DOWN High brought the Subsidiary Shield back to Downpatrick for the first time since 1974 on Monday after victory over Ballyclare High School in the final played under glorious conditions at the Queen’s University Arena, Belfast.
The game had been moved from the Kingspan Stadium to the Malone Road venue due to pitch problems at the Ulster headquarters, but the benefits were a pitch in fantastic order and a buzzing atmosphere as the big crowd squeezed into a smaller area.
Down High gave their large support lots to cheer about in the opening 20 minutes.
Right from the outset vice-captain Thomas Martin set the tone by taking a fantastic catch from the kick off.
The lads in green scored their first try on the five-minute mark after an inch-perfect Lewis Finlay kick got the team deep into Ballyclare territory before some incisive carries from Johnny McCoubrey and Zac Ward saw the defence narrowed, leaving enough space for wing Harry Hitchens to thread his way through for a try which Greg Hutley converted.
Hitchens played an instrumental role in the second try by making an eye-catching break up the pitch after Ronan Patterson fielded a high ball well and moved the ball infield.
Following Hitchens’ attack, the Down High pack went about their work efficiently and after a number of phases of patient pressure through carries from Callum Dunn and Claytan Milligan, the ball was moved wide where centre Harris McConnell had the relatively straightforward job of touching down for an unconverted try.
As the interval neared Ballyclare did claw back some points when they slotted a penalty kick after Down High were a little over-eager in their defence and were judged to be offside.
Following half time Down High looked a little fatigued and some wondered if the short five-day turnaround after their hard fought semi-final over Omagh was going to take its toll.
Indeed, Ballyclare built pressure and crossed for an unconverted score by Adam Clark around 10 minutes into the second half, bringing Down High’s lead down to four points.
The next 15 minutes were tense as both teams traded blows, but neither could add to their tally.
On the 65-minute mark another inch-perfect Lewis Finlay kick to touch in open play proved pivotal as he pinned Ballyclare back in their own 22.
Back row man Alex Martin picked off the resulting line-out and drove play within metres of the Ballyclare line before Michael Harper had the honour of crashing over for a try.
Greg Hutley steered in a superb conversion to take the score line to 19-8. This left Down High with a comfortable buffer and the Co. Antrim side having to chase the game.
Despite lots of enterprising play from Ballyclare in the closing minutes the Down defence resisted their efforts for long enough to put the result beyond doubt.
Ballyclare did manage a consolatory unconverted try by James Nelson right on the stroke of full-time.
This was of little concern to the Down High squad and their vocal band of supporters as they had secured the shield that had proved so elusive in recent seasons.
Team captain Claytan Milligan took great pleasure in raising that shield a few moments later amidst scenes that will live long in the memory of anyone with an interest in rugby at the Co Down school.
Down High (1-15): A Haslett, C Milligan, M Harper, T Martin, C Dunn, A Martin, M Porter, Z Ward, L Finlay, J Carlisle, R Patterson, H McConnell, J McCoubrey, H Hitchens, G Hutley. Subs: H Finlay, R Horder, M Rodgers, E Brown, L Canning, D Peters, A McCoubrey, W Annett.
Down High School 19
Ballyclare High School 13
DANSKE BANK SUBSIDIARY SHIELD FINAL