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Enniskillen Rugby Club’s Under 16s traveled to Cookstown for their second final of the year, and having found the game against Armagh RFC just a step too far in conceding the Ulster Cup game in March, all hoped that they could bring back the Ulster Plate when they faced Letterkenny RFC in Saturday’s encounter.
Both teams knew it would be a very tight game as they had two very close matches during the league, which the Skins lads had won by small margins both home and away, however Letterkenny have progressed very well this year so league form couldn’t guarantee the Fermanagh lads any advantage.
With Letterkenny kicking off it was clear that they had a clear game plan and went on the offensive, from the first phase of play their pack secured quick ball and an off side penalty from the first breakdown allowed their out-half to register the first three points of the game after 4 minutes of play.
Enniskillen countered with some aggressive running from the restart, however the Donegal team were very organised and closed down the Skins backs very quickly.
For the next ten minutes it was very close with neither team gaining any significant advantage however from the ten yard line the Letterkenny inside center ran an excellent angle and offloaded to allow his partner to score under the posts and the easy conversion brought the scoreline to ten points to nil.
This spurred Enniskillen to exert pressure through their forwards with No. eight Jamie Kelly leading the attack and combining with Connor Maguire and Diarmuid Scallon they drove Letterkenny into their 22 area where they infringed and the referee awarded a penalty, with quick thinking from scrum half Michael O’Hare a tap and go released wing forward Eoin Cleary who combined with winger Connor Kent to score close to the corner flag, leaving a very difficult conversion for Jarlaith Maguire who narrowly missed the kick leaving the score at ten points to five at the end of the first half.
The second period started and it was a case of deja vu as Letterkenny were awarded a penalty 35 yards out and their place kicker put in a tremendous effort, but the ball came off the post and the chasing Donegal backs were quicker to react and instead of a three point gain it was a seven point advantage that proved crucial and left the Fermanagh team needing two converted tries to win the game.
From the restart the Skins team continued to harry the receiver and from a knock on at the resulting scum Kelly gained ground and quick ball from the ruck was fed to Tyler Millar who scored to draw back five points, unfortunately the difficult conversion went wide leaving a deficit of seven points.
The Enniskillen pack’s domination allowed them to gain the upper hand both in the set piece and in the loose with front row team of Jenkins, Patton, Morris and replacement Dylan McKervey really putting their Letterkenney opponents under increasing pressure at the scrum and the back row dominating the loose play it seemed with fifteen minutes remaining that perhaps they might come back.
The Skins coaching team had encouraged the boys to continue using their forwards to punch holes in the Letterkenny lines and draw in the defenders thus allowing our speedy and powerful backs to exploit the wide spaces, this tactic proved productive after fifty five minutes when following three successive penalties the pack drove within ten metres of the Letterkenny line and again quick handling allowed young Millar to add a further five points and leave the scoreline at fifteen to seventeen, the conversion came agonizingly close but just fell short; the Donegal team then held onto the ball for the remaining few minutes and deservedly held on for the victory.
This was a game that both teams should be very proud to have been involved in, it was played in great spirit and clearly illustrates how sport in general and rugby in particular benefits young athletes, allowing them to develop both team spirit and friendships that can last a lifetime.
A big thank you from all at Enniskillen Rugby Club to everyone who have supported the youth teams this season.