Banbridge U19s have ended their season on a high, retaining their U19 Cup with a 27-13 final victory over Ballynahinch at Ravenhill.
Hot favourites to hold on to the trophy they won last season, they made hard work of it after conceding two early tries but once they found their form, there was only going to be one winner.
“It was a slow start,” confessed forwards coach Marc Eadie, whose team’s match preparations at Ravenhill were heavily disrupted.
“Before the game, the team who were using our changing room before us had set alarms off and flooded it so we couldn’t get in for a while, then we were waiting for another game to finish and weren’t allowed out of the changing room until 20 minutes before kick-off. We have our usual pre-match routine, which we couldn’t do.
“To be fair, that was for both teams so it’s no excuse really.
“The boys seemed to be still stuck in the changing room for the first 10 minutes of the match too. We barely touched the ball and any time we did, we kicked it straight into the hands of their full-back, who was very good.
“We missed a couple of early penalties from Aaron Kennedy but then he kicked one and Ben Cross made a great run down the middle to set up his own try, which boosted confidence.
“Aaron somehow converted it from the touchline. I don’t know how he did it.
“Just before the break, we scored the best try I’ve ever seen. It went through six or seven hands before Richard Graham went over and after that, we knew we had it under control.
“The boys have done things like that all year. They just work so well as a team. It’s impossible to single anybody out. They all work so well together.
“Jason Gribben was all over the pitch and didn’t miss a tackle. Our captain Adam Kelly was everywhere as well.”
It’s a pleasing end to a season that hasn’t been without its disappointments for Bann, lows that they haven’t been accustomed to in their young trophy-laden careers.
“For most of the season, we were on a high, having won the league but then came the defeats in the All Ireland League and the Nutty Krust semi-final. Sometimes a couple of defeats can really focus the mind,” said Eadie,
“They certainly did that for us and the boys were definitely up for it on Saturday.”
The Cup victory brings to an end all but one of the squad’s junior rugby careers while Eadie and backs coach Willie Kirkwood are both taking a step back from the U19s.
For the players, it’s a stride forward to senior rugby and the chance to work alongside Banbridge legend Simon McKinstry, who will next season captain the club’s second team.
“We want to try and keep the U19s together as much as possible around Simon. He can teach them a thing or two before they move up to the first-team,” concluded Eadie.
For a full report on the final, see page 33.