Sligo RFC 29 – Galway Corinthians RFC 27
Sligo bridged a gap of 103 years when Captain Shane Boyle lifted the Connacht Senior cup for the clubs first win of the trophy since 1914 in dramatic circumstances at Strandhill on Saturday. Sligo snatched the victory with the last play of a hugely entertaining intense match against an excellent Corinthians outfit in an occasion that will live long in the memories of the sizeable Sligo support.
With little or no breeze, conditions were ideal for running rugby as Sligo kicked off playing towards the airport end. It was the visitors however that were quickest out of the blocks with Sligo native Stephen Kerins pulling the strings at Scrum half bringing his potent back line into play at every opportunity.
Things looked ominous for Sligo as the visitors raced into a 12 point lead with 2 try’s inside the first 15 minutes before a Jack Keegan penalty opened Sligo’s account mid way through the half.
Sligo were growing into the game and the gap was further reduced on 25 minutes with Calum Goddard’s first try of the day. From his own 10 metre line Outhalf Mark Butler darted down the right side where he released Goddard with a well timed pass. Goddard raced into the Corinthians half where exchanged passes with supporting hooker Shane O’Hehir unlocked the cover defence and the winger used his substantial pace to race to the line. Keegan converted and Sligo were back in business.
A Mark McDermot penalty pushed the visitors back into a five point lead before Sligo struck again right on the stroke of half time.
Strong carrying by the Sligo pack notably by Ciaran Cassidy, Matthew Cosgrove, Shane Boyle and Manu Parkin brought play close to the Corinthians line. Corinthians defended phase after phase as Sligo hammered the line before scrum Ryan Feehily moved the ball right to Mike Wells and the centre used all of his strength to squeeze over wide on the right. Keegan added the extras to put Sligo 2 points ahead going into the break.
Just as in the first half, following the resumption Corinthians upped the tempo and regained the lead with two try’s in quick succession to push the score to 17-27 with 20 minutes of normal time remaining.
Sligo’s task was difficult and almost looked insurmountable when Corinthians centre Dave Panter intercepted a Sligo pass on the half way and raced towards the Sligo line. Sligo’s Mark Rooney had other ideas and a fantastic defensive chase saw the Sligo centre hunt Panter down and force a relieving penalty for his team.
Sligo upped the intensity and worked their way back into the Corinthian scoring zone. The forwards again pummelled the line but again Corinthians held out before Mark Butlers vision spotted space on Goddards wing and a perfectly weighted chip was well taken by the Sligo winger as he went over in the corner. Keegan’s conversion moved Sligo to within 3 and set the game up for a grandstand finish.
The tension was unbearable as the game moved into injury time as Sligo looked for the score that would bring home the cup. Sligo kept their heads and patiently worked their way back into the Corinthian 22. Pressure forced a penalty and the watching support were sure that another Keegan kick would bring the game into extra time. The players had a different script and incredibly decided to run the penalty. Once again the Corinthians defence was battered by Sligo’s pick and drive and another penalty and a yellow card was conceded. Sligo again decided to run the penalty and almost 10 minutes into stoppage time Matthew Cosgrove forced his way over sparking scenes of unbridled joy from the Sligo faithful. The missed conversion attempt mattered little as the referee blew the long whistle and Sligo were kings of Connacht.
Sligo’s win was built on a huge team effort with each man playing his part. Props Conor Mitchell and Mark Keegan were immense throughout with Shane McGuinness and Ross O’Boyle fitting in seamlessly when called from the bench. Second row James Wilson’s work rate was huge and Matt Davey immediately added physicality when introduced. Youngster Philip Carter showed great maturity on the left wing and Niall Gray made a vital impact on the tempo of the Sligo effort when he was brought into the play.
Connacht IRFU representative Michael Cunningham praised both sides for a fantastic match played in excellent spirit before handing the trophy over for Boyle to hold aloft for a landmark moment in the long history of Sligo RFC.
Sligo: Jack Keegan, Calum Goddard, Mark Rooney, Mike Wells, Philip Carter, Mark Butler, Ryan Feehily, Mark Keegan, Shane O’Hehir, Conor Mitchell, Ciaran Cassidy, James Wilson, Shane Boyle (Capt) Manu Parkin, Matthew Cosgrove. Reps Ross O’Boyle, Shane Mc Guinness, Matthew Davey, Niall Gray, Christian Nielsen