Bonus but heartbreak against Midleton
By Roger Corbett
A drop goal by Midleton in added time snatched a 20-22 victory away from Bangor at Upritchard Park
As the end of the season approaches, so Bangor’s injury list seems to be getting longer week on week. However, with the addition of a few less familiar names on the team sheet, Bangor took to the field of play knowing that they had an uphill task to upset Midleton who were sitting in second place in the league and pressing for more points to secure a home advantage in the promotion play-offs. Regardless of the importance of the game in terms of league points, this was also going to be the last game Phil Broderick would play for the club before he takes up his new job across the water. There was certainly plenty of incentive for the team to put in a good performance.
The playing conditions were great – sunshine, little breeze, and the usual good pitch – all of which would hopefully encourage open, running rugby. It was Bangor who got the game started, playing towards the cricket end. Once back in possession, Bangor played sensibly, and looked to be settling themselves as they involved both forwards and backs in building steady phases of play. It was therefore somewhat against the run of play that on Midleton’s first attacking run down the right wing, a speculative chip over the Bangor defence was chased by their quick Kiwi centre Benji Cottle and touched down for an unconverted try.
Unfortunately this has been an all too familiar situation for Bangor where they have gone behind in the opening minutes of a game. However, from the restart, Bangor looked determined to get back on terms as soon as possible. The following 10 minutes saw Bangor take control, and when David Bradford put in his own chip and chase, it was only the speed of Cottle again that denied Bradford his try. Although Cottle got to the ball first, he had carried the ball over his own goal line, so Bangor had an attacking scrum on the 5 metre line. Although the Midleton scrum had already been under considerable pressure, they dug in to prevent Bangor pushing them back. A pick-up and drive from Bradford saw him come within inches of the goal line, but just moments later, and after a few more phases that brought play closer to the Midleton posts, Dave Caughey took a pass at pace and nobody was going to stop him as he powered over to score. With Liam Preston adding the simple conversion, Bangor were now ahead by 7-5 after 14 minutes of play.
Bangor kept up their momentum for most of the remainder of the first half, but only managed to convert a penalty by Preston to extend their lead to 10-5. However, in the dying minutes of the half, a well-executed catch and drive by Midleton saw their hooker Bryan Moore go over for their second try, with this one converted by Stuart Lee, giving the visitors the lead again by 10-12 as the sides turned around.
With only 2 points separating the sides, and the gathering breeze now favouring Bangor, there were hopes that the Upritchard Park faithful would finally be rewarded with a positive result. The first chance to regain the lead came after 14 minutes when Bangor were awarded a long range penalty close to the Midleton 10 metre line. Preston’s kick had the legs but not the direction, and the chance was gone. Midleton responded immediately and brought play back towards Bangor’s twenty two. However, a trademark intercept by David Bradford saw him snatch the ball back from the Midleton attack before running two thirds of the pitch and touching down between the posts. Preston’s straightforward kick added the extras, and now Bangor were ahead by 17-12. The stunned Midleton players were now making mistakes, and within minutes conceded another penalty for taking out a Bangor player in the lineout. This time the long range kick was taken by Nathan Graham, but his effort was also unsuccessful. Undeterred, Bangor kept up the pressure while Midleton looked unsettled, and just 3 minutes later won another penalty which, this time, was successfully converted by Preston putting Bangor 20-12 ahead with 16 minutes left to play, and significantly meaning that Midleton now needed to score twice to win.
This fact obviously wasn’t lost on the visitors as they set about finding another gear to take the game back into Bangor’s territory. As Bangor found themselves forced to concentrate on defence, their efforts to disrupt Midleton’s sharp back line passing resulted in Preston receiving a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. With less than 10 minutes remaining, this meant he would play no further part in the game. From the resulting penalty, Midleton stuck to their pattern of kicking to touch, then going for the catch and drive from the resulting line-out. Although this, and several forward drives for the line were stopped in their tracks, their Number 8, Michael Cronin finally found enough of a gap in Bangor’s weakened back line to crash over for a try to the left of Bangor’s posts. Lee added the conversion to bring the score to 20-19, with just 7 minutes remaining.
It was obvious both sides were feeling the pressure, but perhaps Bangor were less well used to being in this situation and were guilty of kicking away possession when perhaps the more sensible, but not pretty, approach of using the forwards to rumble through the phases would have been the better choice. As it was, Midleton regained possession and didn’t make the same mistake. As the clock turned red, they continued to batter the Bangor line. Their patience finally paid off when, as play had moved into the centre of Bangor’s twenty two, the ball was passed back to Lee who drop-kicked the goal that gave Midleton the victory and broke Bangor hearts.
To lose in such a manner is always hard to take, and it was obvious on the faces of the Bangor players that this defeat was hurting. However, taking into account that as one of the league strugglers, Bangor had run the league promotion contenders close enough to come away with a losing bonus point – something that they would probably have been content with before the game kicked off. Once everybody, players and supporters alike, comes to terms with this result, they should be able to take great encouragement by the way in which Bangor approached the game and the passion they showed in giving Midleton such a close result. With a fortnight now to reflect and prepare before travelling to Thomond, there is renewed confidence that a repeat level of performance and passion will finally deliver the win they both need and deserve. With all of the teams at the bottom end of the table having a difficult run-in to the end of the season, anything could happen over the next few weeks. It was great to see so many Bangor supporters, boosted also by the mini rugby kids and their parents, lining the touchline and letting their voices be heard. There’s no doubt this lifted the players and, although it’s unlikely to expect the same numbers to travel to Limerick, the call goes out to all who can make the trip to help carry the players over the finishing line and secure All Ireland League rugby again next season.