THE Gary Clarke Memorial Cup kicked off in near perfect conditions last Wednesday, March 21.
The event, held at Lurgan RFC, hosted the best of local talent from Lurgan College, Banbridge Academy, Friends School and Portadown College.
The tournament, now in its sixth year, was sponsored by Sliderobes (NI) and was played in a ‘round-robin’ format, with short 15 minute games.
First up were Lurgan College and Friends School and a fast pace was set by both sides as a crowd of spectators gathered to cheer them on. In the end the match was scoreless earning both teams a point.
In the next round defences were on top as Lurgan College and Banbridge remained scoreless. The College should have won the game outright but centre Chris Clague was adjudged to be short of the line as he dived into the corner.
Friends School qualified for the final with an impressive 7-0 victory over the Academy side.
With Friends school on four points and Portadown on three points, only a win was good enough for Lurgan College in their final encounter against neighbours Portadown.
With this knowledge the College team took the game by the scruff of the neck and after a barrage by the pack the backline was released and Mark Mcilwaine broke two tackles and rode a third to touch down in the corner. McIlwaine added a penalty to score all the points in his team’s 8-0 victory.
In the final Lurgan College faced Friends School and following their scoreless draw in the first game Friends opted to bank an early penalty as Ross Robinson slotted his kick.
As the game wore on Friends kept Lurgan pinned back as they struggled to get out of their half.
With minutes to go Lurgan went though the phases and crept forward into the Friends half. Time and again the forwards lead by Aaron Carson and Dean Wilson smashed into the resilient Friends defence. With the game on a knife edge and the College perched on the 22 the drama continued as the College captain, Dean Wilson, went down in the final play forcing the referee to stop the game.
The game was restarted with a Lurgan scrum and with a home town crowd urging the boys on they gave a final effort to drive deep into the Friends 22.
The Lisburn boys were disciplined knowing a penalty would even the tie. In the end a knock on allowed the Friends scrum half to pick up the loose ball and kick it off the pitch.
During the presentations Alistair Brown from Ulster Rugby presented the player of the tournament award to former Lurgan Tiger, Ross Robinson, from Friends.
Alistair also singled out the scrum halves who kept the games moving with some great distribution. Finally the Gary Clarke Memorial Cup was presented to the winning captain, Matthew Patterson, by Richard Clarke.