Ulster are guaranteed to have one representative in the Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup final on Saturday, January 31, after Bangor reached the decider for the first time thanks to a 9-6 victory over last year’s runners-up Clogher Valley.
ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, December 13
Bangor 9 Clogher Valley 6, Upritchard Park
CIYMS 25 Dundalk 25, Circular Road (replay to take place at Mill Road, Dundalk, Saturday, December 20, kick-off 2pm)
The other semi-final finished in a 25-all draw between CIYMS and Leinster League leaders Dundalk at Circular Road. With the hosts’ floodlights currently under construction, extra-time could not be played so the sides will meet again next Saturday at Mill Road.
CIYMS gave themselves a second shot at qualifying for the final with a strong final quarter in Belmont, putting on a 10-point spurt to draw level with Dundalk right at the death.
CI scored two quick-fire tries before half-time, with the strong-running Matt Armstrong scoring one of them and creating the other for Michael Wilson, as they moved into a 15-7 lead.
Dundalk responded with an unconverted try on the resumption and Ultan Murphy’s 47th-minute penalty brought the visitors level, before they kicked on again.
The Dundalk scrum forced a 56th minute penalty which Murphy dispatched through the posts and just two minutes later, he added the extras to their third try of the day.
The pressure was on CI now and they dug deep, their forwards in particular, to set up Sam Baker’s second successful penalty which reduced the arrears to 25-18.
Dundalk missed a couple of gilt-edged opportunities to kill of the CI challenge, knocking on close to the try-line and Murphy also missed a 40-metre penalty with nine minutes left on the clock.
The home side hung in there and with Dundalk having David Whately sin-binned, CI struck for a last-gasp try from Mark Scott. Kiwi out-half Baker then held his nerve to add the levelling conversion and the teams must meet again next weekend.
At Upritchard Park, Bangor prevailed by three points in a tightly-contested and absorbing Ulster derby that produced a handful of try-scoring chances but none were scored.
Philip Holme’s drop goal gave Clogher Valley the early advantage, making sure they had some points to show for their business-like start.
The hosts hit back with a Mark Widdowson penalty on the 20-minute mark, and a second one soon followed as Jason Morgan’s charges began to make better use of possession.
Player-coach Morgan kicked to the corners and Bangor managed to block down two Clogher clearance kicks, however the ball went out of play on both occasions. A third succesful penalty from winger Widdowson closed out the first half at 9-3.
Bangor then got an early psychological edge in the second half, halting Clogher’s powerful, much-vaunted maul and winning turnover ball five metres out from their own line.
They managed to keep out Clogher’s big driving forwards again soon after, however Holme knocked a penalty over on the hour mark during Bangor captain Jamie Clegg’s sin-binning for collapsing a maul.
Again though, Bangor showed a huge amount of resilience to gain an upper hand at scrum time and they went on to control matters in the final quarter, determinedly holding onto their slim 9-6 lead.
Morgan’s excellent positional kicking kept them in the right parts of the pitch, with a yellow card denting Clogher’s hopes, and breaks from Curtis Stewart and Davy Charles almost led to Bangor tries.
Widdowson miscued his fourth penalty attempt with five minutes left, but it was not needed in the end as Bangor added beaten 2013/14 finalists Clogher to their list of cup scalps – they knocked out Munster title holders Clonmel and last year’s All-Ireland Junior Cup champions Enniscorthy in the previous two rounds.