Ards 3rds sizzle against Cookstown
Ards 3rds progressed into the final of the Butler Shield after a sizzling performance against Cookstown
Ards 3rds 40 v Cookstown 10
Ards 3rds entertained Cookstown in their eagerly awaited Butler Shield semifinal at a sunny spring Hamilton Park last Saturday. Cookstown kicked off the game with a high deep kick gathered comfortably by Bob Hull who ran back with aggression into the dazed Cookstown pack.
With Ards on the front foot from the start, they laid down their early makers on the Cookstown side still recovering from their long journey. Pressure soon built through the Ards pack with forward surges by Andrew Crozier and Bryan McFarland gaining the hard yards, resulting in a good platform for the fleet footed Ards backs.
Cookstown battled well but were unable to defend the width of play in the Ards attack allowing centre Aaron May to show great individual skill to score in the corner, this was converted from the touchline by out half Alex Gaw. Ards 7 v Cookstown 0
This early score settled the nerves but also refocussed Cookstown. A few poorly executed kicks from penalties and again in open play handed the territory back to Cookstown who used their heavy pack to work their way into the Ards 22 for the first time, soon spotting an Ards weakness around the side off the ruck to attack from close range and as the momentum was gained they scored a well-deserved try, the kick was missed leaving Ards leading 7-5.
The second quarter of the first half was very much a scrappy affair, with the referee trying to put his mark on the game and an experienced Cookstown pack trying to disrupt the Ards flow of play by whatever means they could.
Great hits in particular from Hull and McFarland retook the initiative and given the opportunity the Ards backs looked capable of a score at every attack. One such attack again using the full width of the pitch allowed fullback Mike Taylor to get his hands on the ball to outpace the cover defence and score in the corner, this again was converted by Gaw to put Ards 14 -5 up.
The game continued in much the same vain but once more a missed tackle in midfield allowed a Cookstown offload to support, who broke the Ards defences on their 22 and from the ensuing hard yards a score once more was well deserved by Cookstown, they reduced the Ards lead to 14-10.
The remainder of the half was again very much an equal contest but Ards always had a score threat in their backs given the right possession and on the stroke of half time one more opportunity was created following great surges by Hull and McFarland allowed centres Taylor Nutt and May to combine to put wing Jonathan Fletcher into space. Fletcher evaded the cover tackles to score, converted by Gaw to give Ards daylight at half time of 21-10 lead.
Changes were made at half time with Oren Kisby replacing the hard working Andy McKeag at 6 and Jonny Millar replacing Ashley Peden at loose head. These fresh legs allowed the forwards to take the game to the Cookstown pack in search of their pivotal 4th try. With great runs from prop Gary Dempsey and the hard working Davy Reid at hooker, the platform was set.
The hungry Ards team spurred on from their half time team talk now had the determination to break the Cookstown resolve and drives from McFarland and Crozier saw the ball released by scrumhalf Mark McClean to centre Aaron May who danced his way over the line with great running skills, the score converted by Gaw opened up a lead of 28-10.
The next phase of the game became very scrappy as Cookstown tried to hang in against a rampant Ards team looking for more tries, however their discipline went. Yellow cards saw the Cookstown team deflated to 13 players and facing an uphill task. Ards expected to capitalise now on this but disaster struck on the 57th minute when flanker Oren Kisby badly dislocated his shoulder whilst making a tackle.
The game was suspended while an ambulance was called. We all wish Oren well in his recovery.
The game resumed on the thirds pitch after a short delay and the game fell back into much the same pattern. As the game closed out further tries ere added by Nutt following a strong run and breaking three tackles, the conversion was missed by Gaw after the ref unfairly allowed the Cookstown team to impede his run up.
The final try of the day was scored by Michael Taylor, converted by Gaw. Final Score Ards 40 - 10 Cookstown.
Ards now look forward to the final on Saturday 7th April against Banbridge at the neutral venue of Ballynahinch RFC.