Clogher Valley 1st XV 28 Cooke 1st XV 31

Clogher Valley came up short when they met Cooke in the Pool D of the Junior Cup, losing out 31-28 in a tough encounter at the Cran.

Cooke, with only the Junior Cup to play for, were ready for this encounter, and from the off they showed they had not travelled from Belfast just to make up the numbers, and it was the visitors who were first on the score sheet after five minutes with a converted try.

It didn’t take the Valley long to reply. Straight from the restart, they secured the ball, Callum Smyton broke down the centre of the pitch and then spun the ball wide to Stewart Douglas, who outsprinted the Cooke defence and scored in the corner. Paul Armstrong converted from the touchline to bring the score to 7-7.

It was the visitors who were to strike next. Sustained pressure on the Valley line eventually paid off and they crossed to score their second try and retake the lead.

On the 30-minute point, Paul Armstrong read the play and intercepted a Cooke pass, weaving his way down the left touchline, he pulled the defenders out of position, then set Corneel Michem off to sprint in the remaining 20 metres to score in the corner. Armstrong added another conversion from the touchline for the Valley to retake the lead 14-12.

As the half was coming to an end, Cooke cleared their lines, Ewan Haire safely collected, and sidestepped his way past several defenders to then pop the ball to Paul Armstrong who galloped in the remaining 15 metres to score under the posts.

He added the conversion to leave the half-time score 21-12 to the home side.

From the start of the second period, it was obvious that Cooke were in the fight and had no intention of giving up the spoils.

They retained the ball superbly and gradually ground down the Valley defence. Seven minutes into the second half, their determination was rewarded with another converted try, bringing them to within two points of the hosts.

The Valley then kick-started their normal pattern of play, using the big forwards to soften up the defence and create the holes for the backs to exploit.

As the Valley gained territory, the Cooke defence became flat and Ewan Haire spotted a hole; with a superbly weighted kick over the flat defence, younger brother Taine was the fastest to react and beat the defenders to the ball to score, just before the ball went out of play.

With another fantastic kick, Paul Armstrong added the conversion and restored Valley’s nine-point lead.

However, Cooke came back with the same determination that the hosts were showing, and it took just five minutes for them to reduce the Valley’s point superiority to just two points with another converted try.

With 10 minutes left to play and the score balanced at 28-26 to the Valley, the band of loyal supporters became more subdued as the visitors became louder.

Cooke retained the ball brilliantly and rarely made mistakes.

As the Valley tried to push ahead, they made unusual errors and Cooke capitalised.

When the visitors entered the Valley 22, the signs were ominous. The referee’s arm went out to indicate a penalty to the visitors, but play continued. When no advantage was gained, he brought them back to the original spot.

The kick was accurate but bounced off the cross bar, straight back into the hands of a follow-up Cooke player and they set about their rucking game.

They hammered the Valley line for several minutes until the Valley ran out of defenders and Cooke crossed the line for the fifth time to retake the lead 31-28.

With six minutes on the clock, the Valley started to play a more expansive game, but in the process had to take risks. Eventually a pass went astray and was intercepted, with Cooke regaining possession.

The visitors then did what they did all afternoon: retained possession and made few mistakes. The clock ticked past the 40 minutes and the Cooke out-half hoofed the ball into the next field. Cooke took the spoils and deserved the points.

The Valley has a much needed two-week break before the final game in Pool D of the Junior Cup. They have however, potentially another eight games left to play, with Towns’ Cup, Junior Cup and the All-Ireland Play-offs.

With 28 games already under their belt this season in all competitions, and this their only second defeat, it has still been a fantastic season so far, but the players are going to have to dig deep to keep this level of performance going.

Elsewhere in the Club: the 2nd XV took apart Dromore 2 on Wednesday night, winning 68-0, with the referee calling the game to a close after 55 minutes.

Ballyclare 2 conceded the match due to be played on Saturday. The 2nd XV now face City of Armagh 3 next weekend.

The 3rd XV played Cavan 2 on Friday night, winning 15-8. The U-18 then overcame Rainey in the Cup 31-19.


Get a treat with our March sale - £3 for three months of digital subscription. Click here to subscribe