Enniscorthy 20 Clogher Valley 17

Clogher Valley’s winning run of seven matches in the All Ireland league came to an end with a close match away to third place Enniscorthy.

The Valley travelled to County Wexford to take on third place Enniscorthy in their eighth match of the Energia All Ireland League 2C, having won all previous seven matches with a bonus point.

Despite many matches being called off in Ulster due to heavy rain, Wexford was dry, hardly a cloud in the sky, but the strong wind blowing down the pitch was going to have an impact on the match.

The Valley opted to play against the wind in the first half and knew they had to keep the ball in their hands with any kicking into the strong wind would have resulted in the loss of territory. The visitors got off to a magical start with a try from Paul Armstrong after eight minutes. Matthew Bothwell took a quick penalty in his own half and the backs spun the ball wide. Calum Smyton made 20 metres down the left wing, then put a clever grubber kick through, which landed five metres from the Enniscorthy try line. The Enniscorthy winger tried to gather whilst under pressure from Smyton, but Armstrong was on hand to pick up and score in the corner. The visitors led 5-0.

Despite playing against the strong wind, the Valley and were looking dangerous around the pitch, much sharper to the breakdown and keeping the ball in hand. It was very much against the run of play, when Enniscorthy capitalised on a Valley knock on in the centre of the pitch, their outside centre broke three tackles and off loaded to the winger who touched down to even up the score. Ten minutes later an Enniscorthy penalty in front of the posts gave the home side the opportunity to take the lead after 33 minutes and then to further the lead with a try after a series of ‘pick and go’ close to the Valley line. This try was converted, and the home side led 15-5 at the interval.

Whilst the visitors were behind by 10 points, the large number of travelling Valley supporters were not overly concerned. The Valley were the dominant team and with the wind on their backs, there was the opportunity to keep the home side pinned in their own half with some clever kicks.

As with the first half, the Valley got off to a dream start in the second. Enniscorthy dropped the ball, and a Valley player hacked it through. Robbie Mills was the quickest to react and sprinted through, hacking the ball on again. He outsprinted the Enniscorthy defence over the remaining 40 metres to touch down, bringing the score back to 15-10. The Valley supporters now looked for the expected comeback.

Unfortunately, it was the mistakes that were to hurt the Valley. The ball being lost in contact or being stripped in the tackle was to give the home side an advantage with possession. It was the home side who were to score next with what was to become the winning score, when their second row came through at pace and crossed the line.

Even at 20-10 down the Valley supporters knew their team had the capability of coming back. The Valley pressed the home side and put them under pressure, but mistakes at the crucial moment gave Enniscorthy that escape route.

As the match entered the final quarter, the ball was to spill out of an Enniscorthy hand and Matthew Bothwell was the quickest to react, gather the ball and then sprint in to touch down. Paul Armstrong added the conversion and the Valley was within three points, 20 -17.

With just under 20 minutes to play, the Valley normally take control and dominate the play.

It was not to be on this occasion. The breakdown element of the match was to become very messy, players getting away with wrestling for the ball on the ground or not rolling away in the tackle.

This stopped the quick ball at the ruck and often resulted in a scrum or a turnover. As the clock ticked by, the stoppages in play suited the home side. The Valley could not get the momentum going again and eventually ran out of time.

This was their first defeat in the All Ireland league, making the four hour journey home a subdued one. The result of this game was a setback, and many teams have these ‘off days’ where things just did not go their way; this was one of those days. Jamie Allan was awarded the Player of the Match for his ball carrying and aggressive defence.

Elsewhere in the club the 3rd XV were beaten by Dromore in the Cup 29-3.

Next up is the local derby against Omagh at the Cran with both 1st and 2nd XV playing, when a large crowd is expected. Supporters are asked to park at the car parks in Fivemiletown or at the school, where a minibus will transport spectators to the grounds.

The bus runs from midday until 7pm. Spectators are asked not to park on the roadside at the Cran.