Ballyclare dreaming of more cup joy
Ballyclare can continue to dream of a return to Ravenhill after a commanding 26-10 win over Cooke at The Cloughan in the first round of the Junior Cup.
Having displayed their considerable knock-out rugby credentials last season, when they shared the Towns Cup with City of Derry, after beating the likes of Donaghadee and Dromore en route to the final, the Co Antrim side once again had few problems with opposition from a higher division and always looked the likely victors.
Head coach Bob Young was again encouraged by the relative ease with which his side disposed of a Qualifying One team.
After the win, he said: "We're always a confident team at home and we showed last season that we can compete and match teams from the division above.
"We have the skills and the abilities to play expansive rugby and that's what we always aim to do.
"We train hard at using our feet, playing into the space and working our offloads so it's good to see that come off in the games.
"We really rallied at the end, channelling our aggression and frustration into the defence, and holding out despite turning the ball over too easily."
Cooke made seven changes to the starting line-up that suffered a dispiriting home loss to Dromore in the league last week but the upheaval in personnel failed to have the desired effect as Ballyclare took an early lead through William Stevenson.
Just five minutes had elapsed when the scrum-half was allowed to pick the ball up at the base of the scrum and dart over the line without much in the way of Cooke resistance.
Ballyclare threatened to add to that early score but their attacks were curtailed by a series of drops and forward passes until Gary Weatherup instigated a break after 17 minutes.
The powerful flanker charged up field, leaving tacklers in his wake, and seemed set to score a fine individual try only to be tackled by his opposite number Andy Quigley as he neared the posts.
Far from ending the attack, however, Weatherup had support from the outstanding Robert Smith who gathered the offload and charged over in the corner before adding the testing conversion to extend the home side advantage to 12 points.
After a frenetic opening quarter, Cooke belatedly began to move through phases in attack and were soon rewarded when dangerous full-back Alex Gourley broke through to score.
Alex's brother Alan missed the conversion and the deficit narrowed before the break with James Greer managing to finish off a move that he had started.
After acrobatically claiming a difficult high ball, the wing was able to get turned and feed the ball back to secure possession. Ballyclare moved the ball well but Cooke appeared to be repelling the advance before a speculative grubber took a favourable bounce allowing Greer to coral the loose ball and speed in for a try.
Leading 19-5 at the turn, Young's side were in control of proceedings and put the game beyond doubt with a further score a quarter of an hour into the second half.
Smith appeared set to add to his earlier try but was tackled just short of the line and, when the ball was recycled, Colin Morrow was on hand to power over.
Now three converted tries behind, Cooke tried to mount a response but found their hosts in a resilient mood and could claw back only five points, through an unconverted Micah McDowell try, before the end of the game.
As an early exit for the south Belfast side loomed, their frustrations threatened to boil over and following a scuffle involving players from both sides the referee showed yellow cards to Ballyclare's Alan Boyd and Cooke's Matthew McCormick while the official had a lengthy consultation with both captains.
The visitors dominated possession in the closing stages but it failed to translate into points leaving Ballyclare to ease into the second round.