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Armagh look for home comfort in semis

 

By Ronnie Ingram

It wasn't an afternoon for exciting rugby and certainly not for tries as Armagh II and Carrickfergus battled through adverse conditions to reach the Millar, McCall, Wylie Junior Cup semi-finals.

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Armagh came from behind at Dromore to win 10-9 while Carrick eliminated Portadown 23-15 at Chambers Park. The other two quarter-finals, Instonians v Enniskillen and Grosvenor v Ballyclare, were postponed.

The tussle at Dromore was always going to be a tight affair in the wind and rain.

The visitors, realising tries would be few and far between, started strongly and scored theirs after only seven minutes. It came from open play with No8 James Morton gathering from the back of a ruck to offload to scrum-half David Spratt who dashed in for out-half Harry Boyd to convert.

Both teams kicked frequently hoping for mistakes under the high ball and Armagh started to concede needless penalties while Dromore had an excellent kicker in Lee Steenson to take advantage. The scrum-half kept his team in the tie with two difficult efforts to make the interval score 7-6.

Armagh's plan in the second period was to use the crosswind and attempt to keep their opponents inside their '22' but the home team were more than able to thwart any danger.

Dromore made ground with two penalties and a third infringement allowed them to snatch the lead with another magnificent Steenson penalty from close to halfway that just cleared the bar. They then had a great opportunity to increase the advantage when centre Graeme McCandless cut through and made 40 metres but with a 'two on one' situation the pass was dropped inside the '22'.

With 10 minutes left, Armagh captain John Faloon still felt his team would be given one last chance. He explained: "We were awarded a penalty from around halfway and play was taken up to the '22'. Following a few phases, Dromore were under pressure and offside at a ruck allowing Harry to add the points. The ref told me there were only five minutes left so we tried to keep possession. We forfeited another penalty in the last minute but were lucky when the kick into the corner was gathered by winger David Agnew who cleared the ball into touch.

"It was really a forwards' game and any time my fellow centre Stuart Lester or myself were in possession we acted like forwards and the wingers were left freezing with nothing to do. The pack played a big part with Harry Ferguson, a late replacement for Gareth McNeice, putting in a lot of work while Andrew Smyth dominated the line-outs.

"Overall it was tight and we gave away too many penalties which was inevitable in the conditions. Now we await the semi-final draw and a home tie would be great after being away to Ards, Randalstown and Dromore."

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