Cooke 1st XV 19 Clogher Valley 1st XV 22


Clogher Valley are through to the semi-final of the All Ireland Junior Cup after a hard fought game at Shaws Bridge, Belfast against Cooke RFC. The Valley, who are the current holders, were favourite to win, but Cooke have been steadily improving over the last six months are sitting third in the league and are becoming a formidable side.

It was Cooke who were first out of the starting blocks and dominated the opening 10 minutes, with the Valley not getting their hands on the ball in the opening encounter. They were rewarded for their efforts with an unconverted try in the corner after a series of pick and go from the pack.

In the Valley's first visit to the Cooke 22m the visitors took their chance. Callum Smyton drove forward, David Stinson took over and drove further towards the try line, this gave David Maxwell the space to chip the ball into the left corner, where Taine Haire collected and skipped around the last few defenders to score. Maxwell converted for the Valley to lead 7-5.

For the next 20 minutes both teams prodded and searched for the openings, with Cooke having the lion’s share of the ball. The next score came from the home side. A Valley clearance kick went into the Cooke half and was collected by the full back. As he surged forward a few convenient blocks stopped the Valley players getting close to him and like Moses at the Red Sea, a gap appeared for the Cooke player to race 60 metres to score. The try was converted, and the home side led 12-7.

A Valley penalty in front of the posts was goaled to bring the visitors back to 12-10 as the half time whistle blew.

Clogher increased the tempo of the game in the second half, and they were quickly rewarded when another cross-field kick pass from David Maxwell was pumped into the left corner. Taine Haire was on the receiving end of the kick; he juggled a few times but held on and crossed the line for his second try of the game. The try was not converted, but the Valley were now ahead.

Ten minutes into the second period, a Cooke drop out went straight out to give the Visitors a five metre scrum, the back row dummied to run right, pulling the Cooke defence out of position, and David Maxwell cut a fantastic line the opposite direction to score in the left corner. He converted his own try to give the Valley a 22-2 lead. The travelling fans from the Valley now expected their team to run away with the match.

Cooke had obviously not read the Valley supporters script and hit back with vengeance, controlling the game, and probing the Valley defence. Their hard work was again rewarded with a converted try to bring the score back to 22-19.

At the 35-minute point of the second half, the game was finely balanced. A try from Cooke would have put them in a strong position to win and they pushed hard. A series of penalties allowed Cooke to work their way up the pitch, their rolling maul doing significant damage to the Valley defence. Their tactics working well, the Cooke pack got to within five metres of the Valley line, but their maul collapsed, and Valley was awarded the scrum. The Valley cleared their lines but only to the halfway line.

As the match went past the 40-minute period, the Valley fans were nervously checking their watches, expecting the referee to blow for game over, but it didn’t come. 45 minutes came and went, and the Valley were under extreme pressure, Cooke seeing their opportunity, kept the pressure on the visitors, even a converted penalty would have put the game into extra time. 47 minutes came and went, with the large crowd scratching their heads and checking their watches. Cooke were encamped in the Valley 22 and in control of the ball.

The Valley defence was ferocious, driving the home side backwards in every tackle. As the clock entered 49 minutes, the Valley secured their scrum on their own line, the forwards took the ball on two phases to give Maxwell a better kicking position, who then launched an almighty kick down field to relieve the pressure.

The ball was dropped, and the referee finally blew the whistle for game over at 49 minutes and 59 seconds. The Valley had secured victory by a close three points. It left the travelling supporters confused why 10 minutes extra was added, especially when there were only two short stoppages for minor treatment. However, a victory was all that was needed to put the Valley through to the semi-final of the All-Ireland Junior Cup. Next week it is another away Cup match, this time to the City of Derry in the Towns' Cup.