ARMAGH 16 BANBRIDGE 6
Fortune may have favoured the hosts in this quarter-final of the First Trust Senior Cup, but there will have been few in the Banbridge ranks arguing that their team deserved to come out on top from what was a tough battle.
Bann Coach Daniel Soper was honest in his assessment afterwards. “We simply coughed up too much ball and so were rarely able to build up the pressure that would have allowed us to breach a hard-working Armagh defence”, he said reflecting on the defeat.
“Armagh away was the toughest draw we could have got in the cup. We knew we were going to have to work hard for the win. We might have got it if the bounce of the ball had gone our way but it didn’t and given the indifferent quality of our performance we were going to need a bit of luck.”
Bann started with just six of the XV that had taken the field at Ballymena eight days earlier and won their third All-Ireland League win in four outings. With four players on Ulster ‘A’ duty and five more regulars on the bench on Saturday, it was always going to be a big ask to beat a full-strength Armagh side also performing well in the national league.
So did Soper have any regrets about resting so many of his front-line players. His answer was an emphatic ‘no, not at all’. “We were looking at the bigger picture. We had four really tough games in the period leading up to Saturday and we have a long season ahead of us,” he said.
“So it was important that some of our key players got some downtime and also that some of our squad players got some more exposure at this level. Despite the result, and I’m not covering up my disappointment at the defeat, I think Banbridge will benefit in the longer term.”
While both sides were guilty of indifferent handling throughout the game, Armagh’s superior ball retention allowed them to take a 6-0 lead into the break, courtesy of two Cormac Fox penalties. Adam Doherty kicked three points for Bann early in the second half but the young home out-half restored the six point lead off the tee soon afterwards.
With 20 minutes remaining Soper wheeled on his “big guns” in the shape of Peter Cromie, Eric O’Sullivan, Stephen Irvine and Ian Porter and the latter struck a fine kick to reduce Armagh’s advantage to 9-6.
The visitors then built up some momentum and would have taken the lead had Andrew Morrison been able to pick up Doherty’s well-judged chip behind the Armagh lines. But the bounce favoured the chasing defender who was able to retrieve the ball metres from his line to avert the danger.
When play swung to the other end Neil Falloon put in two storming runs and his back row partner Ali Birch was on hand to capitalise, crossing for the only try of the game. Fox’s conversion gave his side a cushion which they comfortably defended until the final whistle.
Soper was looking ahead to the game at home to Ballynahinch on 28th October. “We’ll be picking our strongest squad for that, depending on who’s available. We’ve got three AIL games coming up, with two at home so we have high expectations of how we come through that block.”
Following a fifth successive win for the Seconds, Soper acknowledged that there would be tough selection decisions to make. “Those are good problems that we haven’t had enough of in the past. We’ve got genuine competition for places. It’s been great to see the Seconds build up that momentum. They’ve got their Junior Cup quarter-final on Saturday and we’ll have players dropping back down from the Firsts and players on the Seconds performing well, so selection is going to be interesting.”
Bann team v Armagh:- Andrew Kirkwood, Tom Caesar, Andrew Morrison, Ben Carson, Conor Field, Adam Doherty, Jason Gribbon, Stuart Cromie, Tim Savage, Tom O’Toole, Chris Allen, Matthew Laird, Robin Sinton, Ryan Graham, Richard Graham. Replacements:- Peter Cromie, Eric O’Sullivan, S Irvine, Ian Porter, Jonny Little.