City of Armagh’s first ever Bateman Cup Final ended in defeat at the hands of Limerick side, Garryowen in glorious sunshine at Templeville Road Dublin.
The Division 1A outfit showed the gulf between 1A and 1B leagues in scoring 45 points, but the Palace Grounds side can be proud of their efforts and contributed immensely to a hugely entertaining final.
City of Armagh, buoyed by the huge travelling support made an encouraging start but outhalf Harry Boyd was short with a penalty attempt on 5 minutes from Garryowen’s 10-metre line.
A lost lineout in the Garryowen 22 let the Limerick side off the hook and it was the Munster side who opened the scoring in the 17th minute, with centre Collins providing the link between the Cronin brothers to send winger Fitzgerald over right corner despite Robert Whitten’s despairing tackle. Ben Healey, Garryowen’s teenage outhalf, fresh from Ireland’s under 20 Grand Slam, converted for a 7 nil lead.
Garryowen’s Fitzgerald then built further momentum as he ran a kick back and linked with number 8 Darren Ryan who timed his run nicely to break into the Armagh 22. Using their bigger pack to edge closer, Garryowen went wide to the right again and craftily created the space as Healy’s nicely-timed pass released Collins to run in and push the heavy pre-match favourites into an ominous 14-0 lead.
Just when Armagh were poised to strike back, they turned down a straightforward penalty kick and that proved to be the wrong option as Andy Keating won a clearing penalty for Garryowen from the scrum. However, Armagh captain Chris Colvin rallied his troops by intercepting Healy’s midfield pass and darting 60 metres downfield for a timely 32nd-minute try, which Boyd converted from straight in front and the Armagh supporters were in fine voice.
The back-to-back Ulster Senior Cup champions’ hopes of taking a 14-7 deficit into half-time soon faded, though, as Healy punished an offside with three more points and 17-7. With 40 minutes on the clock Armagh leaked another try when lock Kevin Seymour’s initial break set the wheels in motion for Garryowen’s third score, with Cian O’Shea’s offload off the deck putting full-back Heuston over.
The halftime break arrived with Garryowen ahead 24-7 through some clinical play that punished every Armagh mistake.
The second half was only 7 minutes old when Garryowen’s Munster scrum half Neil Cronin got the scoreboard moving again. It was his classy touchfinder which pinned Armagh back, and from a subsequent lineout, he used maul possession to jink over from close range.
Hooker Liam Cronin joined his brother on the scoresheet just three minutes later, profiting from an Armagh lineout which struggled for much of the match. Whitten’s tap-back went loose and Cronin was first to it, crashing over from a few metres out. Healy fired over his fifth successful conversion for 38-7.
The Ulster side’s frustration spilled over in the 58th minute when strong-carrying number 8 Neil Faloon was sin-binned for a late challenge on Neil Cronin. Referee Nigel Correll also reached for his yellow card three minutes later, Peter Starrett the guilty party as he pulled a player back as Garryowen appeared set to cross the whitewash again from a free-flowing attack.
Down to 13 men, Armagh could have folded but the side showed fighting spirit and delighted their vocal fans with a very well-worked 68th-minute try. Replacement James Hanna slipped away from a defender to get his side on the front foot, and lovely hands from Jonny Pollock, Tim McNiece and O’Brien created the opportunity for replacement Willis to swat away O’Shea’s attempted challenge and score in the right corner.
Showing their Division 1A experience, Garryowen were keen for more and swept through on the 70 minute mark for hooker Cronin to complete his brace, just beside the posts for Heuston to convert.
Despite being outgunned by the deserved new champions, it was Armagh who conjured up arguably the try of the game with five minutes remaining. Evin Crummie used turnover ball to attack from deep, handing off Dave McCarthy before unleashing fellow winger Shea O’Brien who showed great pace to speed clear up the left wing and touch down. Replacement Cormac Fox nailed his second conversion of the match.
The game came to a close with Garryowen deserved winners 45-21, but the Armagh team had acquitted themselves well for a side with no representative players.
Coach Willie Faloon complimented the Garryowen side after the match and commented: “I’m really proud of our squad today that played some great rugby during the 80 minutes.
“Unfortunately our mistakes were punished and we gifted scores to the opposition but overall we can hold our head high with our performance.”
City of Armagh President, Willie Boyd commented: “It has been a privilege to watch City of Armagh play in this Bateman Cup final and while Garryowen deserved to bring the trophy home, our boys played some excellent rugby against the odds.
“I also want to thank the huge Armagh travelling support who created a fantastic atmosphere at the final, they were immense.”