Clogher Valley 20 Galwegians 7

Clogher Valley returned to the top of the AIL Division 2C table with victory over Galwegians in the top of the table clash at the Cran on Saturday.

The Galway side were sitting two points clear as they travelled north to play Clogher Valley in what many described as one of the most crucial matches of the season. The spectators watched in awe as the visitors took to the pitch, remarking on their size and athleticism, but in the sport of rugby, it can be the size of the heart that is more important, and this was to be proven over the next 80 minutes.

From the outset this was going to be a tight, closely fought game. The tackles were ferocious, with the impact sound heard from the far side of the pitch.

A missed penalty kick by the Valley after three minutes had the large 400 plus crowd wondering, will these crucial points be the difference at the end of the match. It was the visitors who were first on the score sheet. A Galwegian lineout was secured 10 metres out, then the maul followed, once it was stopped by the Valley defence, the ball was flung to the back, then recycled several times, one missed tackle was all that was needed for the visitors to cross the line and they were 7-0 ahead.

Five minutes later it was the Valley’s opportunity to do the same. Galwegians transgressed at a tackle, David Maxwell kicked the penalty down the line making 40 metres as close to the corner as he dared. The Valley secured the lineout and then mauled the ball closer to the line. The maul eventually splintered and then the ‘pick and drive’ began. Inch by inch the Valley got closer to the try line, eventually crossing the whitewash. It was Kyle Cobane who emerged with the ball, notching up yet another try for the hooker. Paul Armstrong added the conversion points, and the score was back to being level at 7-7.

The game was being played between the 22s, with no team giving any quarter. Players who normally broke tackles were getting hit hard by two defenders; this was not a game for the faint-hearted. Minutes before the interval, the visitors transgressed at a tackle and the referee awarded a penalty 35 metres out. Up stepped the skipper, Paul Armstrong to slot the ball between the sticks to put the home side ahead 10-7.

Any half time team talk is important, and this was one of those days where a calm head was needed. Coach Stephen Bothwell outlined what he wanted in the second half, then reminded the players that this club was built on passion, heart, and commitment; they certainly showed that in the second half.

10 minutes after the restart and the Valley extended their lead by three points from a Paul Armstrong penalty kick from close to the halfway line. The Valley now led 13-7. The crowd did not have long to wait for another Valley score. Callum Smyton broke from the back of the scrum, driving through several tackles, now eight metres from the Galwegians try line, they started the ‘pick and go’ driving closer with carry.

It was veteran player David Sharkey who came up with the ball, when the referee signalled a try had been scored. Paul Armstrong added the conversion and there was now some daylight between the sides as the Valley led 20-7.

This score was how the match ended, but not before the Valley defence were significantly tested, with Galwegians throwing everything from the kitchen sink at the hosts. The defence held strong, something coach Stephen Bothwell was very pleased with.

The Valley now leapfrog Galwegians into top place and sit two points ahead with six games to play. However, this is not the time to relax, whilst the Galway side may have a tougher finish to the season when compared to the Valley, any team in this league can be the ‘banana skin’ if the attitude and the preparation is not correct.

“That was a tough match” said outhalf David Maxwell, who had a fantastic game, especially his kicking out of hand.

“But we wanted it more and that was the difference, Stephen (Bothwell) had us motivated and we gave it our all”.

The team has a break next weekend before they travel to Bangor on February 10.