Sligo 7 :: Galwegians 7
Sligo and Galwegians were locked together [7-7] after a tremendous game in the final of the Connacht U-13 Cup at the Sportsgrounds, Galway on Saturday last. The Connacht Branch decreed that no replay would be held, and that both sides would be declared joint champions, with each sides receiving winners’ medals, while each side will hold the cup for six months.
On a dry windy day, the teams gave of their very best, but Sligo will probably feel on reflection that they might have grabbed outright glory, as they shaded the territorial exchanges. Sligo trailed by 7-0 at the interval, having played against the strong wind in the first half, but when prop forward, Matthew Davey, crashed over near the right corner for a try within 60 seconds of the resumption of play, and full-back, Conor Kerins landed a brilliant conversion from the touch-line, it looked as if it was going to be Sligo’s day. Sligo were camped in the Galwegians half for long periods after this, but could not prise open the defence for the match winning score. Late in the second half, they were literally on the Galwegians’ line, and also forced a 5 metre scrum, but some desperate defending held them out. For their part, Sligo’s defence throughout the game was outstanding, especially in the 5 minutes just before the interval, when they were subjected to a period of sustained pressure.
In the opening quarter, Sligo played very intelligent rugby, as they neutralised the home side’s wind advantage by some very clever ball retention. Their counter attacking game was impressive as they made inroads into the Galwegians’ half. At this stage, Sligo looked the more likely side to score, but they were stung by a Galwegians’ try, against the run of play after 17 minutes. A hopeful kick ahead was hacked on by their full-back, A. Butler, who was then the recipient of a favourable bounce, and he went over under the posts, and he also landed the conversion.
Sligo were not phased by this set back, and a fine run from centre, Jason McGoldrick soon had them back on the attack. However, Galwegians finished the half strongly, and only some very resolute Sligo defending succeeded in keeping the line intact. The half time team talk by coach, Michael O’Hehir, certainly proved to be inspirational, as directly from the kick-off, they swarmed all over the opposition. After McGoldrick had again taken the ball up, Sligo mauled forward, and Matthew Davey picked and drove over in the corner. Full-back, Conor Kerins’ pin-point conversion from out wide, would have done justice to Ronan O’Gara. With the scores now level at 7-7, and with wind advantage, it looked likely that Sligo would go on and achieve victory. On several occasions they were held up just short of the line, while Galwegians’ best opportunity in the second half, was a 30 metre penalty which drifted wide.
It was a fine overall team performance from Sligo, in which all 19 players used made vital contributions. Sligo’s pack was again outstanding, but they also had very talented players behind the scrum. Following his four try semi-final display, centre, Jason McGoldrick, was a marked man on this occasion, but he managed to make some very penetrating runs which continually tested the defence [as well as striking terror into some of the Galwegian parents and supporters in my vicinity]. He certainly showed himself to be a player of exceptional potential. Out-half, Peter Murray, also played a pivotal role, as he varied his game well,and was always prepared to break. He had an excellent half-back partner in Cian Mulligan, who gave a fine exhibition of scrum-half play. Full-back, Conor Kerins was a very impressive performer, possessing all the skills necessary for this position. His ball handling was top class, while his magnificent conversion of Davey’s try proved to be invaluable. Centre, Sean Finnegan, was another very skillful player, and he linked very well with his centre colleague, McGoldrick, while both wingers, Eoin Kilroy-Talbot and Dara Burke, and substitutes, Mark Leydon, Eddie Weaver and Jack Selby, defended very well, and were always probing for openings.
It is said that packs win rugby games, and on this occasion the Sligo pack provided the platform for virtually all of Sligo’s attacks. If the front five do a lot of the unglamorous work, the back row play a key role both defensively and as linkmen with the backs. Sligo’s backrow of blindside, Gabriel Knecht, team captain, James O’Hehir at No. 8, and Leigh Dunne at open side were outstanding, both as a unit and individually, as they tackled, harried and carried ball all afternoon. Although forced to line out without one of their most consistent performers all year, Jamie McGovern, because of a hand injury, the front five all starred. The front row of Aaron Donnellan, Killian Filan and Matthew Davey, had the upperhand on their opposite numbers from the start, so the scrum was always rock steady. All three made big impacts, with Davey emerging as the team’s hero following his opportunistic try. The second row also made very big contributions. Unfortunately, David Connell, who excelled, had to be removed to hospital near the end with a broken ankle and a leg injury, and he is wished a speedy recovery from everyone in the club. His second row partner, Andrew Nairn, also performed very well. A feature of the pack’s performance was their excellent line-out work, in which O’Hehir, Connell and Nairn were prominent, while they were also very effective in both the rucks and the mauls. Substitute, Fabian Zawada also impressed when introduced.
Great credit is due to coach, Michael O’Hehir, and his assistants, Finbar Filan, Roger Kilroy-Talbot and John Quinn. Earlier in the season, Galwegians had a clearcut league victory, but the outstanding work of the coaches and Director of Rugby, Bernie Kelly, brought about great improvement in the side, as on the run of play they deserved to be the outright winners.
Sligo: Conor Kerins, Dara Burke, Jason McGoldrick, Sean Finnegan, Eoin Kilroy-Talbot, Peter Murray, Cian Mulligan, Aaron Donnellan, Killian Filan, Matthew Davey, David Connell, Andrew Nairn, Gabriel Knecht, James O’Hehir [c.], Leigh Dunne. Subs: Mark Leydon for E. Kilroy-Talbot, Eddie Weaver for S. Finnegan, Jack Selby for D. Burke, Fabian Zawada for A. Donnellan. [Not used]: Cian Allen-Kiely, Paul Mahon, Joseph Farrell, Tiernan McMorrow, Dylan Feeney, Oisin Kilgallon, Aaron Mulligan, Stephen Martyn.
Footnote: The club President wishes to thank Michael and Mary O’Hehir, Ann and Paul Murray, Tom McGoldrick and Ciara Donnellan for providing immediate assistance and re-assurance for David Connell, when he suffered his bad ankle and leg injury towards the end of the game, and for accompanying him to hospital in Galway. Happily, David is making very good progress following his operation on Saturday evening, and everyone in the club looks forward to having him back in action for the start of the new season.
More photos from the game are available here.