THREE Andy Allen penalties proved to be enough to earn Omagh Academy possession of the Northern Bank Schools’ Trophy for the first time.
They squeezed past Larne Grammar in a scrappy and error-strewn final.
The Co Tyrone side began with the bit between their teeth, running strongly with the ball in hand and keeping Larne penned in their own ‘22’ for the first 20 minutes.
And during that period of dominance the Academy had engineered a six point lead through two Allen penalties.
The first score arrived after only three minutes when Allen knocked over from 22 metres after Larne had strayed off-side at a ruck and their second arrived 16 minutes later from the same trusty right boot and a similar distance following good running from Academy skipper,Ryan Mitchell and outside centre, Neil MacLaine.
In between the two Omagh penalties, Larne had a good effort to equalise when, with their first foray into the opposition half, they were awarded a three pointer of their own after Academy fullback, Ashley McIlwaine failed to release in the tackle. However, Robert McKinley missed the relatively straightforward penalty.
Larne grew into the game from the 25th minute on, but it was Omagh who had the best chance to add to their tally with four minutes of the first half remaining when a forward pass gifted Ross Hunter’s men with another penalty attempt, but this time, from 30 metres, Allen’s kick drifted just wide.
From the restart Larne looked a different beast, determined to win the silverware for a third time in five years.
They were quick to take advantage of Omagh’s growing indiscipline and carelessness in possession by scoring a fully deserved try in the right corner through influential fullback, Houston Saunderson, after four minutes of early, concerted pressure.
Although the conversion was missed by McKinley Larne were back in contention.
Omagh though were determined not to let history strike twice - having led at half time before losing last year’s final to Portora - and they responded well from the setback. No 8, Michael Gibson, launched a good kick into touch in the Larne ‘22’, from where they picked and drove towards the opposition line before being awarded a penalty in front of the posts after a Larne defender entered a ruck from the side. Allen knocked over the easy kick to leave Omagh with a four-point advantage they would not surrender in spite of inviting more pressure on themselves in the 12 minutes remaining.
. Time and again Larne pressed, with Saunderson and number eight, Callum Patton, looking increasingly dangerous.
On three occasions Saunderson must have thought he was going to win it for his team. But tigerish Omagh winger, Scott Hemphill, produced a try-saving tackle on the Larne fullback in the corner after a storming run, while Allen did likewise a short time later when Saunderson had marauded through the middle and in the final minute the Larne fullback again marched towards the Omagh line on the right, but he failed to pick out the overlapping Luke Brownlee.
Following a couple of nervous added minutes for Omagh the final whistle was blown to a huge sigh of collective Tyrone relief, while Larne were left to rue what might have been.
Omagh Academy: Darren Clarke; Andy Wilson; James Kelso; James Catterson; Stuart Allen; Jamie Brown; Adam Longwell; Michael Gibson; Greg Deazley; Andy Allen; Ryan Mitchell (cpt); Andy Catterson; Neil MacLaine; Scott Hemphill; Ashley McIlwaine. Replacements: Linley Ewing; John Graham; Thomas Reid; Danny Johnston; Scott Longwell; Adam Beattie; Lloyd Kane; David Long.
Larne Grammar: Sam McWhirter; Ryan McAlister (cpt); Marc Robinson; James Bell; Luke Cameron; Marc McAlister; Ethan Kerr; Callum Patton; Ethan Brownlee; Robert McKinley; Aaron Carter; Stephen Watts; Luke Brownlee; Jamie Johnston; Houston Saunderson. Replacements: Kris Rea; Calum Oakley; James Bacon; Connor Weir; Vince McCorry; Andrew Weatherup; Corey Burleigh; Sam McIlwaine.
Referee: Shane Toolan.