Cooke have the key ingredients
CIYMS 16-26 COOKE
Cooke earned a crucial four points in their fight to avoid relegation to Kukri Qualifying 2 with a victory over Belfast rivals CIYMS at Belmont on Saturday.
While U.U.C's demotion to the second tier of junior rugby in Ulster is already confirmed, Cooke entered the weekend sitting ninth in the table; a spot which could mean relegation if fellow Shaw's Bridge club Instonians lose their senior status at the end of a difficult AIL 2B campaign.
Their triumph in the repeat of last season's McCrea Cup final, however, sees them leapfrog Coleraine in the standings ahead of the visit of league leaders Clogher Valley next weekend.
After the win, player-coach Colin Atkinson praised the character shown by his team as a difficult campaign draws to a close.
"It's very pleasing because we've had a really tough season," said the former Belfast Harlequins player. "I was really hard on the boys after last week against Portadown because I thought it was as poor as we have been in a long time.
"It wasn't pretty to watch but we needed to grind out a result and that's what we did. To a man, everyone stood up, made their hits and put C.I under a lot of pressure.
"Crucial guys have got injured all year but the guys that have come in have given everything and that will continue to be the case over the next few weeks."
Both sides came into the game missing a host of starting players with captain Andy Quigley, Phillip Gourley, Alex Gourley and Russell Hunter all absent for the visitors, while CIYMS were without their own captain Stuart Fergusson, as well as Michael Wilson, Andy Hodgen, Steven McReynolds, Mark McConkey and Matthew McGuigan.
As well as the lengthy list of absentees, neither team has been blessed with an abundance of form in recent weeks as, while they have none of Cooke's relegation worries, CI came into the game on the back of a five game losing streak in the league that has seriously hampered their attempts to once again qualify for the All-Ireland Junior Cup.
As such, the first try had the potential to prove crucial and it went to Cooke after 10 minutes.
Due to a strong wind, David Creighton's dink into space took an unorthodox course, but fortunately for the visitors, the ball bounced right into the hands of Phillip Cartmill and the full-back did well to evade both C.I tackles and the touchline before streaking up the wing to score.
Despite the strong and swirling wind, Neil Jarvis was accurate with his conversion and Cooke led 7-0. C.I's response would come six minutes later when Mark Scott scored the first of his two tries in the game.
Following a line-out inside the Cooke 22, the flanker displayed good strength to twist out of the opposition's attempts to hold up the ball and touch down.
Despite the breach, Cooke held onto the lead when Stephen Foster's testing conversion did not come back enough to squeeze in between the posts.
Each side missed a penalty during the next 10 minutes of play but the south Belfast side would extend their advantage with a successful shot at goal in the 25th minute.
To make matters worse for C.I, their number 8 Ross Hackney was shown a yellow card and would spend the next 10 minutes on the sidelines.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, a change of goal kicker for the home side saw Michael McComb respond with a penalty to make the score 10-8, but Cooke would cross the whitewash again before the break.
A fine passage of play saw a quick interchange of passes between Richard Finlay, Ashley Finlay and Ian Anderson to move the ball from left to right and free Kyle Mitchell to score.
McComb notched another penalty with the last action of the first half to move the score to 17-11 at the interval.
After the turn, C.I's tight five got the upper hand but, despite the dominance up front and a yellow card for Mitchell, Cooke remained in the lead throughout.
Their advantage was cut to a solitary point when Scott, who ran strongly all afternoon, scampered through a number of tackles to score his second but it would prove his side's last points of the day.
Another Jarvis penalty gave Cooke some breathing space before Ross Hackney was shown a second yellow of the game for an alleged stamp with 10 minutes remaining.
Seeing out the game with 14 men, a further brace of penalties from Jarvis would ensure that the east Belfast outfit could not even take a losing bonus point from the encounter and, even with losses for Dromore and Ballymoney over the weekend, their chances of finishing in the top four now seem remote.
Belfast Telegraph Digital