Letterkenny edged this hard-fought contest as the two heavyweights of Kukri Qualifying 3 battled out the Gordon West Final in 100 minutes of pulsating rugby. With neither side prepared to admit defeat the game went down to the closing seconds of extra time with the Donegal side holding on to claim the win by 20 points to 18.
Letterkenny started the game strongly coming out on top in the opening exchanges. An early penalty by wing Brian Peoples edged them into the lead and things looked ominous for Larne when the Donegal side mauled their way up field for, impressive centre, Andrew Gibson to cross the line for an unconverted try taking the score to 8 – 0.
Larne eventually worked out how to counter the driving maul and gradually began to get on top but crucially failed to take advantage, with a couple of penalty chances going wide, but the bulk of the game was now being played in the Letterkenny half.
Larne wings Gary Mills and Rhys Thomas came into the game with some surging breaks and the Larne scrum began to get on top in the set piece with veteran Danny Hagan particularly destructive. The Glynn outfit eventually got their reward after a series of powerful scrums close to the Letterkenny line left the referee with no option but to award a penalty try. Out half Ryan Garrett added the extras and it was a one point game at the break with Letterkenny leading 8 – 7.
The Antrim side had a couple of opportunities to go into the lead in a tense third quarter but Letterkenny defended doggedly. No. 8 James McCluggage made the line only to be turned at the last minute. Larne eventually slipped into the lead when Garret slotted over a couple of penalties in quick succession to give Larne a 13 – 8 advantage going into the final quarter.
Larne looked comfortable and going into the last five minutes it looked as though the trophy would be heading east. However Letterkenny had other ideas and showing great composure moved the ball up to the Larne line, having started from just outside their own 22, in a series of well executed pick and drives consisting of over 20 phases of play. With two minutes on the clock wing forward Mark Timoney crossed for the try leaving Peoples a conversion from wide to take the game. The conversion was missed and the game went into extra time.
Letterkenny continued to keep things tight and with the scrums now unopposed, with Letterkenny unable to field two props, Larne had lost a huge advantage. Things got worse for the Glynn outfit when talismanic winger Gary Mills was carded half way through the first period of extra time and the game took a huge swing in Letterkenny’s favour.
The inevitable happened and after a period of pressure on the Larne line Letterkenny wing forward Liam McGlynn forced his way over the line for a try close to the posts. Peoples added the extras and Letterkenny lead 20 -13.
Mills returned to the pitch with 5 minutes left and Larne pushed themselves for one last effort. With minutes to go scrum half Ricky McIlheron spotted space out wide and broke for the line roared on by the Larne support. Crashing over he had the composure to work the ball closer to the posts to make the conversion easier but the Letterkenny defence kept him wide leaving a difficult chance for Garrett to level the game.
Unfortunately for the Larne youngster his effort went wide and Letterkenny took the game 20 -18.
Larne: Stephen Marshall, Gary Mills, Mark Magill, Steve Knox, Rhys Thomas, Ryan Garrett, Ricky McIlheron, James McCluggage, Mark McIlheron, Eddie Hunter, Johnny McFetridge, Danny Garsten Mark McMullen, Craig Gibson, Danny Hagans, Gary Knox, Jonny McKinty, Matt Agnew, Ricky Adair, Andy Darragh.
Letterkenny: James McNicholl, John Anthony McFadden, Jason Daly, Andrew Gibson, Brian Peoples, Boyd Robinson, Damien Williamson, Mark Scott, Liam McGlynn, Mark Timoney, Conor Dunleavy, Shaun Dunleavy, Raphael Clarke, Jamie Boyle, Rory McGonagle, Kevin Durran, Brian Tague, Philip Robinson, Anthony McBride, Joseph O’Donnell.