Clogher Valley warmed up for this weekend’s All-Ireland Junior Cup final with a demolition job in the Towns’ Cup quarter-final at The Cloughan.
Smarting from a Junior Cup defeat in November at the same venue, the Tyrone men returned with revenge at the top of the agenda and they fully justified the favourites tag with a resounding 37-10 victory.
However, Ballyclare skipper Robert Boyd led out a much-changed home side, with the back division having to be completely revamped.
With full-back Robert Smith, centres David Crawford and James Reid all out, Gareth Byers came in as a straight replacement for Smith, while scrum-half Colin Morrow came in to partner Nathan Loughlin at centre.
Michael Kirk, who is a recognised wing-forward with the 2nd XV, came up to take his place on the wing, with his team-mate, Adam Wardrop filling the vacant scrum-half spot.
In contrast, the pack was unchanged but they were up against a bigger Clogher eight who relished the heavy conditions.
There was no scoring in the opening quarter, with neither side managing to create a clear-cut opportunity, but once the Tyrone men nosed ahead they proceeded to build up a match-winning 25-0 lead at the interval.
Holme opened the scoring with a 20th-minute penalty, and then doubled the lead with another two minutes later. It was becoming clear that the visiting pack was winning the battle up front.
On the half-hour, PJ Wilson scored the first try of the afternoon, and this was soon followed by another by Aidan Best. Just before the interval the Valley pack pushed over for a third score, and with two Holme conversions Bob Young’s men were 25 points adrift.
With the wind in their favour in the second session, Ballyclare managed to get out of their own territory from time to time, but not before Clogher scored another unconverted touchdown to lead 30-0.
Prop Alan Boyd denied the visitors a whitewash when he crossed for a score that Morrow was unable to improve upon, but Clogher responded with their fifth score that was goaled.
Ballyclare substitutes Mo Finlay and Luke Ireland came off the bench to replace David Lawther and Kirk in the closing stages, during which Wardrop completed the scoring with an unconverted try.
Despite the wet and windy conditions, the match was watched by a surprisingly big crowd, and the general opinion was that Clogher Valley lived up to their high-profile pedigree as Qualifying League Section 1 leaders and All-Ireland Junior Cup finalists.
Ballyclare: G Byers; J Greer, N Loughlin, C Morrow, M Kirk; N Lawther, A Wardrop; A Boyd, A Wylie, D Lawther, R Boyd (C), G McKinstry, W Logan, G Weatherup, C Coburn.
It was Ballyclare’s second defeat of the season having been beaten by Ballynahinch II in the Junior Cup final. But they remain at the summit in Qualifying 2 and can take another step toward promotion on Saturday when they entertain Strabane, who are still without a win.
The only other game that survived the wet conditions was the 3rd XV who lost 27-5 away to Belfast Harlequins III. Skipper Chris Gawn got his side’s only score in the second half.
The Man of the Match award went to hooker Ian Holmes, while there were impressive performances from William Stevenson and Chris Gillen.
With the start of the Six Nations campaign, the only Ballyclare team in action on Saturday will be the seniors who entertain Strabane.