Match Centre - December 14, 2019 - 2:30 pm

All Ireland League 

Banbridge RFCBanbridge RFC 1sts XV
Armagh RFC

@ Rifle Park

Match Details


Banbridge produced their best 40 minute spell of the season to dismiss the challenge of local rivals City of Armagh and lift themselves into third place in Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League at the halfway stage.

The first half of this Ulster derby game had finished with visitors Armagh eight points in front. But they were blown away after the break as Bann ran in five tries without reply with the city side struggling to find a way out of their own half.

“I didn’t envisage that scoreline during the week,” admitted Bann Coach Mark McDowell after the game. “I thought Armagh took their opportunities well in the first half. And they were able to stop us building up tempo in that opening 40 minutes.”

An early penalty from Adam Doherty was more than matched by Armagh out-half Cormac Fox, who slotted over twice to give his side a warranted lead.

After 25 minutes play Banbridge were 10-6 up, via an Andrew Morrison try and Doherty conversion, before Armagh hit back with two tries, scored by winger Andrew Willis and impressive full-back Shea O’Brien.

McDowell admitted that his side’s defence had been exposed.  “We gave them a few opportunities which they were very clinical from. Being honest I thought that one of their scores was quite soft on our part. I thought that we should have done a wee bit better.”

With Fox adding a conversion, Armagh were able to go into the break 10-18 to the good, although late pressure on the visitors’ line had seen them reduced to 14 men via a yellow card.

“We rallied at half-time,” said McDowell. “The message at half-time was quite clear and distinct in terms of what we needed to do to get ourselves back into the game. We had the advantage of the big wind in the second half, so we were confident that if we could get the first score that we would grab a bit of momentum.”

That next score came with just two minutes played – and Armagh played right into Bann’s hands – or more specifically Stephen Irvine’s. Under pressure close to their own line Armagh attempted an ill-advised double switch from which the ball popped up into the Bann lock’s hands. From there the transfer was swift and clinical with Doherty finishing off.

Bann were still three points in arrears at this stage but that set the pattern for a second half in which Armagh just couldn’t break clear of the stranglehold the home side took on the game. Nor were their efforts helped when they had a second forward despatched to the bin.

“Once we got that second score I can’t really remember them exiting out of their “22” or certainly their own half,” added McDowell. “What was pleasing was that we showed immense discipline to enter their “22” and keep them there for long periods. When they did exit they were maybe only getting just outside their “22”. That gave us another attacking platform from which to launch.”

John Porter’s try on 60 minutes, off Doherty’s pass, took Bann ahead for the first time in the game, with the full-back’s conversion stretching the lead to 22-18.

There was only going to be one outcome after that. Prop Stuart Cromie rounded off an intense period of pressure by going in for the bonus point try on 68 minutes, due reward for a player who had worked so hard throughout the game after returning from injury.

“I was very impressed with Stu Cromie today,” said the Coach. “He’s been struggling with a calf injury the last number of weeks. And yet he was able to produce an 80 minute performance today and turn a scrum that was under a little bit of pressure in the first half into a dominant scrum in the second half.”

Skipper Michael Cromie crashed over for the fifth try with four minutes left on the clock. And to underline the home team’s superiority, his brother Peter benefited from replacement Reuben McCreery’s perfectly timed pass to cross from the last play of the game, with Doherty finding the target off the tee after the last three touchdowns for a personal haul of 18 points.

McDowell said that he was well pleased with his side’s third place in the table at the halfway stage of the season. “When you consider that we didn’t pick up a win in any of our first three games it’s a serious run of form we’ve had, winning five and losing one of the last six games. So that’s hugely pleasing for us and testament to the work that’s been put in week to week by the players and coaching staff.

“My favourite try of the day was that one right at the end of the game. By that time we had emptied the bench and we were still able to fashion a try – that shows that guys are engaged with the game and can come on and affect the outcome.

“It was good to have people like Jonny Little and Stevie Ervine back in the team. But I think that from one to fifteen everyone contributed in a significant way – you need to have that at this level.

“It was really pleasing not just to beat Armagh but also to deny them getting anything. But we’re under no illusions – it’s probably going to make the return fixture on 11th January an even more feisty encounter when we go to them.

“But our focus now shifts very quickly to Saturday’s Ulster Premiership League game at Rainey. We’re in a position now where if we win our next two Premiership games then we’ll be Ulster champions for the very first time. That’s something that the players and the coaching staff would very much like to achieve. We’ll bask in today’s win for a couple of days but come Tuesday night it’ll be very much forward thinking again.”

Bann team v City of Armagh:- Adam Doherty, John Porter, Andrew Morrison, Jonny Little, Hugo Harbinson, Josh Cromie, Jonny Stewart, Michael Cromie (Capt), John Andrew, Stuart Cromie, Stephen Irvine, Dave O’Connor, Robin Sinton, Peter Cromie, Greg Jones. Replacements:- Ross Haughey, Max Lyttle, Reuben McCreery, Neil Kilpatrick, Jason Gribbon.