City of Armagh travelled the short distance to Rifle Park on Saturday for an Ulster derby match in the All Ireland League.
The odds were stacked against the Orchard county side with a fully-loaded Banbridge side taking the field with seven Ulster players in the starting lineup.
With zero Ulster representation in the Armagh side, the neutral fan would have been backing a home victory.
Conditions were atrocious for players and spectators as Armagh kicked off with driving rain blowing across the field.
The visitors dominated the first quarter in terms of possession and territory but conditions were spoiling opportunities with line-out ball being knocked on and scrums dominating.
Armagh probed a well-marshalled Banbridge defence whose fast line speed kept the visitors at bay.
On 17 minutes Armagh were dealt a blow when flanker, Robert Whitten was forced off with an injury. His place was taken by veteran James Morton, adding to his collection of over 100 AIL appearances.
The match continued with Banbridge spending long periods pinned back in their 22 and it was 24 minutes before they crossed into the Armagh half.
A penalty on halfway was kicked to the Armagh 22 but a knock on followed the lineout and Armagh cleared the danger. Another home penalty went down the line to get a foothold in Armagh territory but McKinley stole the line-out for the visitors.
A clever chip into the Armagh 22 then forced the visitors to concede a five-metre scrum and on 30 minutes the game came to life when the referee awarded Banbridge a penalty try for a 7-0 lead.
The home side knocked on from the restart and Armagh attacked from the scrum deep in Banbridge territory but a handling error in the lashing rain saw Banbridge clear their line.
On 40 minutes, centre James Hume made a decisive break on halfway and Robert Lyttle carried deep into the Armagh 22. The Banbridge forwards drove for the line but a knock on deprived them of a second score.
Armagh out-half Harry Boyd sent the ball back to half way as the whistle went for half time with the match evenly poised at 7-0 to the home team.
Banbridge out-half, Niall Armstrong kicked off the second period and found touch five metres from the Armagh line. Banbridge conceded a free kick at the line-out and Armagh cleared upfield.
From the next line-out, however the Banbridge pack drove 15 metres and it looked ominous for the visitors when a resulting penalty was kicked into the corner. The throw was not straight in the stormy conditions and Armagh were let off the hook.
Armagh then won a scrum penalty and Boyd sent up a Garryowen which Banbridge failed to secure. Winger Andrew Willis had a foray into Banbridge territory but a knock on let the home side clear.
Banbridge then knocked on in the horrendous conditions giving Armagh an attacking scrum 20 metres out. Number 8 Neil Faloon brought play five metres from the Banbridge line as the visitors had their best opportunity
of the second half.
A penalty to Armagh was then reversed for foul play spotted by the touch judge and Banbridge cleared again.
Armagh then stole the Banbridge line-out but Greg Jones won a turnover for Banbridge and play was brought up to the Armagh 22. Swift hands saw Rob Lyttle receive the ball out wide and the Ulster winger chipped ahead and won the race to touch down for a try in the corner.
A superb conversion from the touchline by Adam Doherty gave the home side a comfortable 14 nil lead and it looked like four league points were on their way to the Rifle Park side.
City of Armagh however showed some grit and determination and with 10 minutes left on the clock, managed to get deep into Banbridge territory to win a penalty in front of the posts.
Electing for a scrum, the Armagh forwards then attacked the line and another penalty for a high tackle increased the pressure on the home side.
With advantage being played, Armagh moved the ball left, with Shea O’Brien and Johnny Morton driving for the line. Harry Doyle then fed Andrew Willis and the winger crossed for an Armagh try on 72 minutes. With no conversion, the score was 14-5, with time running out for the visitors.
From the restart, Armagh won a line-out on halfway and secured a penalty. Ryan Purvis put an excellent kick into touch five metres from the Banbridge try line.
Armagh secured possession and drove for the line but Banbridge superbly held up the maul and it looked like it was all over for the visitors.
On 75 minutes, the Armagh scrum won a penalty and Ryan Purvis converted the 30 metre kick in difficult conditions to make it 14-8 and it looked like the visitors had rescued a losing bonus point.
The match however was to have one final twist that many spectators that had left early regretted doing so.
From the restart, Armagh went through the phases and kicked upfield. Banbridge fumbled the ball into
touch on the 10 metre line. Foolishly, the ball was thrown away and the home fullback was penalised and yellow carded. Purvis kicked superbly into the corner and Armagh had one final roll of the dice.
Banbridge contested the line-out and tapped back possession but scrum half Jonny Stewart had to touch down for a five metre scrum. The Armagh pack, following a reset, then marched the Banbridge pack over the line for them to collapse and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try on 78 minutes.
The Armagh spectators were ecstatic to see their side now ahead 14-15. The final whistle went with Armagh achieving a remarkable victory against all the odds, scoring 15 points in a six minute spell.
City of Armagh now remarkably find themselves joint top of Division 1B at the half way break, level with St Mary’s College on 25 points and also level on points difference.
The team has certainly delivered on the pitch with some tipping them for relegation as the season started but in an ultra-competitive league, they have more than held their own despite not having Ulster players to call upon.
Assistant Armagh coach, Chris Parker was thrilled after the match, full of praise for the entire match squad of 22.
“Over the 80 minutes we dominated both possession and territory. In the first half we didn’t get points on the board and Banbridge were clinical in taking their scores,” said Parker.
“That final 10 minutes was a bit crazy but our guys showed pride and passion, playing till the final whistle and got their reward in the end.”
City of Armagh’s next fixture is on Saturday at the Palace Grounds when Ballymena are the visitors for a SONI Ulster Premiership match.
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