BANN SECONDS 57 OMAGH SECONDS 7
Banbridge last won the Towns’ Cup in 1993, beating Ballyclare at a time when the Rifle Park side was still in the ranks of Junior rugby.
With the senior side competing in the All-Ireland League since 1998, it has been left to the Second XV to represent the club in the Blue Riband competition of the provincial game.
Now for the first time since then, the club will take its place in the semi-finals of the competition, thanks to Saturday’s comprehensive defeat of Omagh Seconds.
Bann Seconds had enjoyed a relatively successful Conference League campaign before Christmas, finishing fourth of fourteen teams in that competition. But since then, in the more significant Premiership Second XV League, they had suffered three successive losses at the hands of the Second XV’s of Ballynahinch, Armagh and Malone.
Given those results, confidence was not high going into Saturday’s Towns’ Cup quarter-final. But boosted by the inclusion of Ian Porter and Richard Graham in their ranks, with Stephen Irvine on the bench, and aided by a strong first half wind, Bann went about their business resolutely and by half-time they had the game sewn up.
Stand-in Coach Simon McKinstry was delighted with the way the side went about their task. “With the wind at our backs in the first half we really put Omagh under a lot of pressure,” he said. “Our scrum was dominant throughout, and particularly in those opening exchanges, when we were winning scrum penalties, we were able to keep Omagh pinned in their own half for long periods.”
Lock Richard Graham and prop Robbie Mathers crossed for tries after their side had gone through the phases. The wind was making shots a goal a lottery so Bann used any penalties they won to kick to the corners and keep the visitors pinned deep in their “22”.
Graham crossed for his second and when hooker Tim Savage finished off a rolling maul off a lineout by touching down for his side’s fourth try, there was no way back for Omagh, with Aaron Kennedy’s two successful conversions taking his side 24 points clear at the break.
The Bann forwards had dominated the first half exchanges, but the home backs saw more of the action after the interval. With half-backs Kennedy and Porter orchestrating, the Bann threequarters were able to show their potential. Full-back Ross Cartmill went in for his side’s fifth try before replacement Irvine broke through the Omagh ranks to put Kennedy in for a touchdown.
A slick backline move put winger Ben Lavery in for a try on the left flank and prop Christian Trimble took Kennedy’s inside flick pass to cross the Omagh line. Bann’s points scoring was rounded off by Macauley Little, who intercepted on his own 10 metre line and put in a stunning 60 metre sprint, embellished by two dummies, before touching down. Kennedy struck over four of five second half conversion attempts.
Omagh had the last word, scoring a converted try in the dying minutes, but it was scant consolation. They were due back at Rifle Park a week later, but instead this game was played as a double header, so Bann also picked up five invaluable points to kick-start their Second XV League campaign.
McKinstry was impressed with the back row of Matthew Shirlow, James Cromie and particularly Reuben McCreery. “Reuben stood out for me – he was really good. Stephen Irvine and Ian Porter brought that AIL experience to the team which was important and Aaron Kennedy had a great game. And Christian Trimble is improving all the time – he worked hard for the full 80 minutes. He’s really coming on well.”
With Ballyclare and Ballynahinch Seconds already through to the semis, and All-Ireland Junior Cup finalists Dromore likely to join them after they play their postponed game against Carrick, Bann know there are tougher challenges ahead. But this win will re-energise the side and the prospect of an Easter Monday final at the Kingspan will give every incentive to step up efforts in training.