LURGAN travelled to Newforge on Saturday to face the PSNI in the quarter-final of the Gordon West Cup in confident mood having defeated the same opponents at Pollock Park two weeks earlier.
As expected the home side were determined to even the score and Lurgan had to soak up early pressure and defend their line in the opening exchanges. Having eventually got some possession in the PSNI half Lurgan were first on the score board after 16 minutes through the boot of outhalf Stephen Nolan to take a 3-0 lead.
This seemed to settle the side and two minutes later, following some determined running from returning captain Scott Gardiner, Nolan was able to make use of the Lurgan forwards running in midfield to dummy and go in under the posts for the second week in a row. The conversion from the same player took the lead to 10 points and with their line-out working well and their backline, as always, a threat Lurgan started to ask questions of the home defenders through both the forwards and backs, and further increased their lead two minutes from the break through another penalty.
Lurgan picked up in the second half were they left off, with indiscipline creeping into the home defence at the ruck, and after a number of infringements the referee awarded a penalty to the visitors and Lurgan looked to have one foot in the semi-final with a 16 point advantage.
However, from the following restart, a knock on lead to a PSNI scrum, at which Lurgan were penalised for an early engagement. A quick tap was taken and after several phases the home side were able to do what they had failed to do at Pollock Park, scoring a try to the right of the posts, the simple conversion was put wide however but the lead had been reduced and Lurgan were about to enter the defining period of the game.
The home side monopolised possession for the next 15 minutes, during which they missed a kick at goal, but all 15 Lurgan players had to defend with everything they had, and at times it looked as if another PSNI try was inevitable, as they struggled to deal with the waves of attack. However this is a team full of belief who do not want to be beaten, and following a turnover in the middle of the pitch, the ball was swept out to the right touchline for captain Scott Gardiner to run in for a try in the 35th minute that not only lifted the siege of the Lurgan line, but guaranteed that they would have their name in the semi-final draw. Despite missing the difficult conversion, Nolan added to his haul when hands in a ruck resulted in a penalty for Lurgan which he duly despatched to leave the score 24-5 in the Pollock Park teams favour, although the scoreline doesn’t reflect the amount of work Lurgan had to put in to come out on top as the PSNI made them earn every point.
Credit to the forwards for their work at the set piece and around the park, and in particular to the debutant prop Andrew Hall for sticking manfully to his task all day.
Although a semi-final now awaits, the focus is back onto League action next Saturday, as Lurgans road trips continue as they aim to back up recent league wins with another two points away to Monaghan.