Sligo 10 – Ballina 14
After the first quarter-final battle ended up 19-19, Sligo were hoping to make the most of home advantage to topple local rivals Ballina, who were hot favourites to win the Connacht U16 Cup.
There was a sizeable home crowd in attendance and the atmosphere was charged, typical of a cup tie. The game started at a fast pace and the home wise were quick to settle, putting pressure on Ballina and maintaining possession. However, it was the visitors who were first to break the deadlock. A sweeping move by Sligo, with the ball being moved wide through the hands, was intercepted by the pacey Ballina fullback and he punched through the Sligo defence to touch down to the left of the posts. The out half added the extras to bring the score to 0-7.
Sligo regained possession from the restart and piled on the pressure. The forwards did a great job of picking and driving their way up the pitch, going through the phases and pulling the Ballina defence out of position. A strong drive from the back of a ruck, supported by the pack, eventually drove Ewan Ripon over the line for a well-deserved 5points. Out half Oisin Cregg had a difficult kick to level the game, but he judged it to perfection, kicking into the wind and curling the ball inside the upright. Sligo continued to control the game for the remaining 8 minutes of the half. Persistent infringements by the visitors eventually led to a penalty in front of the posts and Cregg assuredly slotted the ball home to bring the score to 10-7 on the half-time whistle.
The second half was a dogged affair with Sligo dominating in the line-out and having the lion’s share of possession. The greasy conditions led to a lot of handling errors on both sides, but it was the home side who continued to press, looking for the next score. A Cregg penalty was well struck from quite a distance but didn’t have the legs and the margin between the two sides remained a mere three points. Sligo once again applied pressure from the restart, but it was Ballina who made the breakthrough, when they pounced on a loose ball and kicked through the Sligo defence. A chase ensued, and the Ballina centre picked it up and sped through to score a try. The conversion brought the score to 10-14, with only minutes left on the clock. The Sligo lads kept their heads and kept fighting for the ball. They regained possession and pushed for the line. Repeated infringements by the opposition resulted in a string of penalties for the home side, bringing them within metres of the line each time, however only a try would suffice, and the clock was against them. Sligo kept the pressure on, but Ballina eventually won the ball back and kicked it to touch to end the game and put themselves into the Cup semi-final against Corinthians.
It was heartbreak for the Sligo lads, who put in a huge effort, giving 100% right until the final whistle. Great credit must go to all the players for their dedication throughout the season and a huge thanks to the coaching team of Hagan Mc Quaid, Michael O’Hehir, Wesley Maxwell and John Garvey, as well as all the parents for their support during the year.