COOKSTOWN RFC once again suffered at the hands of Ballyclare RFC in a cup game.
The previous occasion was a bitter quarter final defeat in the McCambley Cup; a competition which Ballyclare went on to win. Following that defeat Cookstown regrouped and went on to win their league, beat Ballymena in the semi final and set up a rematch with Ballyclare in the Ravenhill Cup Final.
However it was just not meant to be for this group of players as Ballyclare’s experience saw them secure the double which means the wait goes on for Cookstown to secure silverware.
The game kicked off with a slight cross-field breeze, Cookstown kicked to Ballyclare and were penalized straight away. Ballyclare kicked tO the corner however having learned from the their previous encounter, Cookstown dominated the early lineout exchanges. Unfortunately this did little to spur the team on as Ballyclare dominated territory and possession in the opening 20 minutes which saw them take a 6-0 lead via poor Cookstown discipline.
Cookstown eventually got on the scoreboard on the 25 minute mark when Ballyclare were penalized for hands in the ruck. Paul O’Neill dispatched the ball between the poles. This appeared to spark Cookstown into life as they started to put phases together and get their forwards running at the Ballyclare line. Tighthead prop Owen Mallon and second row Martin Devlin were particularly impressive with their ball carrying and came close to scoring on several occasions. Outside centre Ronan Campbell was also very forceful and punched several holes in a tight Ballyclare defence.
Cookstown’s second score also came from the boot of Paul O’Neill when Ballyclare were once again penalised for hands in the ruck. Cookstown were now in the ascendancy with the pack dominating exchanges and their backs getting over the gain-line. Good field position in the Ballyclare 22 saw Cookstown set up a ruck where outhalf Ciaran Currie sat back into the pocket and despatched a neat drop goal to put Cookstown into the lead 9-6.
Cookstown hoped to play out the final five minutes of the half. The plan started well with a great take at the restart. However, the ball was kicked straight into touch and Ballyclare were given a lineout in a good attacking position. From this point they set up a good maul to bring them within ten metres of the Cookstown line where the ball was spun wide for their winger to dot down in the corner.
The half time score was 11-9 to Ballyclare.
Ballyclare kicked to Cookstown to restart the game. A deep clearance by Paul O’Neill was fumbled by the Ballyclare full back who knocked on the ball but a supporting runner picked it up from an offside position. Paul O’Neill converted the resultant penalty to put Cookstown into a 12-11 lead.
Cookstown remained on the front foot, however errors in handling and poor passing let Ballyclare off the hook as scoring chances went a begging. The second Ballyclare try came following a high kick from their fullback which wasn’t fielded but gathered by another attacker who offloaded to a supporting runner who sauntered in under the posts. The conversion was missed, 12-16 to Ballyclare.
Straight from the kick off Cookstown pressured the Ballyclare pack where flanker Martin Boone charged down the attempted clearance and the ball was gathered by Owen Mallon. Mallon’s offload deflected off a defender and into touch.
From the resultant lineout Cookstown set up a good attacking move through their back-line however the Ballyclare defence strayed off side. Paul O’Neill was accurate with the boot to leave a point between the sides 15-16.
Ballyclare appeared to up their work rate and their forwards started to come into the game with a series of pick and goes. They soon forced their way into the Cookstown 22 where a back move saw their winger go over in the corner for the third try.
Despite Cookstown protestations about the player being held up and taking several attempts to place the ball, the try was awarded and the conversion went over. 23-15 to Ballyclare.
This score proved to be the last of the day as Ballyclare saw the game out and were duly crowned Ulster Minor League and McCambley Cup Winners. Cookstown RFC would like to congratulate Ballyclare on their fine win, they withstood everything Cookstown could throw at them but their greater cup experience and guile saw them make it over the line.
An undefeated season comprising 27 games leaves it beyond doubt that Ballyclare have achieved something special.
Despite this tough cup final defeat, Cookstown can look back on their season with great pride, a league win and a cup final appearance is a marked improvement from the team who finished second in the league for the past two seasons. As always the team will look to build for next season.
Cookstown Squad: O’Neill, Mckeown, McKenna, Nugent, Campbell, Currie, Donaghy, Quinn, McGurk, Weir, Harte, Workman, Stinson, Currie, Rea, Reah, Mallon, Devlin, Eastwood, Boone, Moore. Reah. Team Manager: Mark Brown.
The club would like to thank the large support for coming out to cheer the team on and to Daron Patterson for his coverage of the game.