City of Armagh snatched a 32-27 victory over Buccaneers with a last agasp try in their All-Ireland League Division 1B game played in front of a big attendance at The Palace Grounds, Armagh, on Saturday.
The win propels the Ulster side up to third in the league table while the heartbreak defeat drops Buccs to second from bottom.
Buccs made five personnel changes, three enforced, for this fixture, with injury ruling Darragh Corbett out, Corey Reid started in the centre and Shane Layden switched to left wing.
Props Conor Kenny (injury) and Conan O’Donnell (ill) were replaced by Niall Farrelly and fit again Martin Staunton respectively. Meanwhile Peter Claffey returned after injury to form a new second row partnership with Joe Maksymiw.
Buccaneers opened the scoring after just seven minutes. Callum Boland collected a home clearance on his own ten metre line and in a scintillating break, he carved open the Armagh defence for a stunning try between the uprights.
Luke Carty added the conversion while Cormac Fox responded with Armagh’s first score, an 11th minute penalty.
Just three minutes later Boland was again making ground, linking up with Carty and Maksymiw to send Simon Meagher over for an unconverted try wide on the right. Meagher was injured in this move, replaced by Sean Masterson.
Fox soon added his second penalty for the Ulster side before they got a break when the referee, whose decisions baffled both sets of supporters on occasion, missed a clear-cut knock on that helped the northerners to good territory.
There Buccs substitute Masterson was yellow carded for slowing possession. Fox made a good touch with the resultant penalty and, following the lineout, Neil Faloon surged over in the right corner for an unconverted 31st minute try.
Faloon was again involved in the lead up to Armagh’s second try before the ball was flashed to the right where the visitors’ cover was stretched.
Rory O’Connor did his utmost to deny O’Brien but his tackle was high and the Pirates could have no complaints about this sin binning.
Referee Imbusch also awarded a penalty try and, with the midlanders down to 13 players and battling to retain possession until half-time, James Hanna turned over possession from them just before the interval.
The Orchard County men quickly spun the ball to the left where O’Brien was alone on the wing and could not be denied on this occasion. Fox added a fine conversion to give the hosts a 25-12 halftime lead.
Buccs restarted with purpose and a series of pick and goes looked like earning reward when the ball was moved to O’Connor but the winger was forced to put a foot in touch just before grounding the ball.
However, the midlanders soon regained possession in close and following a series of snipes Eoghan Masterson crashed over between the posts for a 51st minute try converted by Carty.
After Fox pulled a penalty kick wide, Armagh came under further pressure from the Pirates’ pack and Paul Mullen was despatched to the sin bin for slowing possession illegally on 59 minutes.
Buccs opted for a scrum and drove over the home line where Eoghan Masterson grounded the ball for his second try and a bonus point for the visitors.
Carty was unable to convert but there was now just a single point between the teams entering the final quarter.
The momentum was now with Buccs and Carty landed a 68th minute penalty to put them ahead again 27-25.
They piled on further pressure and another try seemed likely but, following a series of patient phases, a less than accurate pass inside the home 22 was fastened on to by Armagh five minutes from time.
From there to the final whistle the midlanders just could not get their hands on the ball.
But just three minutes from time, referee Imbusch was again the focus of attention when he contentiously deemed that Layden had deliberately knocked on when tackling Evin Crummie.
City of Armagh, match sharpened by their recent Ulster Senior Cup final triumph, bravely opted for a kick to touch on the right where they earned a further brace of penalties as Buccs now defended desperately.
They finally prised victory in the final move of the game when their man of the match Faloon broke powerfully from the back of a five metre scrum to plunder the spoils from the Pirates.
Fox’s conversion of this bonus point try completed both the action and the final score-line of 32-27 in favour of the Ulster side.
City of Armagh’s five points moves them into the top four. The Pirates will be justifiably aggrieved by a number of refereeing decisions but in a commendable performance they really should have closed this game out.
City Of Armagh: T.McNeice, A.Willis (E.Crummie 4), C.Colvin (c), C.Cousens, S.O’Brien, C.Fox, H.Doyle (G.Traynor 72), O.Kiernan (P.Mullen 45), A.Smyth (E.O’Hagan 45), P.Mullen (Jonathan Morton 31 (O.Kiernan 59)), P.Starrett, J.McKinley, J.Hanna (A.Smyth 59), N.Simpson, N.Faloon.
Buccaneers: C.Boland (G.Lynch 76), R.O’Connor, C.Reid, K.Joyce, S.Layden (c), L.Carty, F.Hopkins (C.Reilly 45 (N.Farrelly 79)), M.Staunton, J.Sutton (S.Delahunt 45), N.Farrelly (H.O’Reilly 72), P.Claffey, J.Maksymiw, S.Meagher (S.Masterson 15), E.Galvin (J.Sutton 66), E.Masterson.
Referee: Ken Imbusch (IRFU)