Valley are not over the hill
Big win silences Clogher doubters
Kukri Qualifying One champions Clogher Valley showed that they are determined to hold on to their crown in a 29-10 victory over CIYMS at Belmont.
Having already lost two league games and been dumped out of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup by Ballymena IIs, there had been whispers around the league that perhaps the dominant force in Ulster's junior ranks over recent years was finally beginning to slip.
There was little evidence of that at Belmont, however, as the Clogher pack overwhelmed CI and caused all manner of problems in the set-piece.
With autumnal conditions taking hold, Clogher adapted better to the adverse weather at lineout time and won a series of scrums against the head at crucial times.
There was even the added fillip of a try bonus point, thanks to a late score by lock Michael Trainor.
The five-point haul keeps the Tyrone men six points behind early pacesetters Instonians, but after losses for both Ballyclare and Portadown over the weekend, there is now a gap between themselves and the rest of the chasing pack.
The first score of the game came after just five minutes.
Clogher, who lost at Belmont last season, moved the ball well through a combination of Ryan Wilson, Phillip Holme and Andrew Speers, but a knock-on halted their progress.
With play called back for a CI offside, however, there was another chance and given the swirling winds, Holme kicked for the corner.
CI held firm and were awarded a scrum but, in what was to become a recurring theme, could not gain a foothold at the set-piece. Clogher drove straight over the top of the ball and when a CI forward felt compelled to gather from an offside position, the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try.
Holme casually knocked over the conversion and the visitors had a 7-0 lead.
CI did manage to move through the phases well, but they had little to show for their efforts with too many advances halted by the referee's whistle.
After 25 minutes, with the wind at his back, Holme struck a penalty that had been earned by his pack and a try looked on the cards shortly after. Speers streaked up the left and seemed set to go clear only for a strong tackle from Phil McVitty, to drive him backwards and earn a penalty.
CI halved the arrears late in the half thanks to a try of their own. With Ryan Wilson in the sin bin after collapsing a maul, Sam Baker knocked the penalty into the corner and while their forwards were repelled close to the line, scrum-half Michael Wilson darted around the ruck and finished strongly.
Having stayed within touching distance, despite playing into the terrible conditions throughout the first-half, CI would have expected to gain the upper hand after the turn, but it didn't come to pass.
With Clogher's forwards still on top, as CI's scrum and lineout struggled without two thirds of their usual front-row, Gareth Fry's side could not gain a platform from which to attack and their task was made all the more challenging when Clogher notched the first score after the restart.
It came after a strong run from fullback Paul Armstrong who finished well despite the attempted tackle of Harry Howard.
David Black's men made sure of the win with their third try of the day 13 minutes from time.
Another strong scrum was driving ominously towards the CI line when No.8, Ryan Wilson, picked up at the base and barged his way over with Holme's conversion making it 22-5.
CI's response didn't come until two minutes from the end, rendering Phil McVitty's late try a consolation.
It came after a good move along the line sent Harry Howard into space and he popped the ball up to his fellow wing for the score.
That seemed to rouse a Clogher side who, almost immediately, drove upfield for a try finished off by Trainor at the base of the posts.