I have had the privilege of photographing both these teams en route to the final and I think with the exception of Dromore these are the two sides that deserve their spot at Ravenhill tonight.
Enniskillen’s powerful scrum has been a potent weapon in dispatching opposition and Armagh have given an exhibition in fast open running rugby.
This had the potential to be almighty clash and it was!
The orchard county lads got us away lofting a kick towards the heavens into a fierce breeze blowing towards the Memorial End. It’s only seconds later Enniskillen scrum half, Nick Finlay, returns the favour hoisting a box kick deep into Armagh terrain. In the swirling wind the full back fumbles and the “Skins” have a scrum on the Armagh 22. The ball in, we witness just how good that pack is, propelling Armagh into reverse and forcing up the front row – something that would’ve repeated most of the evening. Penalty won, which is converted by out-half, John Maguire, into 3 points after 4 minutes and the Fermanagh men are in the lead, 3-0.
Armagh retaliate with a shot of their own, after they secure a penalty following some unspectacular yet effective phase play sees them advance to Enniskillen’s 22. The kick is accurate and Armagh’s number 10, Harry Boyd gets parity for his team, 3-3 after 8 minutes.
We finally get a look at the Armagh backs when a punt forward from Enniskillen is scooped up by Mervyn Brown, Armagh’s full back, and he blasts up the pitch swerving past several players before sliding a perfect pass to his supporting wing. It’s a shoo in try if he can catch the ball but he must just have glanced forward at the open pitch and beckoning try line as he drops the ball and the gilt edged chance goes a begging.
What a let off for Enniskillen as they regroup and head promptly back into the Armagh half where they earn another penalty after a high tackle. Maguire slots the ball between the uprights and Enniskillen are back in front 6-3.
It’s ding dong stuff as now Armagh are pressing and really putting Enniskillen under pressure. A line out won and through their hard grafting pack grind to within 5m from the try line. Now for some quick ball which scatters the defensive line and replacement flanker, Jonathan Agnew steam rollers over the line to score a try which Boyd converts. It’s 10-6 now to Armagh and they are in the ascendancy.
They keep their foot on Enniskillen’s throat pushing for another try before the break and it’s a relief for the Skins to hear the half time whistle without any further damage to the score line. Half time 10-6 to Armagh.
The second half is only 5 minutes old when Oliver Millar, Armagh’s second row strips the ball in a maul and hurtles down the wing displaying tremendous strength and pace to bomb over for his side’s second try which is superbly converted from the touch line by Boyd. 17-6 to Armagh.
It’s often said that the team that scores first in the second period usually wins and Enniskillen are staring down the barrel of defeat. Captain Gareth Beatty has a galactic job on his hands to keep his team in the contest.
The outcome of this game then hinged on a flash of temper as Armagh’s hooker, Jack Treanor, discharged his own physical justice to a prostrate Enniskillen player and the ref correctly sent him to cool off in the bin.
Now Enniskillen has the numerical advantage and used it immediately, Finlay slipping a delightful inside pass to a charging winger who placed the ball under the posts. Finlay added the extras and it’s game on at 17-13 in Armagh’s favour but the momentum has completely reversed and is now with Enniskillen.
With the captain Beatty urging his men on and self belief overflowing the Skins get back on the attack and again, after patient careful build up protecting the ball, Finlay pulls the trigger and thrusts the ball sideways to another rampaging back who draws his man before slipping the pass to his wing who finishes the move one handed with a try in the corner.
The Fermanagh contingent in the crowd roar with delight as their side take the lead although the conversion was missed. Now it’s 17-18 and only minutes left.
Enniskillen play keep ball with close quarter play and eventually win a scrum from which they collect the ball and boot it into touch for the final whistle to blow.
That was a breathtaking finish to a superb final. Both teams are to be congratulated on a hugely competitive game. It would be difficult to single out a player from Enniskillen for MOM as it really appeared a team effort but I think Nick Finlay had a huge game along with his captain Gareth Beatty.
Armagh will rue their indiscipline and lost chances but with the quality they have I’d not be surprised to see them back here next year.
Watch the video to see the post match celebrations – who knew that Enniskillen has their own Haka?
Full time: Armagh 17 Enniskillen 18
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