Enniskillen Royal welcomed their first “Top 8” side of the season to the Eisenhower playing fields in the form of Omagh Academy. Both sides had been considerably depleted by injuries over recent weeks so it promised to give coaches an insight into the strength and depth of their respective ‘benches’. It was gratifying, therefore, that Enniskillen opened the scoring when captain, James Balfour, broke through the Omagh back line, evaded two covering tackles and scored close to the corner. Unfortunately, there was no recognised goal kicker on the pitch at the time and the conversion was missed.
Although the home team were well on top in nearly all aspects of the game Omagh were competing with tremendous aggression in the rucks and completed four turn overs in the opening period, an ominous sign as it turned out. Enniskillen kept the pressure on the visitors, especially at the back of the scrums and rucks and disrupted the play every time Omagh secured the ball which led to them being contained within their own half. Chris Balfour, Ally Jones, Jack Coalter and Cormac Boylan were quick and effective in this strand of play. Enniskillen scored again through their left wing, Conor Goodall, to give themselves a 10 point lead midway through the first half.
It was at this point that the referee, Mr Clarke, pulled his hamstring and he had to relinquish the whistle to a volunteer coach from the visiting Omagh contingent. A less conciliatory regime was imposed on the game and the replacement referee marched Enniskillen back 10 metres from the Omagh line on two occasions in his first 10 minutes. To compound their problems Enniskillen lost the excellent Chris Balfour to sub for the 1st XV and with no 2nd row substitutes the scrum had to be reorganised by bringing James Graham in to prop.
The disruptions led to Royal losing a little of their composure and they allowed Omagh to make their only sortie of the first half into Enniskillen territory. Confusion between the home side’s wing and full back when fielding an Omagh kick gave the visitors to a chance to snaffle a loose ball from which they scored a converted try. The first half finished shortly afterward with the score at 10-7 in Enniskillen’s favour.
Despite their forwards finally reaching equanimity in the rucks, Enniskillen failed to recapture the dominance they had achieved in the first half. Harry Dane carried well at his new position of flanker, Sam Fraser, on the other flank, racked up his usual high tackle count and the revised front row of Graham, Fitzpatrick and Humphries were strong in the set piece. It turned out to be a few simple mistakes by the home side that finally determined the game. Some misplaced kicks out of hand, an intercepted pass and a series of turnovers gave Omagh the greater percentage of the possession.
There was some resolute defending by Enniskillen with Matthew McConkey at scrum half doing the work of a flanker around the scrums and James Balfour and Jonny Irvine closing down the Omagh centres. Wings Deane and Donaldson held their own and Josh Kennedy was immense at full back. He made a try saving hit on an unfortunate Omagh centre the noise of which must have been heard in Lisbellaw. However, the visitors made good use of their continued possession bringing their full back into play and outflanking the opposition to run in two tries in the second half, one of which they converted.
The score was 19-10 in Omagh’s favour as the game moved into the last quarter with neither side dominating play. Finbar McCann made a brief but significant impact when he came on at scrum half to give McConkey a well deserved rest and he appeared to revitalise the home side for a short period. Both teams came near to scoring in the last moments of the game but it was Omagh who sensibly took their opportunity to put the match beyond Enniskillen’s reach with a late penalty. The contest finished Omagh 22, Enniskillen 10, a score line that was a fair reflection of the game.