Sligo somewhat surprisingly but deservedly beat the much fancied Buccaneers team to make it to their first Senior Cup final since 1992. This fixture was rearranged as weather disrupted the original match back in January. Sligo have been struggling in Division 2B of the AIL while at the same time Buccs have been going well in Division 1B. With such a disparity it was always felt that Sligo would seriously struggle against their more illustrious opponents.
Both sides fielded weakened sides for this Cup encounter with Sligo giving an outing to several young players especially in a totally reshuffled back line. All the young lads given their chance showed up very well and can be very proud of themselves. Sligo did field close to their best pack and they laid the foundations for this excellent win.
Sligo started much the stronger and were rewarded with an early penalty which the excellent Daniel Hawkins converted. However Buccs were soon on the attack and found themselves with a line out five metres for the Sligo line. Things looked ominous but Sligo as they were to continue right through the game drove Buccs backward and from the resulting scrum won a deserved penalty to get off the hook. Soon Sligo were on the attack and when veteran full back Roger Burrows collected a poor clearance kick he set up a great attack and with a beautiful offload set young flanker David Heath free. Heath had a lot to do but with some good speed and a beautiful swerve past the last defender he crashed over in the corner. The try lifted the side and the lead achieved was never relinquished until the final whistle.
The midlanders scored two penalties before Sligos out half Hawkins glided past his opponent to score near the posts. He converted his own try to make it 15 6. The next two scores came from Buccs, a try and a penalty to make it 15 14. The match continued in this helter skelter fashion into the second half, Sligo were next to score when their excellent number eight Aidan McNulty blacked down a clearance and then collected to score a fine opportunist try. Again Hawkins converted 22 14 to keep the pressure on.
Next up was Billy Leahys try on the left corner. After some good driving play by the forwards the ball was cleverly moved left for Leahy who had a bit to do but he managed to beat two despairing tacklers for the touchdown to move to 27 14.
Just when they feel they are cruising back come Buccs with another converted try 27 21. A penalty from straight in front again by Daniel Hawkins pushes it out to two scores and a bit of breathing space at 30 21. Crucially Sligo are next to score as both sides are tiring on the heavy pitch. This time it was that man Mata Fifita on one of those powerful bursts that the supporters come to see, brushing aside would be tacklers like swatting flys and he touches down near the posts. Hawkins converted 37 21 with seven minutes remaining.
Buccs would have the final say with a converted try but it wasn’t to be enough and Sligo pulled off a great moral boosting win which should stand them in good stead for those vital league games ahead.
This was a highly entertaining affair in sticky conditions with both sides willing to attack at all times. For Sligo’s young players this will have been invaluable experience and the coach Simon Galvan will be real pleased the way they showed up today.
The foundation of this win was laid by a very strong pack performance. The scrum was dominant with parity at the line outs. In the loose Sligo did get a bit of a hard time from the referee where they were very aggressive but did at times go off their feet and that’s an area they will need to examine. The back row were very strong with number eight McNulty the pick of the three with his big hits ball carries and general industry and he capped a great outing with a well taken try.
In the tight five Jamie Bowes had his usual barnstorming runs and he is a great workhorse for the team. The front row had the advantage all day with Mannion Coneeley and Mchale doing damage to their opposition. It was great too to see Brian Kane getting game time and he acquitted himself very well in the tight and in the loose where he has a great turn of speed for a prop.
Sligo’s back line did really well considering there were several new combinations. Daniel Hawkins at ten had an excellent match and was the stand out player on the park. He contributed 17 points through the boot and one touchdown and his all round work rate was exemplary. Young Stephen Butler in the centre had a great outing and his defence was strong with some nice touches in attack. Stephen is one for the future for sure. The rest of the backs were busy all day and they will gain confidence from this outing.
Sligo will face Galwegians in the final later in the season and it will be their first Senior Cup final since 1992. Remarkably Peter Mullan who came on today played in that game and wouldn’t it be amazing for Peter to be involved twenty years later. It is a huge testimony to a player who has given an enormous amount to his club and to the dedication to keep himself in such shape and fitness over the years.
Sligo; R Burrows S Donnelly S Butler M Fifita B Leahy D Hawkins G OHehir R mannion G Coneeley A McHale J Bowes J Wilson P Conlon( C ) D Heath A McNulty Subs P Mullan B Kane N OHara A Tansey M McMorrow
Buccaneers; J McGuire C Greene M Carroll K Kirapati B Corcoran A Kenneddy M Dolan M Staunton G Halligan D Higgins E Rooney J Tormey J Donoghue C Hannify L Sachner Subs A Connaughton A Hayman T Clifford L Dolan S Stapleton