BANBRIDGE U19s had to come from behind twice before eventually overcoming a stout challenge from host club Portadown in the final of the Nutty Krust Floodlit Tournament.
After Bann out-half Macauley Little had seen an early penalty attempt drift wide, Portadown kicked themselves into a good attacking position after Bann had been penalised for holding on at the tackle. And the robust home pack made their strength tell as they mauled a lineout over the Bann line for the opening score, which centre Graham Currie did well to convert.
Three minutes later, Bann were level. Full-back Chris Watt collected a kick on the Portadown 10-metre line and found a gap in the defensive lines before linking with Neal Cochrane.
The prop was brought down 10 metres out, but Little was on hand to take the pop pass and ground the ball between the posts, adding the conversion for good measure.
Currie was short with a penalty attempt from 45 metres range in the 17th minute, but soon afterward,s another Bann infringement allowed the centre to set up another lineout close to the try line. And yet again, the home eight proved unstoppable from the maul, with Currie’s conversion again opening up a seven-point gap.
Bann had to work hard not to concede a third try from a similar scenario three minutes before the interval. When play moved to the home end, replacement hooker Peter Cromie burst through the attempted tackles of several defenders before off-loading to Kyle McConnell, with the lock’s impressive turn of pace taking him clear for a try under the posts. Little’s straightforward conversion saw the sides go into the break on level terms.
Centres Matthew McDonald and Adam Doherty and prop Thomas Carlisle were next off Bann’s impressive bench, and it was McDonald who caught the eye early in the second half with a couple of testing runs.
Little’s penalty effort from 30 metres failed to find the target, and despite dominating territorially, Bann were finding the home defence difficult to break down.
Portadown might well have regained the lead against the run of play, but left wing Adam Stirling chased back to take down his opposite number.
Then, with nine minutes remaining, a series of set-piece plays close to the Portadown line culminated in winger Kenny Wilshire evading a last-ditch tackle to touch down at the corner flag.
The failed conversion attempt still left Bann vulnerable to a breakaway, but further pressure on the home line forced the concession of a penalty in front of the posts. Little converted, and Bann comfortably saw out the two minutes remaining.
Ulster Branch President Robin Cole presented Bann skipper Ryan Dennison with the Nutty Krust Cup afterwards in the Chambers Park clubhouse, with Cromie picking up the man-of-the-match award.
TEAM: Chris Watt, Kenny Wiltshire, Ben Cross, Glenn Rowan, Adam Stirling, Macauley Little, Jason Gribbon, Lee Geddis, Timothy Savage, Neal Cochrane, Stuart Walker, Kyle McConnell, Richard Graham, Ryan Dennison, Adam Kelly. Replacements:- Peter Cromie, Thomas Carlisle, Alan Thompson, Josh Coyle, Matthew McDonald, Adam Doherty, Jonny Adams.