FOR the third year in a row, Cookstown RFC exited the McCambley Cup at the quarter final stage. The team headed down the M2 to take on Ballyclare in buoyant mood despite the home side’s daunting record on home turf. Both sides served up a fine game of rugby which kept the sizeable crowd on their toes up until the very end.
The game kicked off in soft underfoot conditions with Cookstown benefiting from the breeze. For the first twenty minutes Cookstown lay siege on the Ballyclare 22 with a number of deep forages from their hard working forwards and some fine kicking from outhalf Ciaran Currie who used the breeze to good effect. The first score of the day came following a well executed maul from the Cookstown pack who pushed Ballyclare to their own five metre line. However the homeside were penalised for collapsing the maul and Ciaran Currie converted the penalty. 3-0 to Cookstown with twenty minutes played.
Ballyclare responded quickly when a poor kick from the base of the ruck was collected by the Ballyclare winger who marched through the Cookstown defence. A fine tackle by Denver Nugent halted the attack but Ballyclare were able to spin the ball wide where their experienced backline employed some fine moves. Fortunately Micky McKeown was on hand to force the attacker into touch. From the resultant lineout, Cookstown were harshly penalised for not being exactly 10 metres from the line out and as a result Ballyclare were handed a three points from an easy penalty.
Into the second half and it was Ballyclare’s turn to dominate the exchanges. Their experienced fullback and outhalf, ably assisted by the breeze, were able to pin Cookstown in their own 22. The Clare pack were disrupting the Cookstown lineout and ultimately the pressure began to mount. A quick break into the Cookstown 22 resulted in a penalty for Clare as Cookstown were adjudged to enter the ruck from the side. The penalty was easily converted. 6-3.
Thr first try of the game was scored by Ballyclare following a well worked backline move off the back of a scrum in the Cookstown 22. The touchline conversion was missed. However the Ballyclare full back was given another opportunity soon after when Cookstown were penalised for hands in the ruck. 11-3 to Ballyclare.
A third penalty gave Ballyclare a 14-3 lead and a rout looked to be on the cards. However, this appeared to galvanise the team who lifted their game by throwing caution and ran the ball at Ballyclare. Several deep runs saw Cookstown pressurize the Clare try line. With experience on their side, Ballyclare attempted to slow the game down but repeatedly fell foul of the referee.
With ten minutes left on the clock, outhalf Ciaran Currie tapped a quick penalty and passed to brother Liam who barged over the try line beside the posts. To be fair Liam was ably assisted by his sidekick, the young Owen Mallon. Unfortunately the conversion was missed. Score 14-8.
Knowing that only a converted try would see them through, Cookstown threw everything into attack and again pressured the Ballyclare try line only to come agonisingly close on several occasions. Unfortunately unforced errors such as forward passes and players going into the tackle high allowed Clare to slow the ball up and offered them a reprieve.
At the final whistle Cookstown were clearly dejected as this was a game which could have been won had the boys trusted their own running ability. However the team will not dwell on this and will push on to finish up top of the league and get another chance to claim silverware.
Team: Liam Currie, Stephen Rea, Owen Mallon, Colin Workman, Chris Moore (Adam Stinson), Martin Boone, Ryan Eastwood, JP Reah, Darral Donaghy, Ciaran Currie, Conor Harte (Ciaran McKenna), Denver Nugent, Ronan Campbell. Barry Loughran (John Rambo McGurk), Micky McKeown, Gavin Stinson, Stevie Quinn, Jarlath Loughran, Dave Mr.Cruz Weir.
The club would like to wish Ballyclare all the best of luck in the remainder of the tournament and to thank them for their kind hospitality after the game.