Clogher Valley I, II and U19 XV All go into 2012 sitting proudly on top of their respective Leagues.

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Cooke I XV14 vs 20 Clogher Valley I XV

In the top of the table clash against Cooke,the other unbeaten team in Kukri Qualifying League One,Valley outscored the hosts by three trys to one. A huge travelling support flocked to Shaws Bridge and were treated to a pulsating,closely-fought encounter with the result in doubt right up to the final whistle.
Cooke started strongly and Valley couldn’t get their hands on the ball for the first five minutes. A scrummage infringement just inside the Cooke half gave Valley a penalty and Philip Holme’s kick went in off the right-hand upright to give Valley the lead somewhat against the run of play.
This seemed to lift the Valley players and the forwards,superbly marshalled by James Bates, put together several phases before prop forward Rodney Bennett crashed over for the opening try.Holme’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful but Valley had a useful 0 – 8 lead after twelve minutes.
A speculative kick into the Valley 22 was gathered by Ally Breen and he sent a massive clearance into the Cooke 22 – a net gain of nearly eighty metres ! Valley disrupted and stole the Cooke lineout and the forwards rumbled towards the Cooke line. Bates cleverly switched the attack to Henry Richmond who sent Philip Falconer over at the posts. Holme’s conversion gave Valley a 0 – 15 lead after twenty minutes.
Cooke upped their game and began to put some phases together and test the Valley defence. When ball was lost in contact on the halfway line,Cooke launched a quick counter attack through the middle.Poor tackling allowed Cooke center Pyper to run an arcing line and score an unconverted try in the corner. 5 – 15 after twenty-seven minutes.
Cooke fullback Cartmill was causing problems every time he got the ball.He launched a huge up and under and won the aerial battle with Ally Breen before the ball was cleared.Another run from his own 22 brought play into the Valley 22 before the danger was averted. Andy Breen made two good tackles and steals but was harshly penalised on both occasions. Half time arrived with Cooke very much in the game at 5 – 15.
Valley started the second half strongly.Ean Griffiths made good ground down the right. Quick ball produced a three versus two but a kick into the Cooke 22 was marked and cleared when hands would have been the better option.
Another penalty for a scrummage offence by Cooke was missed before a period of Cooke pressure saw Falconer yellow-carded for slowing the ball down.Murphy slotted the kick to narrow the gap to 8 – 15,ten minutes into the second half. Valley then inexplicably tried maul the ball out of their own 22 after a lineout take,instead of kicking to touch. The inevitable penalty was conceded and Murphy brought the hosts to within four points at 11 – 15 with Cooke in the ascendancy.
Valley were starting to panic and lose their composure before a piece of Ally Breen magic restored order. A lineout in the Valley 22 was secured and Bennett burst forward up to halfway.Bates moved the ball out right to Davy Dunlop and Ally Breen came into the line at pace.He kicked over the advancing Cooke backs and won the race for the touchdown.The conversion was missed but Valley had a nine point cushion at 11 – 20 going into the last fifteen minutes.
Cooke weren’t finished and tried everything to get something out of the game.When pleasantries were exchanged by the forwards on the Valley 22, the referee reversed a penalty awarded to Valley and Murphy narrowed the gap to 14 – 20.
In a frenetic last few minutes Valley had an opportunity to register an unlikely bonus-point win when they hammered the Cooke line for a fourth try. Yet again Valley were penalised and with no time left on the clock,Cooke had no option but to run the ball in the last play of the game. Cartmill got possession his own 22 and sprinted clear of the covering defence into the Valley 22 where his opposite number Ally Breen stopped him.The ball was kept alive and with the try line beckoning,Griffiths crowned a superb man of the match display with a try-saving tackle to deny Cooke a certain seven pointer and a one point win.
The Valley team and supporters greeted the final whistle with a mixture of relief and elation while Cooke were left to reflect on what might have been.
This was Qualifying League rugby at its best and a great advert for rugby at this level. Next Saturday is Towns Cup First Round and Valley have a free Saturday having drawn a bye. Valley Seconds open their Cup campaign with a rearranged Crawford Cup match against Ballyclare at The Cran.Let’s have the same support for the Valley Second string as was in Belfast last week.

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