Portadown won't give up league fight
Portadown kept the pressure on league leaders Clogher Valley with a bonus-point victory over Cooke in Kukri Qualifying 1.
Last season's champions began the day trailing the County Fermanagh side by seven points with just four games remaining, and could therefore ill-afford anything less than a five-point haul from their visit to Shaw's Bridge.
Richard Hedley's men duly delivered the required four-try performance with a brace from the influential Diarmaid O'Kane proving crucial.
And while Clogher managed a try-bonus of their own in a win over Coleraine, Portadown captain Jonny Holden has demanded his side maintain their standards over the closing weeks of the season.
"It looks all over but we have to keep fighting over the next few games. We're the champions of this league so we need to force them to take that title off us rather than handing it over," commented the centre.
"We had struggled a bit over the last couple of weeks so I'm happy that our performance today showed an improvement. We butchered a few chances near the end but we threw the ball about a bit and that was good to see. It's always a tough place to come and we did well to only give away one try."
The game's opening salvos augured well for an entertaining affair with Portadown twice believing they had opened the scoring inside the first 10 minutes, only for both scores to be correctly chalked off by the referee.
First, Nicky Jackson appeared to have touched down in the right corner but the pass from Ryan Calvert had travelled forward.
And just moments later, the men from Chambers Park were crossing the line again, but this time a knock on before Jonny Holden broke through brought the play back for a Cooke scrum.
The battle between the loose forwards was always likely to be an intriguing aspect of the match-up and so it proved, especially when Diarmaid O'Kane was the first name on the scoresheet.
The openside's pass to No 8 Gareth McCoy on the right wing was exquisite and, after the ball travelled through several pairs of forward hands, he was well placed to finish.
Barry Gribben's first kick off the tee was to prove his most difficult of the day, but the scrum-half had no problems adding the extras.
Cooke – donning pink socks to promote breast cancer awareness – almost mounted a quick response but, after winning a central penalty following strong work from Ashley Finlay, the shot at goal drifted off target.
O'Kane's second score came five minutes later as he burst onto a pass from Wayne Kelly and went over underneath the posts to ensure Gribben's subsequent conversion was a mere formality.
With half an hour played, Cooke got on the scoreboard following a well worked lineout in Portadown territory.
Scott Finlay's dart from touch was on target for Graham Jewhurst, and the lock was able to quickly hand off to Jonathan McClune. The forwards rumbled towards the line and Portadown could do nothing to stop the prop from scoring.
Neil Jarvis' conversion came back off the left hand post to leave the score 14-5.
However, Portadown would move into a three-score advantage just before the break when Andrew Chambers capitalised on a loose period of play to round the corner and score from distance.
After the turn, the home side enjoyed a spell of possession but thanks to problems protecting the ball at the ruck, could not translate their improvement into points. They were punished nine minutes into the half when their opponents scored the all-important fourth try.
A strong break from Nicky Jackson brought the ball forward and his pass allowed Gareth McCoy to power over for the bonus point.
Cooke seemed set to reduce the arrears soon after but a nice move was scuppered when Ashley Finlay knocked on Phillip Cartmill's pass that had been intended for Micah McDowell.
With their chances of taking anything from the game fading, Cooke's frustrations came to the fore and scrum-half David Creighton was shown a yellow card soon after.
Against 14 men, Portadown poured forward but several elaborate moves failed to manufacture scores.
As Creighton readied himself to re-enter the fray, Cooke were shown another yellow card. This time, player-coach Colin Atkinson was sent to the sin bin following a late tackle.
Portadown could not make use of the continued numerical advantage but no doubt will have considered their task complete some time before.