Sour taste for Cooke as Malone magic does trick
Cooke 23 Malone II 26
Malone's seconds brought the McCrea Cup back to Gibson Park for the first time since 2012 after seeing off a late comeback attempt from Cooke at Kingspan Stadium yesterday.
A repeat of last year's final, now moved to Easter Monday to act as a curtain raiser for the Towns Cup, Malone ensured there would be no second victory in succession for their Belfast rivals but had to endure a nervy finish.
Jack McMurty and Richard Miller had scored before the break, with the reliable boot of Rory Campbell keeping the scoreboard ticking over, but they would manage just a solitary penalty after the turn, with Cooke answering back through captain Brian Mannus and Alex Gourley.
Indeed when Campbell's late penalty came back off the post, Cooke were trying to run from their own 22 for what would be a match winning score but couldn't find the crucial opening.
Early on it hadn't seemed such drama was in store.
Malone thought they were on the board in the opening minutes only for the maul try to be chalked off. The reprieve for the Shaw's Bridge outfit was short-lived though, Malone driving inside through the forwards before spinning the ball out wide for McMurty to go over in the corner.
With a fine touchline conversion from Campbell, the Cregagh Red Sox had a quick 7-0 lead.
But Cooke allowed only one further penalty from Campbell before the final minutes of the half. The Gibson Park outfit delivered a hammer blow moments before the break, Josh Pentland scything through the midfield and Miller finishing strongly underneath the posts.
With Campbell adding another well struck effort with the last kick before the turn, it was 23-6 at half-time.
The strong running of Mannus brought Cooke their first try and, when Malone lock Cory Tipping was sent to the bin, they were in the ascendancy.
A delightfully measured cross field kick from Phillip Cartmill into the arms of Alex Gourley quickly created another, with Alan Gourley converting his brother's try to make it a one-score game. And when Campbell's late penalty rebounded off the upright, the most unlikely of comebacks seemed a possibility but Malone held their nerve to secure the silverware.