Sligo RFC 19
Ballina RFC 13
Sligo’s final All Ireland League 2B match of 2019 ended in a victory over Mayo rivals Ballina in a tense affair at Strandhill on Saturday. Sligo outscored the visitors by three trys to two but had to come back from an early defecit of 10 points to secure the match points.
Sligo kicked off, playing towards Knocknarea, into the slight breeze and immediately put pressure on Ballina. Rob Holian secured an early lineout steal and Sligo marched towards the line, Ciaran Cassidy carried powerfully before being hauled down on the five metre and Sligo looked to have Ballina on the rack. Matt Davey carried to the line but unfortunately for the home side inaccuracy caused the turnover and the defense were let off the hook.
Ballina made the most of the reprieve and used their backline to good effect to work their way into the game. With 10 minutes gone the visitors struck the first blow. A pinpoint cross kick from outhalf Dylan Predergast was collected in the right corner by Billy Mc Vann and the hooker touched down out wide.
Sligo were in a battle and the job became more difficult when Fergal Tully crashed over for Ballina’s second midway through the first half.
The home team rallied and immediately looked to hit back. Shane Boyle put pressure on the restart and Sligo reclaimed possession. Tom Gormely, Shane O’Hehir and Mark Butler were prominent as Sligo made inroads into the Ballina defence as Sligo looked to open their account.
With five minutes remaining in the half Euan Brown put up an inch perfect left to right cross field kick for Calum Goddard to collect and beat the cover defence to open Sligo’s account.
The teams turned around with the visitors holding a five point lead.
Sligo’s improvement continued and the lead was wrestled from the visitors grasp five minutes in. Jason East picked and went right from the back of a Sligo scrum on the opposition ten metre line. East linked up with scrum half Brendan Cunningham who drew the cover for Goddard to race to the line for his and Sligo’s second try. Brown struck a sweet conversion to take the lead for the locals.
The Sligo pack were gaining control particularly at the scrum where Matthew Early was giving a performance way beyond his years in only his second senior start at loosehead prop. Sean Wynne was tackling himself to a standstill until he had to leave the fray with an ankle injury.
With the strong scrum a foundation for attack Sligo worked their way into the Ballina scoring zone. Gormely put pressure on the Ballina scrum which gave East the platform to drive over for Sligo’s third of the day.
Ballina gamely fought to close the gap but the Sligo defence stood strong with Enda Gavin, Ryan Feehily and Philip Carter to the fore . A penalty on seventy-eight minutes closed the gap to six but when the long whistle blew it was the home team that celebrated.
Sligo now take a break from league action until the return fixture with Ballina on January 11th.
Next week sees Sligo travel to the Connacht Rugby headquarters in the Sportsgrounds in Galway to take on Galway Corinthians in the Connacht Senior Cup final. The match kicks off at the earlier time of 1.30pm on Sunday.
Enda Gavin, Calum Goddard, Mark Butler, Ryan Feehily, Philip Carter, Euan Brown, Brendan Cunningham, Matthew Earley, Shane O’Hehir, Tom Gormely, Ciaran Cassidy, Rob Holian, Shane Boyle, Sean Wynne, Matt Davey, reps Ross O’Boyle, James O’Hehir, Jason East, Brian West, Daire Byrne