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Methody live up to their billing with whirlwind display

Campbell 17 Methody 45

Strong shout: Delight for Methody after Thomas Armstrong goes over
Strong shout: Delight for Methody after Thomas Armstrong goes over
Thomas Armstrong
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

A devastating second-half performance from Methody at Kingspan Stadium yesterday brought the Danske Bank Schools' Cup back to south Belfast for the first time since 2014.

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Overwhelming favourites for the title all season, they more than lived up to billing with a performance the like of which hadn't been seen at this stage of the competition for quite some time.

Inventive and incisive throughout, the youngsters confidently executed the gameplan put in place for them, wearing down their opponents through hard-carrying forward play before establishing their dominance on the scoreboard thanks to some entertaining and fleet-footed rugby.

Last season's champions Campbell College stuck to their task manfully throughout, but there likely isn't any side at this level who could have lived with Nicky Wells' boys at their rampant best. Indeed, ultimately their points tally was the most in a final for some 21 years.

In all, they ran in seven tries, five of them converted by Ethan McIlroy, with five of them coming after the turn when a potent backline ran riot.

Out-half Thomas Armstong bagged himself a brace to cap off a memorable personal performance, while Max Lyttle, Ben Gourley, Callum Davidson, David Boden and Tom Millar all went over the whitewash too.

"We're a very determined year group," said captain Kevin McNaboe, who carried strongly throughout.

"Especially with having 13 upper sixths. We didn't fulfil our potential at Medallion, then a final defeat as fifth years, a semi-final last year, so the boys were really pumped up for this one.

"There's nothing better than doing it with 15 of your best mates. We're a tight-knit squad and I think that does help. Doing stuff with each other after school, doing stuff together at weekends, it does help and it was great to get the reward.

"Seeing (past captains) Mikey Lagan, Rory Winters, Ross Kane lifting the trophy in 2012, '13, '14, we've always been thinking that could be us one day and it's great to see it happen."

Campbell have proven to be a resolute defensive outfit throughout both this year and last, but as the heavy rain eased just prior to kick-off, it played into the hands of opponents, who boasted a host of playmakers who all looked comfortable with ball in hand.

With such speed out wide, they were always likely to pose a real threat on the counter and indeed it was full-back McIlroy who made the first darting break.

The favourites were piling on all the early pressure, going for the corner rather than the posts with the first few penalty attempts.

And for all the attacking talent in their ranks, it was from the lineout that they opened the scoring.

With 10 minutes on the clock, hooker Daniel Humphreys hit athletic jumper David Boden and, while the first few drives at the line were stopped short, Ben Gourley muscled his way through the crowd to force the ball down onto the line.

With McIlroy adding a fine conversion, it was an early 7-0 lead.

Campbell were back at Kingspan Stadium thanks to a clinical win over Royal School Armagh in the semi-finals and once again here they were showing a real professional edge when it came to making the most of their chances.

A penalty for offside gave Rankin the opportunity to find a great touch in the corner and, in what was a devastating maul, hooker Harry Jackson found a nice seam in behind John Gildea and Tobi Olaniyan to motor across the whitewash.

Then, only a couple of minutes later from a well-constructed line-out move, Ollie Ralston put Harry Owens though a gap with a delightful inside pop pass, with Owens in turn releasing his centre partner Rex Tinsley.

Tom O'Doherty got back to make the tackle, but play was called back for a penalty and a yellow card to McIlroy for his tackle in the build-up.

Rankin made no mistake off the tee.

Methody made light of the man disadvantage, though, and were on the attack for most of his eight minutes in the sin bin.

When back to a full complement, they called for a scrum after being awarded a penalty five metres out. Skipper McNaboe's break off the base was contained but lock Max Lyttle joined his second-row partner Gourley on the scoresheet with a strong finish.

Campbell almost retook the lead right before the half but Methody withstood one more rolling maul in the last action of the first 35 minutes.

And that piece of resistance loomed large just 30 seconds after the break.

The impressive McNaboe carried strongly off the restart, with Lyttle also making good ground. But it was Thomas Armstrong and Robbie Armstrong who exchanged passes back and forth to set the former racing underneath the posts for a dream start to the second-half.

With McIlroy converting, Methody's lead was all of a sudden 11 points.

Just a tick under 10 minutes later and they seemingly made things safe with a nice piece of sniping around the fringes from scrum-half Callum Davidson to make it a three-score game.

Campbell got one back almost immediately when Jack Stinson charged down a kick and gathered the loose ball well. Keeping their heads and showing some patience, it wasn't long before Dara Gaskin slipped between two tacklers to reduce the arrears.

Rankin's conversion made it a nine-point contest with 20 minutes still to play.

Methody's talented backline were really cutting loose though, looking dangerous every time they attacked and putting together some intricate passes.

When the next try came, however, it could hardly have been more simple.

With Campbell having to clear the ball into touch off a probing grubber in behind, as the boys in black organised themselves for the lineout, Humphreys went quick, throwing the ball five metres and not an inch more to Boden, who had no problems providing the finish from close range.

With both sides going to the bench, and Campbell taking their turn at playing with 14 after a yellow card, replacement Tom Millar was next over the line after finishing a maul.

A now rampant Methody saved the best for last, going the length from the restart, with speedster Chris Larmour flying up the touchline and giving it to Thomas Armstrong.

The ten had plenty left to do for his second score but a slick show and go opened it up for him.

CAMPBELL COLLEGE: C Rankin; K Harkness-Robertson, R Tinsley (capt), Harry Owens, D Williamson; O Ralston, D Gaskin; J Gildea, H Jackson, P McAlpine; K Gill, J Stinson; J Johnston, B Rainey, T Olaniyan.

Replacements: J Boal, L Collins, M Poor, C McCauley, J Brennan, H Bell, F Parkes, H Minford.

METHODIST COLLEGE BELFAST: E McIlroy; T O'Doherty, R Armstrong, J Fletcher, C Larmour; T Armstrong, C Davidson; B Crangle, D Humphreys, M Hunter; M Lyttle, B Gourley; D Boden, A Reid, K McNaboe (capt).

Replacements: J Watson, P Johnston, D Dougan, A Simms, T Millar, L Simms, L Graham, L Millar.

Referee: Dan Carson

Star man: Thomas Armstrong (Methody)

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