After a dismal week of wind and rain, it was great to see Upritchard Park bathed in sunshine and in pristine condition for the first of four scheduled fixtures between Bangor and Omagh. With preparations firmly focussed on the start of the All Ireland League in a few weeks’ time, and with a number of regular first team players still side-lined through injury, this was another opportunity to experiment with the squad and put training into practice. With a good opening performance against Dungannon last weekend, the big men from Omagh looking to continue their strong start to the season.
From Omagh’s kick-off, Bangor lost early possession and found themselves having to immediately defend as the visitors went on an early attack. This pressure produced a penalty for Omagh in front of the Bangor posts which Scott Elliot easily converted to take an early 0-3 lead. To Bangor’s credit, they responded well, with good runs from Andrew Jackson and Jamie Clegg. In similar fashion to Omagh’s earlier attack, their hard work earned them a penalty which Mark Widdowson successfully kicked, levelling the scores at 3 apiece.
Unfortunately, this was the best Bangor could manage in the opening half, as Omagh stepped up a gear and left Bangor struggling as a result. Omagh’s handling and ball retention served them well as they pressed towards the Bangor line on several occasions. Although Bangor managed to defend for long periods, it wasn’t enough to prevent Ryan Mitchell squeezing over in the right hand corner for Omagh’s opening try. The touchline conversion attempt by Elliot was pushed wide, making the score 3-8 after 12 minutes.
Omagh extended their lead 8 minutes later when a combination of more good handling and clever kicking saw Elliot touch down and convert, bringing the score to 3-15. Bangor’s game, after a shaky start, was beginning to come together a bit better, with the scrum in particular showing a major improvement. This, together with a reliable line-out, provided a better attacking platform and, having appeared to have stemmed the earlier flow of tries, raised the prospect of getting a try on the scoreboard themselves. With just a few minutes of the first half remaining, Bangor mounted another attack down the right wing and soon found themselves within sight of the Omagh line. Unfortunately, with the goal line beckoning, a dropped pass ended the attack and the chance was gone. However, to add insult to injury, the alert Omagh defence quickly moved the ball across field where they found space on their right wing. Quick hands and feet simply cut through a retreating Bangor defence before Matty Eccles finished off the move with a try close to Bangor’s posts. With the simple conversion, the half time score favoured the visitors by 3-22.
Bangor started the second half well and, from another promising attack just a couple of minutes later, won a penalty which Widdowson kicked to bring the score to 6-22. However, Omagh cancelled out these points with a penalty of their own another few minutes afterwards, maintaining their lead by 6-25. For the spectators, there would be little to enjoy from either side for the remainder of the game, with no further scores being added. However, with no other option but to attack, Bangor kept play within the Omagh half for most of the remainder of the game. Omagh, on the other hand, simply played a game of defence and containment, which they achieved well.
As the referee brought proceedings to a close, Bangor will have felt frustrated as they hadn’t managed to get at least one try of their own, especially given the chances they had throughout the game. However, the big difference between the sides was in Omagh’s quick and secure handling, as well as being able to convert try-scoring opportunities. With the focus returning to the SONI League next weekend with another home game against City of Derry, the hope is that Bangor will learn from these opening fixtures and start to produce the performances they know they are capable of. There will certainly be no shortage of support or atmosphere as Upritchard Park celebrates its 50th anniversary next weekend, with a large crowd hoping to mark the occasion with a home win.