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Schools' Cup comment: Cauldron of noise and colour set the tone for an absorbing contest


Force: Armagh’s Matthew Reaney is closed down by Tobi Olaniyan
Force: Armagh’s Matthew Reaney is closed down by Tobi Olaniyan

By Michael Sadlier

As you would have expected, the atmosphere crackled with intensity and emotion both on and off the Kingspan Stadium pitch.

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The romance of the old competition had demanded that Royal School Armagh should take ownership of the Schools' Cup again, if nothing else to break Belfast's dominance but then also to mark their first appearance back in the final since 2004 when then skipper John McCall celebrated their victory just a short time before the tragedy of his sudden death in South Africa.

But such hopes were dashed against the rock of Campbell College's pragmatism and ability to get the scoreboard ticking along at key moments in the contest.

And though Campbell - overseen by long-standing coach Brian Robinson and Neil Doak, who is bound for the professional game again with Worcester Warriors next season - made off with the spoils, this was a close enough thing with the Belfast school's excellence in defence also ensuring that the trophy made its way to the Belmont Road for the first time since 2011.

In fairness, though, they did score the game's best try when winger Will Davis's dazzling footwork sealed the deal late on.

And that was hard on the Royal School, with coach Willie Faloon having been part of the 2004 team, as in centre Matthew Reaney they had the one player who could open up Campbell's defence.

They had come close to scoring tries on several occasions only to be met by a well organised and focused black-shirted wall which refused to yield until the last minute of the game when Ben Lavery's score was simply about gaining some pride from defeat.

But the team led by John McKee just had that little bit extra, plus a considerable stroke of good fortune when full-back Conor Rankin got on the end of a rebounded Armagh kick with a very lucky bounce seeing it land in his hands without having to break stride.

That moment came in the 49th minute and Rankin's added conversion put Campbell 12-3 to the good.

Still, Armagh came back, their impressive ball-carriers Ryan O'Neill, Jack Chapman and skipper Jack Treanor doing good work along with Reaney's incursions, though they opted to kick a 53rd minute penalty - when 12-3 down - instead of going for the corner or just tapping and going as they were under the sticks.

At that point, the Royal School supporters, gathered at the war memorial end, upped the volume as the game seemed to be swinging their way. But it wasn't to be.

They had assembled good and early too and the drums and chanting were in fine form while, at the other end, the massed ranks of black found their seats somewhat later, the trip from east Belfast being considerably shorter, but met Armagh's noise with equal ferocity and cries of 'come on you boys in black'.

Indeed, the support was the most notable aspect of a first half in which there was no score until the final play.

The Royal School had done much of the early work only for Campbell to resist and an exceedingly tense opening half ended with Dara Gaskin surging over with that last play for a 5-0 lead when against the wind.

It looked pivotal in such a tight contest.

Even though former Royal School pupil Tommy Bowe won the 'keepy-uppy' contest at half-time, that didn't translate into what unfolded on the pitch.

Zac Thompson's first penalty narrowed Campbell's lead to two points but then came Rankin's piece of good fortune though Davis's try was a finish worthy of earning the glory for Campbell.

Belfast Telegraph


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