Sligo RFC 19 :: Ballina RFC 10
Sligo’s total dominance of Connacht Junior rugby for the 2010/11 season was cemented at the sporstground in Galway when they defeated north west rivals Ballina in a superbly contested encounter on Sunday.
Sligo’s stellar season looked to have come to a halt with a defeat to Ballina in the Cawley cup last Sunday but the Yeats county outfit bounced back and brushed aside their neighbours with an all action powerful display to complete the Connacht Junior league and cup double.
Ballina kicked off with the aid of the slight breeze but it was Sligo who layed down their intention first. Fine drives from Jamie Bowes and Paddy Conlon coupled with good tactical play from half backs Mark Butler and Paddy Pearson gave Sligo territorial advantage in the opening minutes. Sligo,s pressure was rewarded with penalties after 12 and 15 minutes but Mark Butlers attempts drifted wide on both occasions.
Despite Sligo’s continued pressure it was the Mayo outfit who struck the first blow. Following some loose defence Ballina Outhalf Cory Brown floated an excellent pass for Judd Ruane and the second row burst through the cover to dot down left of the posts. Brown added the extras to move the score 7-0 in favour of the moysiders.
Sligo immediately responded and fine work by Matele Fifita and Aaron Spring resulted in a penalty award and Butler made no mistake in opening his teams account. Sligo continued to press and doubled their account 5 minutes before the break. Superb pressure at the breakdown resulted in a penalty on the opposition 22 and the sin binning of Ballina flanker Phiilip Timoney. Butler slotted the kick to put the narrowest margin between the teams.
Sligo kicked off the second half and immediately put pressure on the Mayo outfit. It was Ballina however who were first to score and another Brown penalty moved the score to 10 points to 6 in favour of the Mayo men.
Sligo were not to be outdone and continued to impose their superior physicality on the game. A fine break by Paddy Conlon resulted in another another Sligo penalty and Butlers well struck kick narrowed the gap to a single point.
With 15 minutes left on the clock Sligo struck the killer blow. A scrum on the Ballina 10m line was moved to the right by Conlon and Pearson. Fifita carried and perfectly timed his pass to Spring on the 22. The powerhouse winger collected and drove through three tackles before dotting down to the right of the posts. Butlers conversion pushed Sligo into a 6 point lead.
Sligo were now on top in all facets of play. Wesley Maxwell, Ross Mannion and Adrian Mc Hale were dominating the scrums, James Wilson and Peter Mullan were in control of the lineout and Jamie Bowes’ trademark runs were causing havoc in the Ballina defence. Cathal Culhane and Paddy Conlon were winning the battle at the breakdown and centres Gavin Foley and Fifita expertly closed down the space in midfield.
With 8 minutes left on the clock Sligo moved the all important 2 scores ahead with another Butler penalty. Ballina gamely tried to respond but Sligo were not to be outdone and the scoreline remained 9 points in Sligo’s favour when referee Joe Doyne blew the final whistle.
Jubilant scenes followed and team captain Pearson lifted the cup much to the delight of the large travelling support to cap one of Sligo’s most successful ever seasons.
Sligo: David Gerrity, Aaron Spring, Gavin foley, Matele Fifita, Billy Leahy, Mark Butler, Paddy Pearson, Wesley Maxwell, Ross Mannion, Adrian Mc Hale, James Wilson, Jamie Bowes, Cathal Culhane, Simon Coulter, Paddy Conlon. Reps Martin Feeney, Gary Conneely, Peter Mullan, Brian Hynes, Frankie Feeney.
Photos by Rory Raftery – see full match gallery here