Sligo 20 :: Coleraine 17
Giving an outstanding all round team performance, Sligo tore the form book to shreds at Hamilton Park on Saturday last, when they defeated last season’s All-Ireland finalists, Coleraine, in the opening round of the AIB All-Ireland Junior Cup. Played in blustery and wet conditions, the inhospitable weather notwithstanding, this was a typical cup tie, which certainly warmed the cockles of the hearts of all home supporters.
Before the game, it looked ominous for Sligo, as a number of regulars were unavailable because of injury and illness. Billy Leahy [unavailable], Joe Sweeney [broken thumb], Ronan Gillespie [leg], Julian Ripon [flu], Roger Burrows [flu], Gary Boland [hip], David Greene [flu] and Philip Henry [flu], all cried off, while I.T. student, Thomas Darcel, has yet to return from his native France after his Christmas holidays. On the credit side, Peter Mullan, who missed the last three games because of a knee injury, was able to sit on the bench, and he entered the fray in the second half and immediately made an impact. However, the unavailability of so many previous front-line players afforded some of the peripheral squad members, as well as some regular 2nd team players, the opportunity to showcase their talents, and without exception they all rose to the occasion magnificently.
From the kick-off Sligo played with tremendous passion and commitment, as they swarmed all over their opponents. All the newcomers fitted seamlessly into the team, with the pack for the first time this season going forward, and the newcomers to the backline making a big impression. At full-back, Brian Hynes was a revelation, as his ball handling in the difficult conditions was faultless. Scrum-half, Stuart O’Brien was another to make a big impression on his senior debut in this crucial position, while Ted Mulvaney did well also in his call-up on the left wing. On the right wing, Tim Jessop had a dream debut, which he capped by scoring two opportunist tries.
In the pack, this game marked the senior debut of Dermot Kiely from Skreeen, and he certainly played his part in the victory. Also making his first start was open side, Stephen Woods, and he gave an outstanding performance, the highlight of which was his second half try, following his magnificent 50 metre break, after a ball squirted out from the side of a ruck.
If the newcomers overcame all expectations, the experienced players all led by example. For the first time this season the Sligo pack dominated in all spheres, except in the scrummage. Hooker Ross O’Boyle was spot on with all his darts, and was very busy in the loose exchanges, as the line-out provided a plentiful supply of possession to the home side. Sligo’s jumpers excelled, with Jamie Livingstone, who had a huge game, and his fellow jumpers, Simon Coulter, Dermot Kiely and Peter Mullan dominating in this facet of the game.
Sligo did experience some difficulty in the scrums, but any shortcoming in this area was more than compensated for the by the side’s aggressive rucking and mauling game. Their ball retention from a series of ‘pick and drives’ was superb as they frustrated Coleraine by denying them possession for long periods. Indeed their successful use of this tactic in the concluding stages of the game was ‘Munsteresque’.
In this phase of the game, no one did more than prop forward, Adrian McHale, whose ball carrying was exemplary, and whose lifting was a major contribution to his side’s dominant line-out. Martin Feeney, who lined out despite being a flu victim, made a vital contribution to the team effort from the loose-head position. Sligo’s tackling around the fringes was top class and prominent in this regard was blind side, Cathal Culhane, who revelled in the exchanges on his return to his favourite back-row position.
Behind the scrum, Sligo were livlier and more potent than they have been all season. The placing of Kakaber Machiditze at inside centre and of Mark Boland at outside centre ensured that Sligo presented an attacking mid-field threat each time the ball was moved, and Coleraine always found it difficult to cope with their offensive thrusts. As stated, Brian Hynes at full-back, gave great confidence to all around him with his safe handling, and he also attacked well. Although opposed by the formidable Coleraine partnership of scrum-half, Archie Kettle and out-half, David Andrews, Sligo’s duo of debutant, Stuart O’Brien at No. 9 and Gavin Foley at No. 10 performed well, and were resolute in defence.
Sligo got a dream start, when they scored the opening try after four minutes. A probing kick from Machiditze was spilled by Coleraine full-back, Brian Cochrane, and winger,Tim Jessop scooped up the loose ball and careered over for a try in the corner. Although Mark Boland missed the difficult touchline conversion into the biting wind, this score served as a tremendous morale booster for Sligo. They proceeded to take the game to Coleraine, as they played with self belief and conviction. In the 20th minute they scored an outstanding try. On this occasion, good work from lock, Simon Coulter, at half way and beside the left touchline gave Sligo possession. The ball was moved via Stuart O’Brien to Foley. Under pressure, he fed Kakaber Machiditze, who did brilliantly to pick the ball literally from his boot laces. The ex-Georgian International surged through a gap and passed to his centre partner, Mark Boland, who cleverly drew in the winger, before sending Tim Jessop on his way for his second try of the afternoon in the right corner. This was a try fit to grace any game, and it provided a major fillip to Sligo.
To their credit Coleraine responded by launching a series of attacks, but the home defence was steadfast. Out-half, Andrews was just short with a 28 metre penalty after 29 minutes. The visitors’ pressure was unrelenting, and a only a crunching tackle by Mark Boland on his opposite number, Aaron Rankin, prevented a try in the 35th minute. Sligo were now pinned within 10 metres of their line and were forced to concede penalties. On three occasions, the visitors opted for a scrum rather than a kick, but despite superior power and their forward momentum, the tigerish Sligo tackling held them out. In the 37th minute, as they again laid siege to the Sligo line, Stuart O’Brien was yellow carded by referee, Peter Dennehy [Leinster Branch], for ‘killing’ the ball. From the penalty, Coleraine again opted for a scrum, and on this occasion they trundled forward and and No. 8, Denis Taylor, touched down to reduce the deficit to 10-5.
Sligo attacked on the commencement of the second half, and Boland expertly converted a 30 metre penalty after two minutes to increase the lead to 13-5. After 10 minutes they extended this lead with another memorable try. Following a ruck at half way, the ball became free, and Sligo’s No. 7,Stephen Woods, reacted fastest by picking up the loose ball. Incredibly, a gap opened up, and showing a great turn of pace, he outsped his persuers in a 50 metre sprint and dotted down under the posts. Boland converted to give Sligo a 20-5 lead.
Coleraine now piled on the pressure and an unconverted try from their left winger, Colin McNay, reduced the margin to 20-10 after 14 minutes. Sligo were now again forced to defend and were coping well, but in the 25th minute disaster struck. Having defended well close to their line, Sligo were awarded a relieving scrum, but Coleraine took the strike against the head, and their No. 8, Taylor, romped over under the posts. Andrews converted to reduce arrears to three points. From this point onwards, Sligo played some outstanding possession rugby, and none did more to retain the ball than captain, Livingstone, McHale and sub, Peter Mullan. The final whistle was greeted with much celebration, with even the sporting visiting supporters conceding that Sligo were worthy winners.
Sligo: Brian Hynes, Tim Jessop, Mark Boland, Kakaber Machiditze, Ted Mulvaney, Gavin Foley, Stuart O’Brien, Martin Feeney, Ross O’Boyle, Adrian McHale, Simon Coulter, Dermot Kiely, Cathal Culhane, Jamie Livingstone [c.], Stephen Woods.
Coleraine: Brian Cochrane, Ryan Ferguson, Aaron Rankin, Wesley Elder, Colin McNay, David Andrews, Archie Kettle, Aaron Gaston, Sam McCauley, Sam Bartlett, Johnny Gault, Arnold Hogg, Stephen Dickie, Denis Taylor, Gareth Cochrane.
Referee: Peter Dennehy [St.Mary’s College, Dublin]