The Maxol sponsored Carrick 1st XV moved into fifth place in the League with a 23 points to 10 victory against Cooke at Shaw’s Bridge on Saturday 2nd March, leap-frogging Cooke and Portadown who lost to Dromore. In a match played in very difficult conditions, with a strong cross-wind and frequent heavy rain showers, Carrick produced a performance of great character in the second half, having lost a forward to a questionable red card almost immediately following the re-start. Although the home side had slightly the better of territory and possession in the first half, it was Carrick who led at the break and then, despite being down to fourteen men, they kept Cooke penned inside their own territory for long periods in the second half and out-scored them by two tries to one. For Carrick, Conor Cambridge at scrum half had another excellent game, capped by a well taken try in the second half. Full-back Fionn McCormack also had a good game in very difficult conditions, being safe under the high ball, putting over two penalties and a conversion in difficult kicking conditions and making a try-saving tackle half-way through the second half. Johnny Sheriff contributed with a number of line breaks and was solid in defence while up front Nathan Greenwood, Ryan Gibson, Ryan McGonigle and Joel Bell carried strongly and put in some strong defensive work.
The home side dominated in the early stages of the game and took the lead with a penalty goal after twelve minutes. Carrick hit back five minutes later with a penalty converted by Fionn McCormack; the penalty was awarded following a line-out catch and drive and a series of pick and drives close to the Cooke line. Both sides had difficulty retaining possession in the wet and windy conditions and despite, line breaks by both sides, neither could hold onto the ball for long enough to threaten the opposition’s line. Then , with just a couple of minutes of the half remaining, Cooke kicked the ball dead from a penalty on half-way, Johnny Sheriff made a line break following the ensuing scrum and Carrick took the ball through several phases before being awarded a penalty five metres out. They opted for a scrum and quick transfer from the base enabled left winger David Moore to go over in the corner. Fionn McCormack put over an excellent conversion from a difficult angle and Carrick went into the break leading by 10 points to 3.
The second half started badly for Carrick when they lost flanker Jack Millar to a red card for an alleged tip tackle although the Cooke player reached the ground safely and a yellow seemed more appropriate in the circumstances. Despite being down to fourteen men, Carrick began to take control of the match and for much of the third quarter Cooke were penned in and around their own 22. The visitors extended their lead with a Fionn McCormack penalty in the fifty-fourth minute and then three minutes later made it 18-3 with a try from scrum-half Conor Cambridge. This came after a Carrick attack down the left flank, with carries from Ryan Gibson, Ryan McGonigle and David Moore before the ball was moved to the right, taken through a number of phases and Cambridge then stepped his way past the covering defence to score. The try was not converted. Although the home side found it hard to establish a foot-hold in the Carrick half, they did make a number of dangerous line breaks from deep, one of which would have led to a score but for a try-saving tackle by Fionn McCormack. After another such break, in the sixty-fifth minute, Cooke were awarded a penalty five metres out, opted for the scrum and went over following a series of picks and drives. The try was converted to leave Carrick leading by 18 points to 10. With their scrum now clearly on top and with the wind now helping them, Carrick continued to dominate territory and, increasingly, possession. Then, with normal time almost up, Carrick scored their third try when they again opted for a scrum after a penalty award and Nathan Greenwood got the touch-down as they shoved Cooke back over the line. The try was not converted and Carrick easily saw off one last Cooke attack in injury time to record a very much deserved 23 points to 10 victory.
This was another performance of character by Carrick and playing virtually the whole of the second half with fourteen men seemed not to make a jot of difference to their ability to control the game. Next week they travel to Shaw’s Bridge once again to face League leaders Instonians before facing Coleraine at home in their last League match a fortnight later. Despite their fifth place they are not completely clear of relegation danger yet so points from the remaining games are important.
The Carrick team which faced Cooke was:-
F. McCormack; B. Alexander, R. Berry, J. Sheriff, D. Moore; A. White, C. Cambridge; J. Bell( G. McKeown), A. Whitley, A. Gibney, C. Rodgers, R. Gibson, R. McGonigle(Capt), J. Millar, N. Grenwood (M. Ferris).