Monivea 31 :: Sligo 12
In years to come, when the participants in last Thursday night’s Connacht Junior 1 league game in Monivea between Sligo and Monivea reflect on their careers, they will almost certainly regard the climatic conditions throughout this game as by far the worst they ever experienced. To say that the game was played in a deluge would be an understatement. Rain cascaded down for an hour prior to kick-off, and continued throughout the entire game. Virtually the entire pitch was covered by a sheet of water, while a rivulet flowed along the touchline. To compound the misery of all involved, the temperature dropped to close to freezing point.
The pitch was unquestionably unplayable, but the game went ahead because of impending important fixtures. This game was fixed for Sunday next but was brought forward at Sligo’s request. Monivea, already crowned league champions, play Portadown on Saturday next, March 15th, in the first of the AIL round-robin qualifiers, so they had to conclude their Connacht campaign before then. Happily, no one was injured.
As for the rugby, Monivea,who achieved their 10th successive league win in this campaign, fielded at full strength, while Sligo had to play without a number of regulars. Missing from their ranks were Peter Mullan, Cathal Culhane and Martin Feeney in the pack, while Billy Leahy, Julian Ripon and Mark Boland were absent from the backs. Into the breach stepped Andrew Williams, Stephen Woods, Ross O’Boyle, Niall Canning, who made his 1st team debut, James Coulter and Nick Reynolds. In the worst possible conditions, all played with a lot of spirit.
Despite fielding a makeshift side, Sligo, fought bravely and scored two fine first half tries to trail by just 19-12 as half time approached. They conceded another converted try just before the break, to trail by 26-12 at the interval. In the second half, with conditions now making continuity almost impossible, they defended heroically, and kept their line intact until Monivea finished with a flourish and scored another try.
For Sligo, Gavin Foley had an outstanding game at out-half, and his first up tackling was superb. Kakaber Machiditze used his kicking skills to gain valuable territory, while the pack as a unit presented many problems for the much vaunted Monivea eight, as their two tries from rolling mauls will testify, with David Greene and Ross O’Boyle getting the touch downs. Gavin Foley converted one try.
For Sligo’s diminutive, flying, French born winger, Thomas Darcel, this game was certainly a contrast in experience. Less than a year ago he was playing in the sunny climate of Southern France against the underage teams of famous clubs such as Biarritz and Toulouse, on his way to winning a French U-18 league medal with Colomiers. On Thursday, it was Monivea in the Connacht J1 League, where he had to contend with weather which hopefully he will never have to experience again.
This is Monivea’s sixth league title in seven years. Their consistency, and the standard they have attained, is a credit to all involved. In this campaign, they won all ten matches played. They draw their players from a rural area, and no rugby team in the province has deeper community roots. They have set an example for all other clubs to strive to emulate.
After the final whistle, my sympathy for the players started to slightly evaporate. My coat, allegedly waterproof, had proved to be porous, so droplets of water were running down my back. The players could at least now enjoy a hot shower and had the prospect of changing into dry clothes. As I drove out of the village of Monivea, with my sodden shirt now stuck to my back, and the prospect of an 80 mile journey ahead, I saw a road sign which indicated, Athenry 4 Km. Perhaps it was nights like this that Pete St. John had in mind when he wrote about it being ‘so lonely round the Fields of Athenry’.
Sligo: Nick Reynolds, Thomas Darcel, James Coulter, Kakaber Machiditze, Ted Mulvanney, Gavin Foley, Niall Canning, Ronan Gillespie, Ross O’Boyle, Adrian McHale, Simon Coulter, Andrew Williams, David Greene, Jamie Livingstone [c.], Stephen Woods. Subs: John Hynes for T. Darcel, David Kilcoyne.
Monivea: K. Higgins, I. Murphy, P. Cloonan, M. Concur, R. Murray, S. Fahy, G. O’Connor, J. McLoughlin, J. Farrell, D. Divilly, W. Parker, D. O’Boyle, K. Rooney, P. Fitzmaurice, K. Rooney.