Cooke won for the first time in six Energia Women’s All-Ireland League matches, prevailing 20-19 at Ashtown Lane in their battle of the bottom two with Wicklow.
ENERGIA WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: Saturday, December 4
WICKLOW 19 COOKE 20, Ashtown Lane
Scorers: Wicklow: Tries: Sue Brady, Lauren Barry, Aoibhin Stone; Cons: Beth Roberts 2
Cooke: Tries: Helen McGhee 2, Teah Maguire, Aishling O’Connell
HT: Wicklow 5 Cooke 15
The hosts scored late in both halves, through Sue Brady and replacement Aoibhin Stone, but fell just short.
Cooke used a strong wind to build a 15-5 half-time lead, their industrious pack doing much of the damage with number 8 Helen McGhee and captain Aishling O’Connell both touching down, along with scrum half Teah Maguire.
The Belfast side had the elements behind them during the opening half, pressing initially in the opposition 22 before Orla O’Neill’s powerful break up the left wing clawed back territory for Wicklow.
However, a loose lineout from the hosts was seized upon by Naomi McCord who carried well before linking with the supporting O’Connell and Eimear McQuillan who took the ball on further.
Maguire grasped her opportunity to break from the back of a ruck, catching the Wicklow defence off guard to run in a well-taken 13th-minute try which went unconverted.
Ilse van Staden helped to win a subsequent scrum penalty for Cooke, the experienced prop popping up for a strong run off the quick tap, with McGhee then taking them back up to halfway.
The Cookies were soon back in try-scoring range, second row McCord again making inroads with a couple of piercing carries. O’Connell was held up over the line.
Wicklow were tenacious with their tackling, but try number two arrived on the 25-minute mark. McGhee stooped low to gather an instinctive offload from O’Connell and dot down, wide on the right.
Out-half Amanda Morton missed the difficult conversion, before a scrappy spell saw O’Neill, Brady and captain Erin McConnell all carry well as Wicklow tried to break back into the Cooke half.
Meagan Parkinson’s turnover penalty gave Jason Moreton’s charges a further boost, but Cooke used a turnover of their own – McCord pinched a lineout – to send McGhee storming over in the left corner.
Prop van Staden’s quick hands released the back rower for a 10-metre run-in, putting 15 points between the sides. Morton’s conversion attempt fell short.
Cooke blew a gilt-edged opportunity for the bonus point score, with messy possession from a close-in lineout being knocked on. Parkinson and Emily Ryan then combined to force a clearing penalty for Wicklow.
Indeed, McConnell and her team-mates finished the opening half on a high, roaring back downfield after winger Aoife Dunne had collected a cross-field kick from Beth Roberts.
Wicklow won a free-kick from a scrum, tapped it and worked the ball across the posts to winger O’Neill who impressively carried up close to the line, before centre Brady squeezed over from the ruck.
Roberts was frustrated to miss the conversion, but the try gave the home side a timely lift. The Wicklow number 10 went close to a 50:22 kick as her side upped their share of territory on the restart.
With the wind very much in their sails, Wicklow managed to close the gap further. Emma Curran’s lineout take laid the platform, with loosehead Lauren Barry barging over and getting the grounding right on the line.
Roberts followed up with a cracking conversion from the left, reducing the arrears to 15-12 as the final quarter loomed. In response, McGhee nicked a lineout at the front for Cooke.
Katie Hetherington sparked a strong spell of carrying from the Ulster outfit, their forwards punching holes as Wicklow were forced back into their own 22.
Off a five-metre scrum, Maguire and van Staden both had a cut, the latter spinning out of a tackle and laying off for the supporting O’Connell to crash over.
The skipper’s bonus point effort gave them just enough of a cushion in the end. The intensity and pace of the game increased once more, heading into the closing stages.
Wicklow narrowly avoided leaking a fifth try before two big kicks downfield, and a penalty, sett them up for a grandstand finish. Stone showed her pace to finish her try on the right, with two minutes remaining.
Roberts left-footed a terrific conversion through the uprights, but Cooke stood firm, Hetherington and McCord combining to bring the visitors back into Wicklow’s half were they saw out the match.
WICKLOW: Meagan Parkinson; Orla O’Neill, Sue Brady, Tammy Breen, Aoife Dunne; Beth Roberts, Erin McConnell (capt); Lauren Barry, Noelle Ward, Kathy Byrne, Shauna Soady, Laura Newsome, Emma Curran, Emily Ryan, Jessica Schmidt.
Replacements: Robyn Mullen, Niamh Ni Dhroma, Nicola Schmidt, Loretta Gilbert, Nicole Humby, Sarah Gleeson, Aoibhin Stone.
COOKE: Dolores Hughes; Claire Johnston, Lucy Thompson, Coral Lapsley, Tamzin Boyce; Amanda Morton, Teah Maguire; Ilse van Staden, Megan Simpson, Aishling O’Connell (capt), Caolinn McCormack, Naomi McCord, Eimear McQuillan, Katie Hetherington, Helen McGhee.
Replacements: Caitlin Fisher, Sorcha Mac Laimhin.