City of Armagh travelled to play neighbour’s Dungannon in their final Ulster Bank AIL league match of the season on Saturday. While both clubs were mid table, Dungannon held a narrow lead and local bragging rights were at stake for the victors.
Dungannon entered the match as the team on form having won 4 of their last 5 league matches. Armagh on the other hand had only one victory and one draw, so the home team were favourites.
A huge crowd had gathered at Stevenson Park for this eagerly anticipated local derby. The predicted heavy rain had not arrived as Dungannon kicked off and exerted early pressure on the visitors. A penalty for offside after seven minutes was converted by full back Armstrong and Dungannon had the early lead 3-0. A further penalty was kicked to the corner and Armagh defended well to hold out the heavier Dungannon pack.
Fifteen minutes into the game and Armagh struck with their first try of the match. Good play from the forwards had gained territory in the Dungannon 22 and the ball was spread wide for full-back Jonny Pollock to enter the line and score in the corner. A superb conversion from outhalf Harry Boyd gave Armagh a 3 – 7 lead.
Dungannon returned to the attack but good defence from Armagh kept the home team largely in their own half. Approaching the half hour mark, the Dungannon outhalf made a break out of defence and kicked ahead. Armagh were forced into carrying the ball over their line and a five yard scrum was awarded. The bulky Dungannon pack took the opportunity with relish and drove over for a try which Armstrong converted to give the home team a 10 – 7 lead.
The visiting team went back on the attack and the Armagh backs looked threatening everytime they had possession. Dungannon were forced to concede a penalty from one such attack and Boyd leveled the game at 10 – 10. Just as half time approached, the referee penalised the home pack for killing the ball again and Boyd kicked the 3 points to give City of Armagh a narrow lead, 10 – 13 as the whistle went for the break.
The second half restarted and Armagh suffered a blow when James Morton has to retire with a nasty cut to the head after a clash. Daryl Morton moved into the back row and his physicality caused Dungannon problems throughout the second period with some storming runs.
Another penalty for offside against the home team saw Armagh stretch their lead to 10 – 16 following Boyd’s successful kick.
The match then exploded into action when Armagh scored two converted tries in a five minute spell. A great run by Boyd in the Dungannon 22 saw him pass the ball to centre John Faloon to crash over beside the posts.
Armagh’s third try was more spectacular, starting in their own half, centres Hooks and Faloon broke down the left wing and some great inter-passing saw the ball delivered to second row Joshua McKinley to crash over under the posts.
Armagh now led 10 – 30 and many felt it was game over but Dungannon responded as they know best and tried to get back into the game as time as the clock ticked down. With 12 minutes remaining Daryl Morton received a yellow card and quick thinking from Dungannon saw a cross field kick result in a try for their left winger. The conversion was missed and the scores was 15 – 30. Further pressure from the Dungannon pack saw a rolling maul pulled down by Stephen Morton and another yellow card was issued by the referee who was having an excellent game. A penalty try was converted and the score now had a different look at 22 – 30. Armagh spent the last 2 minutes in the Dungannon 22 and the match came to a close with the visitors victorious.
Armagh were delighted with the win although the coaching team were not happy with the indiscipline which gave Dungannon their late consolation scores. This was one of Armagh’s best performances of the season and the entire squad played with passion and commitment. They were very unlucky not to come away with a bonus point. Results elsewhere led to Armagh climbing up to fifth place in the final league table and this will be seen as very satisfactory for a team in their first season in Division 2B.
Photo Credits: Ken Redpath