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Valley silenced by underdogs as Ballyclare stun holders to reach last four

By Jonathan Bradley

Ballyclare advanced to the semi-finals of the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup with an 8-6 upset over holders Clogher Valley at The Cloghan on Saturday.

The Co Antrim side have made a habit of toppling Qualifying 1 opposition over the last 12 months, and the Towns Cup joint-holders added Clogher to a list of scalps that already included Donaghadee, Dromore and Cooke, thanks to a try from man-of-the-match Adam Wardrop in the first-half.

Following the defeat, Clogher Valley coach David Black could not hide his frustration and feels it is imperative that his side regain their momentum when attention returns to the league next weekend.

"It's always very disappointing to exit a cup competition, especially at this stage," he said.

"We had enough possession there to win two games, never mind one, but their defence held firm and they managed to hold out. The boys aren't really used to losing games so they will take it badly.

"It's obviously very important now that we start concentrating on a big game next week against Dromore and take the opportunity to right some of our wrongs from today.

"We're going well in the league and the All-Ireland Junior Cup so there's still chances there for us to have a really strong year."

Only Portadown have recorded more victories than Clogher in Q1 this season and the game started well for the Co Fermanagh side with their scrum, led ably Phillip Moore, a particularly encouraging aspect.

And they took the lead after 11 minutes when Aaron Best kicked a penalty awarded when Ballyclare were spotted with hands in the ruck.

That advantage would last just seven minutes, however, with Wardrop scoring the contest's only try just as the game approached its second quarter.

Nathan Laughlin carried the ball into the opposing 22, the attack only halted when the referee called for a scrum.

Ballyclare produced a strong set-piece and Wardrop, picking up at the base, cleverly broke to the blindside and crossed the whitewash to put his side into a 5-3 lead.

The scrum-half could not convert his own score, leaving the hosts just two points clear.

That miss ensured that when Ballyclare were once again penalised at a ruck, Best's second successful penalty gave the favourites a slender lead.

Both Wardrop and his half-back partner Colin Morrow had glimpses of an opening before the break but neither could make a telling breakthrough before the interval.

After the turn, Clogher Valley started the second-half brightly but their cause was not helped in the 49th minute when out-half David Speers was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. The situation worsened when Wardrop kicked the resulting penalty between the posts to give an 8-6 lead.

Clogher survived Speers' spell in the sin bin without conceding again, returning to a full complement of players with 20 minutes remaining.

As expected, the visitors threw everything at their opponents in an attempt to stave off their elimination and only stoic defending from Ballyclare stopped their line being breached.

A kick to the corner gave Black's side a line-out in a dangerous position and BJ Wilson attempted to force the ball over only to be halted by determined tackling.

The remainder of the game followed a similar pattern with Ballyclare's forwards repelling attacks by throwing their bodies in front of their onrushing opponents, a scrum close to the line providing the most threatening passage.

Ballyclare will be joined in the last four by Ballymoney, Ballynahinch II and Coleraine after they overcame Donaghadee, Portadown and Grosvenor respectively.

Belfast Telegraph

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