Clogher Valley RFC Notes: U19 I XV 24 v Carrickfergus RFC U19 I XV 25: Brave Valley just fall short

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Playing against a significant slope and in windy conditions Valley expected that the huge Carrick packs tactics, with several Ulster U19 players, would be to try and wear their smaller forwards down with aggressive phases of “pick and go”. However Valley were confident that with their better backs, if they could achieve parity at the breakdown, they could win the game.
Before the game Valleys task had been made more difficult when they had lost their Captain McKenna and flanker Treanor through injury. This was compounded after two minutes with the loss of hooker Hughes after a brave tackle on a much bigger Carrick forward in the first drive of the game.
Despite this initial set back the Valley pack with the back row of Mulligan, Dougan and Millar leading the way took the game to Carrick. With the back row linking well with the inside backs and fluid movement of the ball away from the point of contact Valley made inroads every time they obtained possession. After five minutes a fine back movement saw Stafford kick ahead which led to a Valley lineout inside the Carrick 22. The ball was well won by Mulligan and prop Donnelly was just held up short of the line in the ensuing drive, the ball was recycled to the blind where Millar was able to drive through three tackles to make the line for the first try. The conversion by Armstrong, in a strong wind, was excellent for Valley to lead 7-0.
Valley returned to the attack after the restart when a huge spiral kick by Armstrong took play again into the Carrick 22. Carrick won their line out but the relieving kick to touch was missed and well caught by full back Coulter who linked with the forwards to set play up in centre field. The ball was moved right but an attempted kick behind the defensive line was charged down only for the ball to fall into the hands of winger Kelly. He made good yards before the supporting Millar took the ball on with a forward drive. When the ball was moved blind Carrick had ran out of defenders anD Kelly was able to run in unopposed from forty metres. The conversion was good by Armstrong and Valley led 14-0. From the restart Valley attacked again and were awarded a penalty. In the difficult conditions this was missed but Valley turned over the attempted Carrick attack and Armstrong took a smart drop goal to leave Valley 17-0 ahead after fifteen minutes.
Carrick had not been in the game and they were a dispirited side as they returned for the restart. Valley should have closed the game out in the 25th minute when another period of interlinking between backs and forwards saw Valley have a three on two overlap in the Carrick 22. Unfortunately the wrong option was taken and although the ball was grounded the referee penalised Valley for a double movement. It was to be one of two defining moments in the game.
Valley relaxed and allowed the Carrick pack a series of drives which cumulated in a try. Though the conversion was missed the Carrick team grew in confidence. From the restart they attacked again through their forwards. Valley were defending well but the pressure was intense. A Carrick scrum five metres out saw a marvelous tackle by Dougan drive the larger Carrick No 8 back several paces. The follow through of Mulligan cleared the ball for a Carrick line out. From the line out Carrick again used their forwards and pounded the Valley defence. Dougan, to the fore as usual, received a serious head wound whilst making a tackle, but as he was being treated, the referee allowed play to go on and eventually Carrick managed an overlap to score again, though again the kick was missed and Valley still led 17-10. Dougan was forced to leave the field for hospital treatment leaving Valley with four first choice forwards missing.
Despite this set back Valley returned to the attack but on the stroke of half time came the second defining moment of the game. Valley attempted to run whilst in mid field but a cut out pass was easily intercepted by the Carrick centre for him to run 60 metres for a third try. Inexplicably this was missed so Valley still led 17-15 at half time.
The second half was a turgid affair with the strong wind and rain coupled with significant stoppages for player injuries and constant penalties/free kicks from the referee disrupting play.
Carrick started to dominate with their forwards and after 42 minutes took the lead with a penalty kick 18-17. The Carrick pack were dominating possession but had limited variety in their attempts to break the Valley defence. Unfortunately, whatever possession Valley won, they started to take the ball into contact. This lack of vision was compounding their problems in getting field position. The game became locked in midfield with neither side seemingly able to break the stranglehold. Then after 60 minutes Valley kicked hopefully deep into Carrick 22. The chase was good and they managed to charge the clearing kick down. The ball bounced around but the first to react was Stafford who kicked through and then won the race for a touchdown. The conversion by Armstrong saw the Valley lead restored to 24-18. It was Valleys first real attack of the half.
Armstrong had two further attempts at long range penalties as Valley tried to close the game out but the conditions were against him being successful. With ten minutes left Carrick returned to the attack and almost immediately Valley were reduced to 14 players when a prop was sin binned for not rolling away from a tackle. Valley continued to defend valiantly but with a weakened side and a high tackle count Carrick always looked as if they would get the decisive score. All the Valley supporters could hope was it would be far out on the touchline. Unfortunately when it arrived, with two minutes left, it was under the posts and with a simple kick Carrick took the lead 25-24. Valley still had a chance and reclaimed the restart. However a knock on saw a scrum to Carrick who gleefully booted the ball out to win the game.
Heart break for a brave Valley team who gave their all. To pick a man of the match would be unfair as the commitment and spirt was outstanding, in very trying circumstances.
Valley should not be disappointed. They have finished 4th in the league, losing finalists in the Plate competition and semi finalist in the Nutty Crust tournament. Along the way they have had some notable victories and held top sides for long periods before succumbing to the large weight advantages they tended to have. All the coaches, management, and not least, parents/supporters can look back on a very successful season. Congratulations to all.

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