Rank outsiders, Rainey Old Boys, produced the upset of the season when they came from behind to beat the favourites Malone 21-14 in the semi-final of the First Trust Senior Cup at Gibson Park.
And while the match-winning try came in the last minute, there can be no denying that Rainey fully deserved their success. The Cregagh Road side were without their Ulster-contracted players, but Rainey’s resources were severely stretched due to a lengthening injury list.
Malone did not have to do anything special in a dull opening half to lead 14-3, but the atmosphere changed once the underdogs got going and Paddy McGowan’s last gasp effort sent the visitors’ supporters wild with delight.
Full-back O’Connor put Rainey ahead after three minute with a 50 yard penalty, but Malone were on track within five minutes, catching Rainey flat-footed at the front of a lineout in the corner for flanker Taylor to score the simplest of tries. Left-wing McGillan converted.
Malone missed a penalty before a careless handling error and a silly penalty gave them a strong attacking position which led to McAllister crossing for a converted try.
A long touch find from O’Connor and four penalties enabled Rainey to test the home defence but, too often, the ball was taken at a standstill and wing Mc Clelland allowed himself to be dispossessed as he went to dot down in the corner.
Three yellow cards were shown, two to Malone, as the whistle continued to frustrate all concerned. While Rainey enjoyed territorial supremacy, Malone’s impressive set-piece work saw that they led 14-3 at the break.
Rainey were back in business when centre Pyper kicked to the corner and several phases later wing Clarke cut inside for a fine try.
Prop O’Kane marked his return from the bin with a determined burst which took him agonisingly close. He managed to offload to Pyper who was stopped right on the goal line and they had to settle for a penalty.
Malone were trapped in their own half as Rainey moved the ball wide with confidence and pressurised them into making mistakes.Some great kicking out of hand by O’Connor kept Rainey in the right part of the field and Clarke appeared to have scored, but was grounded short of the line.
Rainey then made a few mistakes which threatened to prove costly, but a Malone kick at goal sailed wide. A few switches were made, helping them to get back into the home half where a great piece of skill from Pyper took them to the Malone line where their scrum was penalised.
Seven minutes from time, Rainey were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, opting to take the points rather than go for a try.
In the last four minutes O’Connor went close with two difficult shots at goal, but Malone kept the ball alive instead of clearing to touch.Their admirable, if risky, tactics played into Rainey hands as No.8 McGowan read the play to perfection to intercept in the Malone 22’ and canter through for a try beneath the posts. O’Connor added the extras with the last kick of the match.
Rainey Old Boys: M. O’Connor, A. Clarke, M. Pyper, D. McMurray, M. McClelland, G. Martin, S. Simpson, N. Amos, C. Donaghy, N. O’Kane, M. Shiels, T. Barker, A. Harbinson, P. Heaney, P. McGowan. Replacements: T. Burns (Heaney 55), R. Lamberton (McClelland), A. Dysart (Donaghy 58), J. Cassidy (Clarke 58)