Ballyclare 1st XV 3

Enniskillen 1st XV 23

Enniskillen produced a dominant display away to Ballyclare on Saturday to secure their place in the Junior Cup final.

The sides had met in last season’s Towns’ Cup final in which Skins won although Ballyclare travelled to Mullaghmeen and took the spoils in a recent league clash but Skins got on top right from the off on Saturday to deservedly take their place in the final at Kingspan Stadium against City of Armagh II.

Skins coach Stevie Welsh was delighted with his side’s display on the day.

“We had asked the boys for an 80 minute performance and they really delivered. Ballyclare are a really good side but the boys controlled it from the start and we never looked like losing,” he commented.

It has been a tough journey to the final for Skins and Welsh says they are now looking forward to another run out Kingspan Stadium.

“We’ve had a really tough run in the cup, every game has been away from home so it hasn’t been easy but the boys had set their goals at the start of the season and this was one of them and we are looking forward to another final at Kingspan,” he stated.

He knows though that they will face a difficult test against Armagh.

“Armagh are a really good club and along with Ballynahinch are possibly the blueprint for clubs in Ulster. In terms of their seconds, I don’t know much about them but they are sure to be a good side and we’ll be expecting a tough game,” he added.

Skins travelled to Cloughan with the hope of booking their first Junior Cup final since the 1980s and they did not disappoint as they orchestrated a masterclass.

The scrum was a massive factor in the victory as the front row of Warrington, Cathcart and man of the match Gareth Beatty, consistently punished their opposite pack and claimed multiple penalties on the day, giving Maguire plenty of kicks at goal and leaving the home side often trapped in their own half.

Flawless defence and tenacious tackling was the other element that kept ‘Clare at bay, shutting down a dangerous backline and forcing errors from a usually clinical side.

It was Skins defensive pressure that yielded their two tries of the day.

A long range Conor Hoy try early in the first half following a ‘Clare handling error was compounded by a second half score from James Carleton who broke off the back of a stolen put in at the scrum.

Ballyclare started the contest well, capturing their own kick off and making good inroads into the Skins half, David Buchanan putting in some tremendous work to slow down the ‘Clare onslaught.

The Skins defence forced a knock on and Skins wasted no time easing their way into the contest as the resultant scrum saw a devastating drive from the Enniskillen pack to earn an early penalty to bring play down into the Ballyclare half.

A huge maul gained further yards and an offside penalty allowed John Maguire to claim first blood with a kick at goal, 0-3 to the visitors.

Ballyclare again came back at Skins and their attack looked plenty threatening but Enniskillen’s centre pairing of Jack Harte and Himi Manuel terrorised their opposition in defence and forced an early poor pass from the home side that was scooped up by Conor Hoy who ran in a try from his own half, Maguire converting to take a 0-10 lead.

Things continued in Enniskillen’s favour as their formidable looking maul was collapsed illegally and Ballyclare saw a yellow card for their efforts. Skins failed to capitalise during this spell however with a couple of malfunctioning line outs deep in the ‘Clare half and the score remained 0-10 as full numbers resumed.

An excellent Nick Finlay kick in behind had the Ballyclare fullback scrambling near his line but an excellent chase and follow up hit was deemed high, giving Ballyclare some relief and putting an Enniskillen man in the bin for 10 minutes.

Thankfully the Skins scrum continued to give them the foothold in the game, another scrum penalty allowing Maguire to extend the lead 0-13 at half time.

Ballyclare started the second half well again after collecting the restart and Skins gave away a penalty within range to allow the home side a kick at goal to get some points on the board, 3-13.

Ballyclare had some ball in hand now and showed their attacking ability but any hope for a resurgence was quickly shut down by Enniskillen.

After a Skins knock on Ballyclare had the put in from inside their own half but a huge Skins shove drove the home side off the ball and James Carleton at number eight showed excellent skill to gather the ball and sprint for the try line, shrugging off straggling defenders to just score over the line, converted once again to lead 3-20.

From the restart Enniskillen exited well and the long punt downfield was not cleanly picked up giving the visitors an attacking scrum in nearly the same position they were in only minutes before.

The scrum did as it did all afternoon and sent Ballyclare into reverse. Maguire’s boot was called into action and his 100 per cent record was maintained.

Now 23-3 and with only a quarter of the match remaining Ballyclare threw everything at Enniskillen and were only centimetres from scoring a try only to be denied by outstanding determined defence. Ball held up on the try line that authoritative Enniskillen scrum got them out of jail again and the line was cleared from the resultant penalty.

The match finished in the dimming light with Ballyclare battering the Enniskillen line but the impressive vocal Finlay coerced his players into guarding the score and full time saw it stay at 23-3 to Enniskillen.

It was a spectacularly determined performance from Enniskillen to mark yet another memorable win for the side only a few months into the season.

The victory earns them a Junior Cup final on Tuesday January 7 back at Kingspan Stadium where they lifted the Towns’ Cup back in April.

They are set to play in form side City of Armagh 2nd XV for what would be their first ever Junior Cup victory.

Focus now returns to the league for Welsh and his Enniskillen players and he says they can look forward in confidence with Carrickfergus the visitors to Mullaghmeen on Saturday.

“This will give us good confidence moving forward in the league and hopefully we can maintain the good form that we have shown in recent games,” he stated.