Portadown keep cool to seal late win
Portadown advanced to the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Junior Cup thanks to a narrow victory over Dundalk at Chambers Park on Saturday afternoon.
Tries from Ryan Calvert and Ollie Montels had put the home side into a 12-3 lead half-time but, after a trio of penalties from Ultan Murphy brought Dundalk level, a late penalty from Barry Gribben was required to seal the victory.
Mark Neilly, captain for the day in the absence of injured Jonny Holden, praised the fortitude shown by his team-mates in the closing stages having let the visitors back in.
The influential prop said: "Dundalk definitely brought it to us in the second-half after we had the upper hand in the first, but we know within this team we have a lot of character.
"We've been together three years now and we've developed a lot of maturity, so when they got it back to 12-12 our heads didn't go down and we came through."
No Ulster side has won the competition since City of Derry, a club now well-established in the senior ranks, back in 2010 but with Clogher Valley also advancing on Saturday, there is real optimism that this year's winner could come from the province and Neilly believes that such a victory would represent real progress.
"This club has been down to the lowest it's ever been and we're building back up now so it would be massive if we could win this competition and show that we're getting Portadown back to where it belongs in Ulster rugby," he added.
With both sides sitting second in their respective provincial leagues, the pair appeared evenly matched coming into the contest and so it proved in the opening quarter with neither giving the opposition any point-scoring opportunities.
With 26 minutes on the clock, Portadown full-back Ryan Calvert made an ambitious break and when his grubber kick was gathered by Thomas Campbell, Dundalk appeared set to clear.
However, when the ball came slowly out of the ruck, Calvert was able to charge down the attempted clearance kick and gather to touch down.
The game was proving to be an attritional contest and, after Diarmuid O'Kane had done well to continue after picking up a knock, Dundalk's James McConon was forced from the field due to injury.
Murphy, who kicked all of his side's points in the victory over Donaghadee in the previous round, reduced the arrears with a penalty but Portadown would add a second try just before the turn.
Another run from Calvert advanced the ball before David Whitten's offload just as he went to ground found O'Kane.
The flanker produced a typically expansive pass that found Montels, returning to the side after a lengthy absence through injury, who was able to break through one tackle and power over in the corner.
Gribben saw his conversion attempt strike the inside of the post but take a fortunate bounce over the crossbar to leave Portadown nine points to the good at half-time.
Eight minutes after the restart, the scrum-half had another kick to extend the lead but the ball fell from the tee just as he went to strike.
That misfortune looked as if it may prove costly when two quick penalties from Murphy brought Dundalk within three points and then, with Whitten off the field having received a yellow card, brought the scores level after Portadown were whistled for being off their feet at a ruck.
The game remained deadlocked for almost a quarter of an hour but after the home pack earned a penalty at the scrum with 10 minutes remaining, Gribben kicked his side into the lead again.
There were a number of further scares but the Ports tight five excelled themselves in two separate scrums to ensure their side would advance.