Sligo 20 Creggs 17
Sligo won their first Girls U-18.5 Connacht Cup Final on Monday evening in the Sportsground after a titanic battle with a strong Creggs side, who had already secured the League title. This didn’t phase the Sligo girls however, who had delivered steadily improved performances throughout the season.
The game was played in perfect rugby conditions but with the customary westerly wind blowing across the pitch and that wind was to be a factor before the final whistle blew.
The game was fast and furious from the kick-off with both teams trying to gain the upper hand. Creggs kept the game tight, carrying the ball hard and directly from the start but got very little change from the Sligo ladies who tackled their hearts out and drove their opponents back at every opportunity. It was clear that Sligo had done their homework on their ball carriers as these were met time and again by a pack which double timed their hits to perfection with Filan, Gallagher, Feely and Brady leading the charge in the first ten mins
It took 12 minutes for Sligo to set their back free when a quickly recycled ball from a solid scrum inside their own half was whipped wide by scrum half Nessa O’Sullivan to Aoife Gormley who set the slick Sligo back line into full flow. Gormley found Cliodhna O’Sullivan who made good progress and delivered to Emma Cox who broke the Creggs line and put on the afterburners to sprint a full 40 meters and touch down cleanly for Sligo’s first try to lead by 5. The conversion went wide against the strong Galway wind.
Sligo collected cleanly from the restart and even though playing against that wind Clearly grew in confidence and began to dominate their opponents but to give Creggs credit they fought hard to thwart the Sligo girls. Set pieces were evenly contested during this period with Sligo moving their opposition around the pitch with their strong passing game until their pressure finally bore fruit again on 30 mins. This was a move involving back and forwards that brought play into the Creggs 22. Strong driving brought Sligo to within 10 meters and a series of pick and drive movements involving the full Sligo pack created the opportunity for Poppy Garvey to burst through the Creggs defence to dot down for Sligos second try to put them 10 nil ahead as the game approached half time.
Sligo didn’t collect the restart however and Creggs punished them fully. They drove hard towards the Sligo line with ball carriers breaking the gain line and just 2 minutes later they scored their first try from their No 8 as she broke through to touch down under the posts as the game was at 35 mins. The try was converted to leave the score 10-7.
Even though into overtime in the first half, the referee allowed a restart so Sligo set about attacking once again. Great work by Cliodhna O’Sullivan, Emma Cox and Maeve Donlon saw them move inside the opposition 40 before an unfortunate injury to Cliodhna, who along with Emma Cox had been Sligo’s talisman attacking threat all season, saw her leave the field to a huge ovation from the large Sligo support.
Sligo led at the interval 10-7 but would have the wind assistance in the second half. Róisín Grennan slotted into the 12 channel to replace the injured O’Sullivan.
Sligo began the second half strongly and moved the ball wide through hand to stretch the opposition. Aoife Gormley, Cox and Grennan were prominent as was Cria Flanagan and Sarah Maye. And it was Cria Flanagan who struck the next blow for Sligo 9 mins in, when a move through the back line found its way to the wing and Maye made good progress to find Flanagan who stepped two defenders before sprinting over for Sligo’s third try which Gormley converted to leave the game 17-7 with Sligo dominant.
But once again Creggs drove back immediately after Sligo’s score. This time a long period of pressure allowing their No 8 to pounce again. This time they were unable to convert into the wind but the game was now down to be decided by a single score as it was poised 17-12.
Sligo used the wind wisely from the restart, with Gormley, Flanagan and Gallaghers kicks pinning the Creggs girls back. Sligo’s line outs were super all day with Claire Keegan’s darts finding the towering Aimee Smith who gave Sligo a perfect platform from which to launch attacks. Sligo worked the ball into the Creggs 22 again with the entire 15 fully involved. Jenny Craig brought fresh energy and Emma O’Carroll had a number of great carries. All the pressure gave rise to a number of penalty infringements by Creggs and after kicking to touch on a number of occasions, Sligo Captain Kate a Brady chose to kick for the posts with just 10 mins remaining. Gormley calmly slotted the kick to put what proved to be a crucial two scored between the teams.
The last 10 mins was as frenzied as the first 10 with both teams playing high quality rugby and doing everything they could to gain the upper hand. Grennan, Cox and Flanagan carried hard and broke the Creggs line on a number of occasions. Keegan, Garvey, Murray & Smith worked hard at the breakdown to ensure that Creggs ball was slowed or turned over and ball carriers Gallagher, Feely and Brady were available to carry hard at every opportunity. Creggs fought hard however and this time their pressure moved them into the Sligo half. A series of infringements saw a series of penalties awarded and Emma Cox finally ‘took one for the team’ when the ref showed yellow to her, for persistent team fouling. Down to 14 Sligo conceded a late try but it was too little, too late to effect the final outcome and Sligo were crowned Connacht Cup Champions.
This was a brilliant team performance from the full Sligo squad who have grown in every respect throughout the season. Great work has been done on the pitch by the coaching team of Gabriel Gormley, John Garvey, Liam Filan and John Keegan but this has to be delivered in the pressure of a match environment. On Monday the Sligo girls most certainly did that – in spades!
Sligo: Claire Keegan, Aisling Feely, Poppy Garvey, Aimee Smyth, Kate Brady, Enya Hughes, Giselle Gallagher, Nessa O’Sullivan, Aoife Gormley, Sarah Maye, Cliodhna O’Sullivan, Emma Cox, Maeve Donlon, Cria Flanagan Replacements: Siobra O’Callaghan, Emma O’Carroll, Jenny Cregg, Briana Gawley, Ciara O’Conallain, Genevieve Griffith, Roisin Grennan, Chloe Earley