Early Omagh blitz sinks Bangor
By Roger Corbett
Two quick tries by Omagh in the opening 10 minutes proved too much for Bangor as they slipped to a narrow 25-18 defeat.
Omagh completed a clean sweep of results against Bangor in both the All Ireland League and SONI Premiership with their third win in a row, although once again it was a close affair most notable for Bangor's failings rather than Omagh's performance. With both sides fielding strong sides and having had the luxury of two weeks' rest, neither would have any excuse for not performing as expected. This was an important fixture as Omagh wanted to continue their steady progress up the league table while Bangor needed a good result to move them into a more comfortable mid-table position.
Unlike the earlier fixture between these two sides where conditions were particularly challenging, this game was played in calm and clear weather, with no particular advantage to either side. Omagh's kick off was well taken by Bangor who moved play back into the home side's half, only to suffer an early knock-on. From this opening scrum, it was obvious that the Bangor pack would demonstrate its dominance in this area, pushing their opponents back on their own ball. However, it must be said that while the Omagh pack was found wanting in terms of power and technique, their number 8 showed remarkable skill in being able to gather the ball despite being driven backwards. It was this skill that perhaps surprised Bangor as they didn't anticipate their opponents winning the ball so quickly or cleanly. As the number 8 broke clear, he released his back division who simply ran through a static Bangor defence before scoring in the right hand corner. The difficult conversion was missed, but Omagh were 5 points ahead with only 2 minutes on the clock.
Not the best start for Bangor, but equally not the end of the world. At least that's what they thought as they worked their way back upfield into the Omagh twenty two within minutes of the restart. However, a turnover saw Omagh win the ball back and then repeat their earlier backline move which showed great dexterity in both passing and off-loads. Having counter-attacked their way back into Bangor's twenty two, a clever cross field kick into space was picked up by the chasing winger who ran through to score beside the Bangor posts. This time the conversion was good, and Bangor were now 12-0 down, with just 6 minutes played.
The sizable contingent of Bangor supporters who had made the journey were now fearing the worst, but thankfully the players had other ideas. Dogged determination from the restart saw Bangor quickly regain possession and, after a number of phases, the ball came to Lewis Stevenson who broke through the centre. As he was tackled just outside the Omagh twenty two, he managed to pass the ball left to Mark Widdowson on the wing. Despite the efforts of the Omagh full back, Widdowson's strength and pace saw him round the defender and touchdown in the left hand corner. Liam Preston's conversion attempt from the touchline didn't find the target, but Bangor had responded quickly and were on the scoreboard at 12-5.
Bangor kept up their pressure and produced more good attacking moves through Widdowson again, and captain David Bradford, the latter winning a penalty in front of the Omagh posts which Preston duly converted to narrow the scores even further at 12-8.
With all this action happening in the opening 15 minutes, it's little wonder things started to calm down as both sides started to appreciate and adapt to their opposite numbers' strengths. For the remainder of the first half, the game see-sawed between the sides, with Omagh's backs causing Bangor repeated problems in coping with their quick, confident and accurate handling. However, it looked like the sides would turn around at half time with the scores remaining at 12-8. That is, until another searing Omagh break once again caught Bangor chasing shadows, and resulted in another try for them in the left hand corner. An excellent kick from the touchline added the conversion putting Omagh ahead with an arguably flattering score of 19-8 at half time.
From Bangor's restart, Omagh once again produced another quick blitz that stretched their lead even further. A penalty in front of Bangor's posts within the first 2 minutes was simply converted to take the score to 22-5, then just 4 minutes later, a strange refereeing decision not only resulted in another penalty for Omagh, but also resulted in a yellow card for Curtis Stewart who was judged to be in an offside position. Bangor suffered not only confusion from this call, but also went a further 3 points behind as the straightforward kick was converted.
At 25-8 down, and once again suffering from some unusual decisions from the man in the middle Bangor's prospects were not looking good. However, there was still plenty of time to conjure up another of their fight backs and, as play progressed, it looked like it was the visitors who seemed to be making most of the running. Bangor's cause was helped slightly by a yellow card for Omagh following a high tackle. With Omagh now feeding off scraps, strong runs by Nathan Graham, Phil Broderick, Curtis Stewart and Mark Widdowson saw the home side constrained to defence duties, with little meaningful attacks into Bangor territory. Eventually, Bangor's forward pressure saw wave upon wave of drives on the Omagh goal line. With patience, they inched forward before Stewart made the final move which saw him touch down beside the Omagh posts. With Preston adding the conversion, Bangor were now within striking distance at 25-15, and with the final quarter still to play.
The Omagh supporters urged their players on, but their cheers were limited to good defence play rather than pressing forward for their bonus point try. In fact, it was Bangor who were throwing everything to attack. A break by Nathan Graham down the right wing saw him chip over the advancing defence, hoping to use his pace to run onto the ball and go through for the score. However, such was Bangor's day that the bounce denied him as it bobbled into touch before he could reach it. Bangor's frustration continued to grow as their pack continued to make its presence felt in the scrums. Another emphatic scrum on Omagh's put-in, saw the Bangor front row completely overpower its opposite number, causing it to stand up. Expecting the penalty to go their way, they were both surprised and frustrated to discover that the referee saw it differently. Although Omagh used the penalty to clear their lines , Bangor simply ran back and picked off where they were, eventually winning a penalty following an Omagh player killing the ball on the ground. Preston stepped up and successfully kicked the points, making the score 25-18, and moving Bangor into losing bonus point territory. However, with just 5 minutes left to play, they had left it too late to add the necessary converted try to tie the game and, as Omagh worked hard to retain possession during the closing minutes, the home side finally kicked the ball dead on hearing the referee call the last play.
Having conceded an early 12 points, and then finally losing by 7 points, Bangor will certainly rue their poor opening period. This marked Bangor's fourth narrow defeat and, while they picked up 4 valuable losing bonus points from these games, they could so easily have been on the winning side and be sitting in a much more impressive league position. As it is, they remain safely in sixth place and can now look forward to having more games at home instead of having to travel. This will be particularly important next weekend when Bangor host the current league leaders Ballina at Upritchard Park. When they met in December last year, it was another close affair which might have gone Bangor's way if some kicks had been a little less wayward. Again, small margins made the difference. Hopefully coach Mike Ferguson will not only be fit again to provide additional power and experience in the pack, but will also be able to further fine tune his players to produce the positive result they deserve.