Ulster U14 Cup final
Bann’s U14 side completed the Ulster League and Cup double by overcoming the challenge of a talented Carrick side in Saturday’s (11 May) final played at the Kingspan Stadium.
But it took a Herculean defensive effort and a piece of individual brilliance to overcome a Carrick side which for most of the game looked likely to emerge as winners.
The two sides had also met in the League final, when Bann came out on top by a 5-3 try margin, but on this occasion the teams could only muster a single try between them. Perhaps it was playing at the home of Ulster Rugby that unsettled the young players but the first half saw a plethora of handling errors from both sides as they equally struggled to bring any rhythm or continuity to their play.
Bann’s domination of the set scrum enabled them to have the edge in terms of possession, but with passes not going to hand the Carrick line was rarely under pressure. That strong set piece came to the rescue when Carrick won a couple of scrums under the Bann posts with the front row of Jacob Henry, Andrew Cairns and Thomas McGrath taking one against the head and then forcing the opposition into conceding a penalty.
A strong run off the base of a scrum on halfway saw No 8 Scott Craig make good ground on the blind side but he was forced into touch before he could link with his support and by the interval neither side had managed to get off the mark.
Early in the second half Bann centre Jamie Carville gathered Dennis Kerr’s well-placed kick behind the front-line Carrick defence and it took a great tackle from impressive Carrick full-back Wallace Blair to prevent what looked like a certain score. With Carville’s attempted pass out of the tackle going forward, Carrick had the put-in to the scrum inside their own half. This time the ball came back on their side and a searing midfield break ended with Carrick touching down for what looked like the opening score.
However after consultation with his Assistant, the Referee took the players back to re-set the scrum, to the great relief of the many Bann supporters who had travelled to support their team.
Seven minutes into the second half Carrick did take the lead, with their No 8 Leon Thornton slotting over a penalty from 30 metres range, due reward for a period of pressure in the Bann “22”.
For much of the remainder of the game Carrick were encamped in Bann territory. On one occasion the Rifle Park side managed to turnover ball inside their “22” to set Carville off on another blistering run. But with a try looking odds-on the referee decided that there had been a forward pass in the movement and Bann had to rely on another strike against the head to provide temporary relief.
It seemed inevitable that all the Carrick pressure would produce a try, but they were denied firstly by a knock-on in the Bann in-goal and then by a foot in touch a metre out.
When Bann won a free kick at a lineout inside their “22” out-half Kerr’s pressure-relieving kick was gathered inside his own half by Blair, who initiated a counter-attack. But when the ball went loose after a great tackle by winger Ethan Dickson, it was scooped up by Carvillle and this time there was no stopping the fleet-footed centre as he raced clear of the despairing Carrick defence to dot down under the posts. Kerr added the conversion points, which proved crucial in the closing stages as Carrick resumed on the offensive, winning penalties which they were forced to run to try to overhaul the four point gap.
But the Bann defence was in resolute mood as thrust after thrust on their line was repelled and they held on grimly for the win, with the final whistle coming after another Carrick attack had ended without the ball being grounded in Bann’s in-goal area.
So at the end of a long season Bann have for the first time managed to secure not just the provincial league title, but also the Ulster Cup, with neither trophy having previously graced the Rifle Park clubhouse.
Bann Head Coach Noel Irwin could not contain his delight at his team’s success. “I’m over the moon,” he kept repeating hours after he had watched captain Craig raise the Cup in front of a large crowd of parents and supporters.
“This is a super bunch of young people and it has been a delight to work with them all season. They’ve been so keen to learn and take in what the coaching team have been trying to get across.
“Carrick really put in up to us today. They are a great side as they showed in those two finals. Maybe we weren’t at our best offensively – but what a defensive effort. I thought the work-rate and determination were tremendous, especially in the closing stages when we were really on the rack.
I want to thank the rest of the coaching team and the parents for the support they have given throughout the season. It’s been a total team effort and it has got its reward.”
The Bann team that won the Ulster Cup:- Conor Corrigan, Isaac Finch, Callum Fitzgerald, Jamie Carville, Ethan Dickson, Dennis Kerr, Todd Bryson, Thomas McGrath, Andrew Cairns, Jacob Henry, Pearse Magill, Emmett Magill, Rhys Smith, Rian Evans, Scott Craig (Capt).
Replacements:- William McAllen, Ross McKee, Ben Doyle, Callum Toal, Tom Ewart.