Resilient Clogher Valley show their grit
Clogher triumph as Cooke go off the boil
Clogher Valley survived a scare at Shaw's Bridge on Saturday as they came from behind to beat Cooke 19-12 in Kukri Qualifying One.
The hosts had led 12-0 in the first half thanks to tries from Andy Pollock and Brian Mannus but the league champions came back with three unanswered scores.
A penalty try in between touchdowns from Ryan Wilson and Jack Stott secured victory but it was far from a comprehensive showing.
With usual fly-half Philip Holme ruled out due to a family bereavement, captain Aaron Best moved from scrum-half to number 10 and Mark Ellis came into the side for his first start.
While the stand-in number nine performed solidly, the team's fluidity lessened with a new half-back pairing.
After the win, Best was relieved that his side had escaped with four points.
"We started very slow, and it was tough game, but we're just happy that we came back and got the win," he said.
"The thing is, you're never going to get a really bad Cooke side, especially at home where they're going to be up for it.
"Playing at 10, the half-backs are going to be the key men, and it took a while for us to get the boys into the game."
Cooke, the only side to take a point from a fixture with Instonians this season, seemed determined to get something and thought they had taken the lead through Jonathan Kingham after only two minutes. The try, however, was chalked off for a forward pass.
Rowan Frost's side did however open the scoring a quarter of an hour later.
Pollock advanced the ball with real purpose before passing to Andrew Hannah and, after a nice step inside, Cooke's number 15 looped around the back to create the space to score. Pollock was injured shortly after, however, and did not re-emerge until the game's final moments.
Clogher Valley, along with Instonians, are one of only two sides to have conceded less than 100 points in Qualifying One this season but Cooke breached their defence once again soon after.
Another good backline effort saw Kingham make ground before the ball was handed over to the forwards.
A series of lunges towards the line were repelled but, when out-half David Elliott opted to spread the play, Mannus ran the ball home.
A conversion from Elliott made the score 12-0.
Cooke thought they had held the Fermanagh men pointless for the first half when, with the clock having moved past 40 minutes, they kicked to touch but the referee signalled that there was still time for the Clogher line-out.
The signs were ominous when the south Belfast men were pinged for not rolling away and the visitor's formidable scrum rumbled over the line for Ryan Wilson to score.
Paul Armstrong added the conversion to make the score 12-7 at the turn.
Seven minutes into the half, Mannus was shown a yellow card for spoiling at the breakdown and Owen Kelly required treatment soon after.
With Pollock and Alex Gourley already off the field thanks to injuries, Cooke were temporarily left to defend with only 13 men. They did so with gusto and Clogher knew their time was running out.
With 10 minutes to go, the pressure told and, shortly after David Sharkey ripped the ball loose in a maul, a Cooke scrum was back-pedalling towards its own line at pace when it collapsed illegally.
The referee had no choice but to award a penalty try and Armstrong's simple conversion gave his side the lead for the first time.
Cooke were now a spent force and, after they somehow managed to knock on at the base of an uncontested scrum, Clogher ruthlessly exploited the mistake as Stott finished off a fine move.
The missed conversion ensured that Cooke at least had the solace of a deserved losing bonus point while Clogher's only Qualifying One fixture before they return to Shaw's Bridge for a tussle with league-leaders Instonians is a visit from third-placed Ballyclare.