On Saturday 5 May, Cookstown RFC will play Ballyclare RFC in the final of the Ravenhill Cup. Cookstown booked their place in the final following an invincible season in their section of the minor league and by beating a much more experienced and bigger Ballymena side in what can only be described as a bruising and full blooded semi-final.
The game kicked off in bright sunshine and firm underfoot conditions which provided a spectacle of running rugby for the sizeable crowd. Immediately from kick off Cookstown pressured the Ballymena line with some hard running from the backs and forwards, but all too often poor handling or choice of pass meant scoring chances went a begging.
First blood went to Ballymena however, as their scrum half made a break down the blind side of a scrum on the half way line. The pacey half back then proceeded to evade a number of poor tackles and touched down beside the posts. The conversion was missed. Ballymena 5 Cookstown 0.
Cookstown replied almost immediately from the restart when some good counter rucking from Martin Boone won his side a penalty at the half way line. Unfortunately Paul O’Neill was just off target with his long range effort. However the boy’s confidence noticeably improved as they moved the heavier Ballymena pack through the phases and the gaps were began to appear in the home-side’s defence.
Cookstown’s first score of the day came following a well worked back move which saw out half Ciaran Currie chip the ball through for Ronan Campbell to out strip the defence and score. Conversion missed Cookstown 5 Ballymena 5.
Soon after fullback Paul ONeill was spot on with a fine penalty attempt. Cookstown 8 Ballymena 5.
Cookstown’s second try came following a set piece move which saw Ciaran Currie slip the ball to team Captain Ryan Eastwood who took a fine line and raced 40 yards untouched under the posts. Paul Oneill was successful with the conversion. Cookstown 15 Ballymena 5.
Into the second half and Cookstown knew to expect an onslaught right from outset. Ballymena did not disappoint, setting up a series of mauls and pick ‘n’ goes in an attempt to try and get their big pack into the game. However a number of heroes emerged from this Cookstown pack; each individual put their bodies on the line and withstood everything Ballymena threw at them. In the backs Cookstown had the guile of Denver and Kevin Nugent (Kenver) who were on hand to exploit any errors made by Ballymena and ease the pressure on their pack.
Much of the half was played out with Cookstown withstanding the Ballymena siege. The team’s only respite coming from their ability to exploit isolated attackers and follow up with some quick counter attacking.
With 15 minutes of the half remaining Ballymena crossed the Cookstown line when their winger was put into space by a clever pass from the inside centre. The conversion was successful Cookstown 15 Ballymena 12.
Having lost Captain Ryan Eastwood through injury, the writing was on the wall. This was a severe mental test for Cookstown, who responded by deciding not to try and defend the lead but create more attacking opportunities.
Fine work with the boot by Ciaran Currie kept the Cookstown pack on the front foot. The forwards responded to this by upping their work and putting phases together. As Ballymena struggled they could only to slow the ball down illegally, which subsequently led to penalties. One transgression in the Ballymena 22 was duly converted by full back Paul O’Neill to give Cookstown an 18-12 lead.
This concluded the scoring for the day but Cookstown by no means coasted into the final. The final ten minutes saw Cookstown defend their line against wave after wave of attack in the form of mauls and forward drives. However the boys defended astutely, holding up mauls and even snatching a scrum against the head on their own five metre line.
A clever turnover deep in the Cookstown 22 eased the pressure and saw the tables turned on Ballymena as the Cookstown pack drove at the Braidmen’s line. Knowing that it was the last play of the game, Darral Donaghy spun the ball was spun wide to Ciaran Currie who was narrowly off target with a drop goal. Weirdly the miss was celebrated with scenes of joy as the referee sounded the final whistle to send Cookstown into its first ever final.
This was a fine performance from Cookstown. It was Ballymena who beat them in the cup last year by destroying the pack up front, this year it was Cookstown’s turn. Manager Mark Brown laid down a challenge to the pack at the start of the game. The ten men who played their part in the pack stood up and were counted, taking five scrums against the head, dominating the lineouts and putting in brutal hits. John Paul REAH in particular put in an inspirational performance. But this game was not just won up front, each of the Cookstown backs were magnificent, hitting crash balls, stopping bigger, heavier runners and making vital ground with line breaks. Denver Nugent was simply magnificent with his running skills and ability to punish any poor kicks.
The squad now look forward to the build up to the final. Training continues on Monday and Wednesdays. The club intends to put on a supporter’s bus for the final, please contact Ryan Eastwood or Liam Currie.
Cookstown squad: Stephen Quinn, Liam currie, Owen Mallon, Chris Moore, Conor Harte, John j, McGurk, Martin Devlin, Gavin Stinson, Ryan Eastwood , Martin Boone, col JP REAH, Stephen Rea, Ciaran Currie, David Weir, Barry Loughran, Denver Nugent, Kevin Nugent, Colin Workman, Richard Brown, Ronan Campbell, Paul O’Neill Michael McKeown. Team manager Mark Brown. Team Coach Graeme Eastwood.
The club would like to thank the very vocal support for making the effort to turn up and cheer the boys on. We would also like to thank local photographer Daron Patterson for his coverage of the game.