The crowds at Hamilton Park and Shaw’s Bridge witnessed historic occasions on Saturday as Sligo and Cooke ensured their places in the All-Ireland Junior Cup semi-finals for the first time.
ALL-IRELAND JUNIOR CUP QUARTER-FINAL RESULTS: Saturday, November 27
Monivea 24 Ballymoney 0, Castle Grounds
Sligo 24 Armagh 21, Hamilton Park
Cooke 28, Skerries 24, Shaw’s Bridge
Dromore 15, Crosshaven 36, Barban Hill
Last season’s beaten finalists Armagh fell at the semi-final hurdle this time around as Sligo produced a hugely committed display to edged their way to a 24-21 victory in Saturday’s encounter in Strandhill.
In sunny but cold conditions, Armagh had a slight breeze at their backs in the opening half and took an 18-16 lead into the break.
Armagh’s Johnny Steenson kicked an early penalty, which Sligo out-half Mark Butler cancelled out with a tenth minute effort.
The Ulstermen responded with a try, with Sligo failing to deal with a chip kick and some neat handling sent winger Johnny Allen over in the right corner for an unconverted score.
Sligo pounced on a charged down clearance kick to score their opening try, powerhouse centre Matele Fifita blasting his way over after gathering the loose ball.
Butler kicked the conversion and a subsequent penalty to cancel out by a second Steenson kick and give Sligo a 13-11 lead.
Armagh again showed their attacking quality when winger Alexis Luneau dinked a kick ahead and with the Sligo defence failing to cope with it, full-back Steenson swept in to score the visitors’ second try. He added the extras himself for an 18-13 buffer.
Butler closed out the first half scoring for Sligo with a well-struck penalty, and the home side got the early nudge on the resumption as their Ireland Under-20 prop Aaron Spring used his power to crash over the Armagh whitewash despite a last-ditch tackle.
Scrum half Paddy Pearson deserves credit for some excellent work in the build-up as he created the space for Spring to charge through. Butler missed the conversion but followed up with a 50th minute penalty to move Sligo into a 24-18 lead.
A late penalty from Armagh’s Adam Gowing closed the gap to just three points and the visitors laid siege to the Sligo line in a dramatic finale.
Armagh won a kickable penalty, straight in front of the posts, but with their two first choice place-kickers off the pitch due to injury, their captain James Morton decided to take a quick tap.
But Sligo managed to hold on thanks to some terrific defending, which was led by their forwards and tough-tackling backs David Gerrity and Fifita.
Meanwhile, the cup journey for Scott Nelson’s Ballymoney side ended out west as a well-drilled Monivea outfit claimed a 24-0 quarter-final victory.
Monivea, who also reached the semi-finals last season, pulled clear in the second half at the Castle Grounds with Eoin Rooney (2), Kevin Higgins and Rory O’Connor helping themselves to tries.
It was a case of what might have been for Skerries as they had to endure a stunning comeback from Cooke which saw the Belfast side come from 24-7 down to win out on a 28-24 scoreline at Shaw’s Bridge.
A burst of three converted tries, two of them in the dying minutes, set up a memorable win for a Cooke side that is currently riding high at the top of the Kukri Qualifying League Section 1.
At Barban Hill, Crosshaven pulled off their second away success in this season’s competition as they beat hosts Dromore by 36-15.
Crosshaven established a 19-10 lead and by the final whistle, had scored six tries in all. Ross O’Connell and Chris Kearny scored a brace of tries each, and Paul Cogan and Brian Murphy also touched down.
The Corkmen, who were beaten semi-finalists in 2007 and 2008, will hope to produce another big performance when the All-Ireland Junior Cup resumes on Saturday, February 12 with two mouth-watering semi-final clashes.
The draw for those games will take place shortly. The final has been pencilled in for the weekend of April 9/10.
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