|Clogher Valley 1st XV
||6 - 8
||Enniskillen 1st XV
Clogher Valley RFC 1st XV 6
Enniskillen RFC 1st XV 8
It was a historic day for Enniskillen Rugby Club on Saturday as both the 1st and 2nd XV secured cup finals in Kingspan Stadium. The 1st XV exorcised some old demons from their town’s cup final defeat to Clogher Valley back in 2007 with an extraordinary battle to overcome the hugely successful cup side 8-6.
The intensity was evident from the start with neither team yielding an inch and the two forward packs competing doggedly for possession. The breakdown was pivotal with Valley achieving an early penalty for holding on at the ruck to clear their lines, before Jack Harte soon earned a similar penalty for Enniskillen to give them a line out deep in the Valley half. Clogher took this pressure well and then intercepted the ball leading to a lengthy break by Keith Todd to put Skins on the back foot, but dealt with well by fullback James Ferguson and put to touch. The visitors dealt with the Valley maul well but it was deemed illegally so, and this allowed out half Holmes to put the home side 3-0 up.
Skins were relentless from the restart, Holden and Lee smothering the receiver in an attempt to hold them up as the Valley pack tried to form the maul, proving successful and setting up an Enniskillen scrum. The resultant dominant drive from the front row of Warrington, Cathcart and Fox built a great platform for the backs and the ball found Mattie Maguire who carved through the defenders and popped to James Ferguson for the only try of the game, unconverted by Lendrum to leave Enniskillen leading 5-3.
Skins continued to make good ground through the forwards and forced another penalty to set up a line out deep in the oppositon half, but some good disruption from Clogher made life difficult for Enniskillen, winning turn over ball and working their way back up to the Skins 22 metre line. The defence of the infamous Valley maul was well executed by Enniskillen and David Buchanan got hands on ball for the turn over, allowing Lendrum to kick clear and end a potentially damaging attack from Clogher.
Much of the next 20 minutes was played in midfield with neither team yielding an inch and impenetrable defence coming from both sides. An Enniskillen line out inside the Clogher 22 metre line almost ended in a try when, following some good yards from the maul, the ball found Mark O’Shea out wide who broke the line and was just taken down short of the try line with some good scramble defence from the home side. Clogher responded well and were soon back in the Skins half and bombarding the resilient Enniskillen defence yet again. The pressure wrought rewards forcing an eventual penalty at the ruck, allowing Holmes to put the home side back in the lead 6-5.
It was great defence from both sides for the rest of the half, Johnston and Harte in the back row making some key tackles. An Enniskillen scrum just inside Valley’s half went wide to Zach Charlton who made a break down the side line mere metres from the try line but the pass inside to Nick Finlay failed to go to hand and the half ended with the home side still leading 6-5.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first as both teams traded blows in equal measure. Valley found some space out wide off the line out and some drift defence was required from Enniskillen to take down Keith Todd sprinting up to inside the Enniskillen 22. Enniskillen built some pressure in the Valley half but home side Captain David Sharkey did well to disrupt the opposition line out. Gareth Beatty made a welcome return to tight head prop mid second half and his first scrum featured a huge drive that caused havoc at the back of the Valley scrum, consequently turning over ball for Skins; the ensuing carry from Alan Wilkinson forced a breakdown infringement from Valley and Lendrum slotted the points to put Enniskillen back in the lead 8-6.
It was an excruciating 20 minutes for the Skins support to watch as tired bodies sought to maintain the lead with a Herculean effort as Clogher tried to find a gap in the Skins defence. The fresh legs of John Courtney and Michael Cadden into the back row was well timed and their added energy may have been pivotal. The scrum contest continued to ebb in Skins’ favour, gaining another penalty to relieve the pressure building from the Clogher attack. The home side asserted themselves in the Skins half now and were awarded the penalty when Enniskillen were deemed to be offside at the maul; fortunately for Skins the resultant kick drifted wide of the uprights. A long period of tenacious defence from Enniskillen ended with an alleged late tackle and Clogher kicked to touch putting them back within scoring distance. Another ruck infringement from Enniskillen gave Clogher a further chance to take the lead but, much to Skins’ relief, the kick again drifted wide.
With 5 minutes to go Enniskillen were pinned back on their own 5 metre line defending repeated Valley mauls furiously; relief eventually coming when Kaine Holden read the line out successfully to steal the Valley throw, allowing Lendrum a huge clearance. Eventually setting up a lineout inside the Clogher 22 metre line Skins continued to carry ball at the opposition in the dying minutes and were awarded the penalty for a ruck infringement as Clogher tried desperately to reclaim the ball. Lendrum opted to kick for points in an unsuccessful penalty attempt that proved to be irrelevant, the referee blowing for full time as the ball sailed wide of the uprights, triggering spectacular celebrations from the Enniskillen players and support.
The 1st XV will have to refocus their attentions now back to the league where they still compete for promotion, facing league leaders Carrick this Saturday away. One eye will, however, inevitably be looking towards Kingspan Stadium on Easter Monday where they face stern opposition in the form of Qualifying One league leaders Bangor RFC, who stand in the way of Skins winning their first Town’s Cup since 1937.
Coach Norman Richmond was clearly proud of his players and the determination displayed throughout, while also vocal about their status as severe underdogs for the final being not quite as deserved as would be believed.
"This game was played with the intensity that was expected for the 80 minutes. We had our opportunities as did Clogher Valley but this time we had the rub of the green. Strong tackling from both sides ensured that the score line was always going to be marginal but on the day we edged it and I believe deservedly so from the overall performance of the squad of players assembled.
"This team’s self-belief should not be questioned, they have grown in stature over the last 2 seasons and, whilst Bangor’s form will offer us a stiff challenge and we will be viewed by most pundits as the complete underdogs going into the game, we needn’t fear them; it’s a Cup Final and another 80 minutes of rugby.
"Focus now returns to the league this week and we need to maintain our momentum as we aim to close the difference between ourselves, Carrick the League leaders, and Coleraine who are in second place. We’ve 2 games in hand on both teams and this should come down to the wire as it would be a fantastic season for both the Club and the players should we earn promotion back into Qualifying One rugby.”