Congratulations from InTouch Rugby:
Saturday saw Armagh entertain Cooke at the Palace Grounds for the final league fixture in the 2010-2011 season. The points situation was that if Armagh won or even drew the game they would be league champions and gain promotion into All Ireland senior rugby.
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Ever since a narrow defeat at the hands of Sligo in 1997 saw Armagh relegated into the Qualifying League. As is often the case, once a team experiences relegation it is very difficult to regain the momentum to re-establish a return to former status. Armagh even went down to qualifying league 2 for two seasons where they experienced many tough battles before they were able to regroup and with concerted efforts both on and off the pitch made their way back up the leagues. For many seasons Armagh had ended up in second position in the league battles.
From 2006-7 saw them travel to City of Derry to lose out 31-13 in a crunching play off. Then it was Portadown who took the honours in 2008. Season 2009-10 saw City of Derry back in the frame and gain promotion at Armagh’s expense. That season also saw the cruellest of blows when the last kick of the game saw Derry grab the all Ireland Junior Cup from Armagh. Somehow this time it was going to be different! The league deciding game was at home and Armagh had just played and won the toughest of games mid week when they beat Clogher. The feeling was throughout the club ‘if they can beat Clogher then they can beat Cooke’
The game kicked off after both teams observed a minute’s silence in respect of the recent death of Ian McCall’s mother and Gary Bell’s Mother in law.
The conditions were perfect and almost immediately after the kick-off Cooke were penalised when their forwards strayed off side. Steenson’s kick was successful and Armagh went 3-0 ahead. A further penalty was successful to bring the score to 6-0. Of the two teams Armagh always looked the sharper and seemed the hungrier. The home pack seemed able to bully the much heavier Belfast forwards off the set pieces at will. The first quarter of the game was played entirely in the Cooke half. This pressure was rewarded with a fine try in the right wing when Andrew Willis out paced his opposite number. The conversion put Armagh in a strong position with a 13-0 lead. After the restart Cooke managed to get into the Armagh 22 but a beautiful diagonal clearance kick from Armagh’s Adam Gowing sent Cooke right back into their own 22. The half ended with Cooke gaining a penalty which was kicked to bring the score to 13-3.
The second half started off well for Armagh when Stewart Lambe forced his way across the Cooke line and touched down. The conversion went wide to put the score at 18-3. The last quarter of the game was a tense scene as the enormous crowd sensed that this time Armagh were good enough to win this game and gain their promotion ambition. Just as the supporters were savouring the moment Cooke scored a try in the left corner. With the successful conversion the score now read 18-10. The visitors would have to score at least twice to win the game. With only six minutes left on the clock Armagh were awarded a penalty in front of the Cooke posts which Steenson slotted over to put the score at 21-10. Just to finish the afternoon off with a bang Armagh’s centre Andy Holmes burst through the flagging Cooke defence and touched down a fine try and Johnny Steenson rounded the score off at a very respectable 28-10.
A fine end to a fine season which saw Armagh play some beautiful rugby. To win the league and to gain promotion means that Armagh have got to change up a gear in the sense that they are now competing in a much bigger arena but if they can succeed playing with the confidence they showed this season there is no reason they cannot progress on to greater things in season 2011-12