Sligo 20 :: Monivea 17
In a game of high drama, Sligo survived a magnificent Monivea fight back to emerge victorious by the narrow margin of three points [20-17] in an enthralling Connacht U-14 Cup final replay at Ballyhaunis on Thursday evening last.
With one minute of injury time played in the second half, Sligo were leading by 20-5, and perhaps the players thought that their work was done. However, the hugely spirited Monivea boys refused to concede, and they scored two injury time tries, between the 2nd and the 7th minute of second half added time, to leave just one score between the sides. Happily for Sligo’s supporters, the missed conversion of their third try was the last action of the day, and this was the prelude to some uninhibited, joyful celebrations by the Sligo players.
Sligo made a number of positional switches from the drawn game, and throughout the first half, and for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, they were the superior team. Despite trailing by 20-0, eleven minutes after the resumption, the Monivea boys showed their battling qualities by virtually camping in Sligo’s territory for the remainder of the game, and they crossed for three tries, as the protracted second half ended in a welter of excitement.
Sligo had the advantage of the strong diagonal wind in the opening half, and they attacked from the start. Out-half, Kieran Blake converted a penalty from the ’22’ after 3 minutes play to steady the ship. With their pack doing exceptionally well, Sligo were continually on the attack, and Monivea’s two heroes in the drawn game, out-half, Calen Blade, and No 8, Darren Hurney ,were getting few opportunities to impose themselves on the game. Sligo forced a penalty just outside the Monivea ’22’ in the 19th minute, and following scrum-half, Michael Martin’s tap and pass, No 8, Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill took the ball on at the ’22’, and showing tremendous power and pace, he literally ran over more than half of the Monivea team, and touched down under the posts. It was an inspirational score for Sligo, and it must surely rank as as good an individual try as has been scored by a Sligo clubman for many a long day. Kieran Blake converted to put Sligo 10-0 ahead.
Sligo were now in control, and moving the ball wide, they stretched the Monivea defence. In the 4th minute of first half injury time, Sligo scored another brilliant try. On this occasion, O’Dowd-Hill fed left winger, David Heffernan 40 metres from the Monivea line. Showing electrifying pace, he weaved his way past three defenders with some exceptionally deft foot work, and scored in the right corner, to give his team a 15-0 interval lead.
Sligo resumed in determined mood, and when scrum-half, Martin, again fed O’Dowd-Hill from a tap penalty in the 11th minute, the No. 8, broke on the blind, and again dotted down. Although Blake was narrowly off target with the difficult conversion, Sligo now led by 20-0, and perhaps were lulled into a sense of false security, as they visibly relaxed. The Monivea boys fought to the end, and their key players such as out-half, Calen Blade, No. 8, Darren Hurney, full-back, Craig Kennedy, centre, Cathal Lane and winger, Shane Reilly caused many problems to Sligo in the frenetic closing stages.
However, Sligo were most deserving winners, and it would have been a travesty if their muted performance in the final quarter were to cost them dearly, as they had been the dominant side up to then. Once again, Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill emerged as his team’s hero. His contribution to the team is underlined by the fact that over the course of the final, and the replay, he scored four of Sligo’s five tries. Although he understandably tired in the closing stages, his contribution up to then was exceptional. Out-half, Kieran Blake put the shackles on his opposite number for most of the game, and gave another very accomplished performance. Elsewhere, Eoin Flanagan, gave a fine performance at centre, and his tackling was top class. Winger, David Heffernan scored a memorable try, and also made a terrific 50 metre break in the first half.
Sligo’s front row of Eoin Kilroy, Matthew Davey and his twin brother, Martin, from the very first scrum, had Monivea back-pedalling, and this provided a great platform for O’Dowd-Hill and his very influential back-row colleague, Sean Donnolly to launch attacks from the base of the scrum. Both second rows, Jonathan Draper and Ben Spellman, made notable contributions both in the scrums and in the loose exchanges. Blind side wing forward, Robert Smith did a lot of invaluable work at the mauls and rucks.
Sligo were a lot more threatening out wide on this occasion. Scrum-half, Michael Martin played very well, and used his strength to serve almost as an additional wing forward at the breakdown. Centre, Will Weaver proved to be a very effective partner for Flanagan, while James Mullen looked much happier on the left wing, putting in some crucial tackles and always proving to be a threat when in possession. At full-back, Caomhan Lyons had an excellent game. His positional play was very good, and his counter attacking game was impressive. All substitutes used made an impact. Scrum-half, Enda Gavin, winger, Enda Roche, wing forward, Brian Simon and second row, Martin Clarke, all played their part in a very fine team victory.
The victory was a fitting reward for all the hard work throughout the season from coach, John Davey, and his assistants, Dean Weaver and Barry McConkey, as well as the Director of Rugby at the club, Bernie Kelly. After the game, the Junior Vice-President of the Connacht Branch of the IRFU, Steve Cunningham, presented the Sligo captain, Sean Donnolly with the Connacht Cup.
Sligo: Caomhan Lyons, David Heffernan, Eoin Flanagan, Will Weaver, James Mullen, Kieran Blake, Michael Martin, Eoin Kilroy, Matthew Davey, Martin Davey, Ben Spellman, Jonathan Draper, Robert Smith, Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill, Sean Donnolly [c.]. Replacements: Enda Gavin for M.Martin, Enda Roche for D.Heffernan, Martin Clarke for S.Donnolly, Brian Simon for Ben Spellman [Not Used]: Ross Gordon, James Rooney, Jack Kennedy, Patrick Saba, David Verdon, Karl Devaney.
Monivea: Craig Kennedy, Michael Hession, Cathal Lane, Colm Treacy, Shane O’Reilly, Calen Blade, Stephen Walsh, Jamie Joyce, Stephen Joyce, Michael Burke, Niall Rooney, Chris Glynn, Matthew Kilgannon, Darren Hurney, Jason Connolly.
Referee: Mr. Dave Roberts [Ballinrobe RFC].
More photos from the game can be viewed here.