Bangor move up with win against Omagh
A solid 19-5 win helped Bangor leapfrog Ulster rivals Omagh in the All Ireland League, and put them into contention for an all-important top four finish.
The atrocious weather conditions earlier in the week had threatened to upset this important fixture. However, the hard-working utilities team had done a great job in ensuring the pitch was playable and, with the sun finally breaking out, the scene was set for a hard game between old adversaries. As regards the team details, with Phil Whyte having undergone surgery on his knee following a bad injury against Sligo, Evan Wellard-McMillen took his place at prop, while David Bradford took on the role of captain, and will continue to do so for the remainder of the season. We wish Phil a full recovery and David the best of success for Bangor’s remaining AIL games. The only other notable change to the line-up was that of Max Montgomery, making his Bangor debut as a replacement hooker on the bench.
Bangor got the game underway, playing with a little wind advantage, as it blew diagonally across the pitch. From the outset, Bangor looked sharp, pressing forward at every opportunity and challenging successfully for ball when it ran loose. Once again, the Bangor forwards looked strong, and after just 9 minutes deservedly opened the scoring with a try from David Bradford following several phases of driving play. Mark Widdowson added the conversion to put the home side ahead by 7-0.
With Bangor keeping up these early attacks, Omagh were finding it hard to break out of their own half. This pressure soon produced a penalty with which Ross McCloskey found a good touch close to Omagh’s five metre line. From the lineout, the ball was secured and a rolling maul formed. Omagh dug in and to their credit didn’t pull it down. However, they were unable to prevent the Bangor drive continuing until Bradford again dropped over the line for his second try, which was again converted by Widdowson, bringing the score to 14-0 after 18 minutes.
This seemed to jolt Omagh into action, and there were several periods of attacking play that saw the visitors get close to the Bangor line, but this was met with determined defensive play that saw the danger repeatedly repelled. Omagh also declined a number of potentially kickable penalties in order to go for the more profitable try. However, Bangor successfully defended their line for the remainder of the first half, despite the loss of Lewis Stevenson to a yellow card towards the end of the half, for repeatedly straying offside.
Omagh started the second half knowing a quick score was needed to give them a chance of turning this game around. Good use of the wind saw them find touch close to Bangor’s five metre line. The lineout was a messy affair and the ball went to ground. From the ensuing ruck, the ball came back on the Omagh side and, while Bangor were still setting their defence, James Catterson nipped through a gap and crashed over for a try. The kick into the wind drifted well wide, making the score now 14-5 after just 3 minutes of the second half. From the restart, Bangor suffered their second yellow card when Desi Fusco inexplicably tackled an Omagh player without the ball. Now a man down again, Bangor concentrated on defence, but on several occasions failed to clear the danger and only succeeded in putting themselves under renewed pressure. However, a few minutes after Fusco’s return, Bangor began to work their way up-field through good line breaks from Mike Weir and solid drives from the forwards. As play passed Omagh’s ten metre line, scrum half Lewis Bret got the ball and set off on another of his characteristic jinking runs. Having cleared the immediate defenders, he saw that the route to the Omagh line was clear, and went for it. Despite the chasing defenders, Lewis cleared the line with a swallow dive to score. Although the difficult touchline conversion was missed, Bangor were now well ahead by 19-5 with just a quarter of the match remaining.
With three tries already under their belt, Bangor pushed hard for the fourth that would yield a valuable try-scoring bonus point. However, they were once again to be denied their best weapon as injuries to the Omagh front row resulted in the final 10 minutes being played with uncontested scrums. Despite this unfortunate development, Bangor battled hard, coming close to scoring from James Leary who was stopped less than a metre from the line, and Gareth Wright whose break down the left wing was covered by the Omagh defence and he was bundled into touch. However, Bangor also managed to close out any remaining Omagh attack, denying the visitors a losing bonus point, which was almost as important as earning one themselves. As the final whistle came, Bangor celebrated an important victory that sees them move ahead of Omagh and into the top four in the league.
In contrast to the lack-lustre display against QUB last weekend, this was an excellent Bangor performance where every player stepped up for the team. Bangor’s next All Ireland League fixture is away to Bective Rangers in three weeks’ time, following a rest week and another match against Omagh at Upritchard Park on 13th January in the SONI Premiership.