bonus point try.
Another conversion by Knipe resulted in a growing 29-5 lead. Armagh continued to attack but a turnover by Ballymoney and poor defensive tackling let them in for a converted try with 15 minutes to go to close the gap to 29-12. The last fifteen minutes was all Armagh’s as Ballymoney began to run out of steam. Crozier led the next charge with a clearance kick to half way and a turnover by Con Oliver resulted in his second try. He wasn’t going to be stopped from 10 metres!
And on 40minutes Jeff Dougan got another for a convincing 41-12 win. The subs, Matthew Kilic, Robert Strachan and Matthew Campbell came on at various stages through the match and all made an impact with Kilic showing great potential at hooker.
Try scorers:- Luke Crozier (2) Stuart Megaw Con Oliver (2) Jeff Dougan Conversions:- Knipe (4).
Report by David Loughran
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.
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 attached he 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 fifteen 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 the 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 fourteen 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 we entered the final ten 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 thirteen 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 our 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 stole 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 supported 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 referee’s 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 Armagh’s intensity upped massively with ten minutes to go and a couple of scored down. They showed real heart and determination to get the job done, having not lead the game at all they manage 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 yesterday. 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.