Sligo moved one step closer to fulfilling their quest to lift the Connacht junior League for the first time since 1972 with a hard won bonus point victory against a tough Tuam outfit at Gaurran Park on Sunday. Sligo were made to battle all the way to collect the all important bonus point, which places the north westerners 4 points clear at the top of the table, with two league games remaining.
Playing into the teeth of the strong wind in the first Sligo were immediately put under pressure by the physical home outfit. A penalty conceded after 3 minutes was despatched by home place kicker Dave Lally to give the Galway outfit an early lead.
Sligo fought back and good driving from the pack gained field position in the Tuam half. A long kick from defence by Tuam was fielded by Mark Butler in his own half. The full back immediately looked to counter and his pass found winger Gavin Foley. Foley drove infield before setting up a quick ruck. Scrum half Frankie Feeney moved the play left and Outhalf Paddy Pearsons’ pass allowed Mata Fifita the chance to make a half break before linking up with Aaron Spring. The Cartron native, with number six on his back, sprinted for the line and burst through the covering tackle to open his teams account.
The difficult conversion attempt fell short in the breeze.
Tuam again imposed themselves on their visitors and used the conditions well to set up camp in the Sligo half. Their territorial dominance was rewarded on 16 minutes when Sligo were penalised for an infringement at the ruck. Lally made no mistake in doubling his teams total with a well struck effort.
The remainder of the first half belonged to the home side. Sligo were finding it difficult to impose themselves at the breakdown and Tuam benefitted with two further Lally penalties, the latter of which further compounded Sligo’s difficulties as Foley received a yellow card for an intentional knock on.
The visitors did not panic however and began the second half in whirlwind fashion. Three minutes in and a scrum on the Tuam 10 metre line was moved right to Butler. The full back carried into the Tuam 22 before setting up the ruck. The play was switched left and the ball was quickly moved to Fifita who raced round the cover to score left of the uprights.
The conversion attempt slipped narrowly wide.
From the kick off, the excellent Jamie Bowes collected and drove into the Tuam pack. The pack recycled and Pearson was given the space to expertly place the ball into the Tuam 22. Pressure on the home lineout resulted in a Sligo penalty which the outhalf opted to place in the corner. An accurate throw from hooker Ross Mannion was taken off the top by expert jumper James Wilson. The quick ball was moved to Pearson whose half break was stopped short of the line, but Feeney was on hand to dart through the gap and touched down near the posts.
Sligo continued to up the intensity and the increased tempo was beginning to cause difficulties for their hosts. The Sligo scrum was on top of their opponents and Mannion, Bowes and Wilson were generating a good supply of clean lineout ball. Pearsons’ kicking kept his pack on the front foot and good chasing from David Gerrity and Jordan Farrington ensured that Tuam were pinned back in their own half. Sligo were further rewarded on the hour when Tuam infringed on the floor, allowing Butler the opportunity to kick his second penalty of the day to move the score to 20-12 in favour of Sligo.
The bonus point was now within reach, but stubborn Tuam defence ensured that the visiting support was kept on edge right to the death. With two minutes left on the clock Sligo were awarded a penalty in their own 22. A quick tap was moved right to Aaron Spring and the youngster rounded the onrushing defence before racing into the Tuam half. An excellent side step left the final defender stranded before the flanker crashed over in the corner for his second and his teams forth of the day.
Mark Butler added an excellent conversion to push the score line to 27-12 in favour of the league leaders.
Sligo ; Mark Butler, David Gerritty,Jordan Farrington, Mata Fifita, Gavin Foley, Paddy Pearson, Frankie Feeney, Wesley Maxwell, Ross Mannion, Adrian Mc Hale, James Wilson, Jamie Bowes, Aaron Spring, Simon Coulter, Paddy Conlon. Reps; Brian Hynes, Gary Conneely, Peter Mullan, Billy Leahy, Darragh Cox.
Photos by Rory Raftery – see more on Sligo RFC Facebook page