Luke Cahill touched down twice as Cork Constitution overcame a spirited challenge from Division 2A outfit City of Armagh (20-13) to move within 80 minutes of winning their sixth Ulster Bank Bateman Cup title in-a-row.
A pulsating performance from hosts Armagh was not enough to derail Cork Con whose winning streak in the cup now stands at 11 matches, stretching back to the 2013 semi-finals.
The Palace Grounds crowd witnessed an exciting semi-final clash and the gap of two Ulster Bank League divisions between the sides was not evident for much of an enthralling tie.
There was only a three-point gap at the break, Constitution needing a late catch-and-drive effort to edge back in front at 13-10.
Their out-half Aidan Moynihan sandwiched in two penalties, either side of a well-taken brace of tries from Armagh full-back Tim McNiece, who capitalised on a defensive error, and winger Robbie Faloon.
Nonetheless, Con struck again when the classy Cahill broke through the Armagh defence and raced in from 30 metres for a 43rd-minute try.
Moynihan added the extras and the visitors held a ten-point lead.
Cormac Fox reduced the arrears with a penalty in the 57th minute, and although the excitement built for a grandstand finish, the Leesiders stood firm to set up another shot at Bateman Cup history in April.
Stand-in Constitution captain Gerry Hurley — Niall Kenneally missed the game through injury — expressed relief at the final whistle.
“There was a smashing atmosphere, vociferous supporters and Armagh effectively threw the kitchen sink at us. So from that point of view it was a very difficult game, a real test of character for us and the boys responded very well.
"Armagh kept coming back, they made it very difficult, but to our credit we coped very well. We got tries at important times and we defended very well when we had to.”
There was no fairytale result for Division 2C leaders Sligo as Lansdowne broke clear of them in the second half to record a 34-15 victory in the other semi-final at Strandhill.
Lansdowne scored five tries to two at Hamilton Park, one each from Jack Dinneen, Daniel McEvoy, Charlie Butterworth and Harry Brennan as well as a penalty try. Former Constitution player Scott Deasy added three conversions and a penalty.
The two finalists may have gone into battle many times in recent AIL seasons, but their last meeting in this competition came in 1921. On that occasion, when the trophy was on offer for the first time, Lansdowne won the final, 6-5.
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