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Enniscorthy Lift Junior Cup After Narrow Victory

Enniscorthy Lift Junior Cup After Narrow Victory

Cup finals that come down to millimetres can linger in the memory for generations and today’s Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup decider is likely to do just that, writes Knockon.ie’s Rob Murphy.

Enniscorthy's first every All-Ireland title will be remembered for fine margins and close calls in years to come, fondly in Wexford and with great regret in Tyrone.

When Clogher Valley out-half Philip Holme struck a 78th minute drop goal, for a split second he must have thought he had it, but out of nowhere came a hand to deflect it – that of Enniscorthy second row Declan O'Brien.

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The 40-year-old player-coach crowning a memorable man-of-the-match display with a crucial intervention.

The game was not a classic but supporters took their eyes off it at their own risk. The turning points were numerous on a windy day at well-turned out Ashbrook, the home ground of Coolmine RFC.

The heavy showers early on passed over quickly but the wind was a factor throughout.

Enniscorthy won the toss and their young captain Sean Wall chose to play against it. They would set their stall out in the first half and take stock at the break. The number 8 said afterwards that he had expected it to be swirling. It stayed fairly consistent, slightly cross-field.

The start was cagey, but Clogher were edging it in terms of use of possession and territory. That said, the first attempt at a score came from Enniscorthy with Ivan Poole missing a long range kick which was difficult with the elements.

By the 11th minute, Clive Donaldson had a nice break on the wing for Clogher and in general, the Tyrone side looked to put width on their play as much as possible.

The first few scrums saw Enniscorthy get an edge, winning a penalty on one but again by the midway point the tide was turning.

It took until the 20th minute for the deadlock to be broken with Holme slotting a good kick after missing one minutes earlier and a penalty at scrum-time gave him his second three-pointer five minutes later.

At 6-0 platform was there but with 15 minutes to play with the wind, there was a feeling that they needed a try to make the elements advantage count. They had the platforms. Three lineouts and as many scrums, all in the 22, all repelled.

With five minutes to go in the opening half, 'Scorthy fans were in full voice when the likes of O'Brien, Wall, Tom Ryan and Mitchel Dalton battled furiously to hold up a driving maul from a Valley lineout.

They were doing just enough each time to hold the Ulstermen out. Half-time came with a 6-0 Clogher Valley advantage but they needed more.

David Black's charges had the perfect start, winning a penalty and gaining an advantage numerically when Dalton was sin-binned for an off-the-ball block.

The kick was missed but the momentum was with them. That was duly lost four minutes later when Barry John Wilson saw yellow for a similar off-the-ball block. That evened things up, but also meant that the Leinster club would have a brief advantage of their own.

On 58 minutes, the game's key score followed. Dalton was back, Jack Kelly had come on for Poole at out-half and Wilson was seconds from returning but not back yet.

The first scoring opportunity came from a lineout in the 22, the maul was solid and well executed, the tenacious and influential John Howe had the ball and was driven over but referee Eddie Hogan O'Connell was well positioned to say held up.

The resulting scrum remained a firm advantage as Clogher were still down to 14 men. From the base, Wall broke, the ball came loose but went back and scrum half Evan Lett was as alert and sharp as he had been all afternoon to pick up and crash over by the posts. Kelly slotted the conversion.

The 7-6 lead held for ten minutes but Valley were growing in confidence and building a platform. So, by the time Holme kicked his third penalty of the game on 69 minutes – brilliantly drilling it into the wind – the script seemed clear.

From the restart however, Enniscorthy looked like a team of experienced warriors, forcing a turnover, building through the phases and drawing a penalty after a high tackle from Rodney Bennett. The sin-bin was a huge additional blow. Kelly converted the kick and 'Scorthy now led 10-9.

The play in the closing stages was breathless. Despite being down a man, Clogher attacked in droves. Philip Falconer and David Dunlop combined in the centre to make a searing break and almost score.

A penalty advantage came from that five metres out, they played the advantage and almost scored on that drop goal, only for O'Brien's hand to intervene. Back we came for the penalty though and Holme went for the kick from the touchline with the wind blowing across his face. It just tailed wide.

That was the last chance. Three minutes later, the game was done and Enniscorthy supporters were celebrating a first title since the 2012 Towns Cup and a first ever All-Ireland success.

Fine margins win cup ties, the young emerging stars in the 'Scorthy side played their part but it was that, combined with old heads, that won the day. What a day.

Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)