The day is sunday 24th, Armagh RFC was the battleground and Ballymoney women’s RFC were the opponents. Sligo women, lead by captain Mairead Keane, were fired up for their first of their two finals this year with the ulster cup today and the Connacht league final on sat 2nd march. Sligo played ballymoney 2 years previously in eye ulster cup and beat them well but a lot can happen in 2 years so ballymoney was an unknown entity.
Sligo started with the kick and with Lauren McGee back in the squad, it was to be clinical kicking. Sligo put the pressure on right from the start and turned over possession and with a strong scrum, get the ball to Claire McManus on the wing who runs past her defender and puts downward pressure to the right of the posts.
5-0 up in the first 10 minutes and it looked like sligo were getting into usual try scoring momentum but Ballymoney had something to say and they hit back with a bang. Their number 16 with the help of her back exploded through sligo defence and managing to force penalties from sligo and drove the ball just to the right of the posts making an easy conversion for their out half. Ballymoney now in the lead at 7-5 and sligo were going to have to dig deep for this game. Ballymoney were not going to allow sligo away with previous score lines in their ulster cup campaign.
Sligo’s discipline off the restart was going to have to be addressed at half time because this is what gave Ballymoney their next try, mauling the ball over the line which was a pattern with their backs watching the pack do their thing. The score now 14-5 to ballymoney. A great feat of strength from Ballymoney but Sligo weren’t going home quietly!
Sligo’s scrums were paying off and allowing scrum half Hannah Davey to feed the backs great ball and allowing centres Gerrity and Goodwin to make great yards up the pitch. Hardcore front rows leyden, savage and kilcoyne, backed by their second rows kinsella and mcguire with their ever present support and strength were holding and driving ballymoney away. with loose forwards moore, kilfeather and keane who returned to the pitch, securing rucks off the scrum, ball could get to fullback Mulligan and she rarely does much wrong when she gets hers hands on the ball. Keane at 10 saw a mismatch and moved play to the left and got the ball to mulligan. When she get away she is unstoppable with her pace and puts the try down to the left of the posts. Sligo response registered with a score line now of 14-12.
Ballymoney were bring the big hits to sligo but sligo were now adapting to this style of play and were ready for them. Some ill discipline from sligo gave ballymoney some penalties but Moore at flanker was ready for the big drive and introduced herslef to their number 16 and chopped her down before momentum could be gained. Sligo were putting it up to ballymoney now, surging forward and were causing ballymoney to make mistakes, their defence throughout the match becoming more and more disciplined. With Nicole Fowley also making a return to sligo and she came on when Keane had to go off injured from one of her patented tackles. Fowley with her vision moved quick ball for the backs, finding space and bursting through and the great fitness of McGuire and Kinsella supporting and securing rucks. Gerrity profited from this and made her own drive down the centre, exploding through the ballymoney defense and getting her try under the posts. Gerrity gets her conversion and the score is now 19-14, Sligo taking the lead back.
Ballymoney came back with the full force of their pack, putting the pressure on at scrum time and line out time. Lucky that sligo had McGuire and her hands in the ammunition for line outs. Sligo were able to tackle ballymoney into touch and from their hooker savage throwing with focus and accuracy, making mcguire’s job easy. A great partnership on the pitch. Backs could profit from this and making straight drives with the power and speed of Fowley. The pack working the rucks, and ballymoneys defense sucked into defense thanks to pick and drives from Feely, yet another big return for sligo, Moore and Kilfeather. Feely an asset to any team with her experience and big hits and strength in the scrum. Goodwin profited from this play and was able to get her sprint on up the right wing and get a try under the posts, leaving ballymoney in her wake. Gerrity gets her conversion and the score going into half time is 26-14. Coach Gavin Foley was going to have to talk to Sligo about their discipline and keep them focused on their mission and drive home the point that they were giving try’s away as a result.
Ballymoney’s talk definitely worked some magic and they came out ready to continue the fight with their heavy hitting style and get themselves a penalty within Sligo’s 10m. Sligo pack ready for the drive, managed to hold up not one but 2 balls, with the second one off a ballymoney scrum. Unfortunately, they eventually drove to the left of the posts off a 2nd scrum on the 5 metre. With an easy conversion for the out half, ballymoney were clipping at Sligo’s heels, with the score now at 26-21.
Ballymoney scrums were paying out great dividends for the side and they drive in another try in the left corner, despite determined, gutsy defense from sligo. With no conversion, the score was now 26-26.
Unfortunately for Ballymoney, Sligo were now in 4 th gear and heading for 5th. Subsitutions being made now and mo casserly hits he pitch, taking up the flanker position. the impact sub is the only word and her fresh head kept pressure on ballymoney. Sligo drove ballymoney into touch and Moore takes up savages job at hooker for the last 10 minutes. A clumsy throw from her at lineout but McGuire with her magnetically magic hands manages to get back to sligo side, where Moore could make up for her mistake, dive on the ball and get it back. From here, Davey and Fowley take up the reins. Ball gets to Goodwin, mulligan and McManus speeding up the right wing, who makes a smart turn away from touch, getting the ball in contact, to Goodwin who runs it under the post. A conversion from Gerrity, brings Sligo’s lead up to 33-26.
Sligo had taken the poison out of ballymoney’s sting. With a display of quick hands, with Fowley really returning to where she belongs which is on the rugby pitch. The same can be said of McGee, showing how much she is missed by sligo. She may be quiet but she is deadly. On the wing, she sees her opportunity to make ground and takes it and with the solidest hands sligo could produce. Taking on contact on the left wing within ballymoney 22m and ruck secured, ball gets back to Fowley on the right of the ruck who spots space on the left, sprinting with the conviction in the opposite direction, unsettling ballymoney defense and touching down to she left of the posts. With final score at 38-26, Sligo secured their win and returning to Sligo with silverware. Coach Foley’s dedication to his team was paying him dividends and he could be proud of his team, particularly with his crucial substitutions and words of wisdom. Well done coach and manager Marian Rolf. Your team are a credit to the you!
Coach: Gavin Foley
Team: Karen Leydon, Stef Savage, Siobhan Kilcoyne, Grainne McGuire, Fleur Kinsella, Keira Kilfeather, Lisa Moore, Laura Feely, Muriel Casserly, Hannah Davey, Mairead Keane (c), Lauren McGee, Amy Gerrity, Ruth Goodwin, Claire McManus, Jacqui Mulligan, Nicole Fowley.