Sligo’s quest for ultimate glory in the Connacht Junior league continued in earnest with a hard fought bonus point win over title contenders Corinthians at Strandhill on Sunday.
Last season, Sligo’s league and cup campaigns were both scuppered by defeats to Corinthians so this game was always going to be a huge obstacle to overcome. Sligo however are a different prospect this season and their intensity and work rate proved superior to the Galway outfit.
On a bitterly cold afternoon Sligo played with the aid of the stiff breeze towards the airport end in the first half. It was the visitors, however, who started brightest as they immediately tried to put width on the ball with their pacey backline. Sligo remained committed to their defensive duties and early work from the Sligo backrow of Cathal Culhane, Peter Mullan and Aaron Spring snuffed out the immediate threat.
The opening score arrived after 10 minutes, when a long downfield Mark Butler punt was collected by Corinthians’ Ronnie Ferguson. The full back looked to counter, and sped through a gap in the Sligo defence to make his way dangerously into the home teams half. A scoring pass looked likely, but Sligo’s Jordan Farrington had other ideas and the flying winger read the situation perfectly, stepped inside to intercept the pass and race clear from his own 10 metre line to score wide on the right. Butler’s excellently struck conversion moved his team into a seven point lead.
Corinthians immediately responded, and recovered the ball from the restart to give them a foothold in the Sligo half. An infringement at the ruck on the Sligo 22 saw the penalty award and outhalf Mick O Flynn bisected the posts with a well struck kick to open his teams account.
Sligo scored again midway through the half. A Peter Mullan line out take was quickly moved towards midfield. The strong running Matele Fifita burst his way forward before setting up the ruck. The visiting forwards illegally slowed the ball and the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty to Sligo. Butler opted to kick for position, and his well judged effort resulted in a Sligo lineout 5 metres from the tribesmen’s line. Hooker Ross Mannion’s accurate throw was collected by James Wilson and the pack immediately set up the maul which was driven over the line allowing ‘man of the match’ Cathal Culhane touch down for a 5 pointer.
Sligo’s confidence was growing and while neither side were able to gain ascendancy in the scrums, the home team’s superior lineout was causing difficulties for the visitors. Just before the half time break this lineout supremacy yielded a reward for Sligo. A James Wilson steal was tapped down to lively scrum half Paddy Pearson and in trademark style the team captain jinked his way through the defence and dotted down under the posts. Butler converted to send his team into the break with a 19 points to 3 lead.
Sligo began the second half strongly, and a blindside break from Pearson was halted illegally resulting in a penalty award for the locals. Butler again went to the corner but the Galway maul held firm and the chance was lost.
The bonus point was secured after 55 minutes. Good scrum possession was moved across the Corinthians 22. Prop forwards Adrian Mc Hale and Martin Feeney were both involved before Pearson switched direction with a well judged pass to Gavin Foley. The veteran centres pass was collected by Fifita and the strong running centre made no mistake to crash over for the touchdown. Butler’s difficult conversion attempt into the stiff breeze fell short.
Sligo continued to press but were unsuccessful in their efforts to add to their total. Corinthians gamely battled to the end and their endeavour was rewarded 2 minutes from time when second row Donnacha Phelan touched down following some good driving play from his pack. O’Flynn converted to leave a final score of 24-10 in favour of Sligo.
Next Sunday sees Sligo travel to east Galway to lock horns with Loughrea in the quarter final of the Cawley cup. Loughrea are having a difficult time in this season’s junior league but are always a tough prospect at home so Sligo will need to be at their best to overcome what is sure to be a difficult challenge. The match kicks off at 2pm in Loughrea.
Sligo: David Gerrity, Jordan Farrington, Gavin Foley, Matele Fifita, Roger Burrows, Mark Butler, Paddy Pearson, Wesley Maxwell , Ross Mannion, Adrian Mc Hale, James Wilson, Jamie Bowes, Aaron Spring, Cathal Culhane, Peter Mullan. Subs Frankie Feeney, Gary Conneely, Martin Feeney, Donal Finneran, Dara Cox.
Corinthians: Ronnie Ferguson, Brendan Carpenter, Hugh Griffin, Mark O Boyle, Ciaran Dunne, Mick O Flynn, Mark Dolan, Brendan Barrett, David Bardun, David Small, Alan O Toole, Donnacha Phelan, Matt Flynn, Sean Gerritty, Barry Mc Cann. Subs Alan Walshe, Peader Tonery, Enda Murphy, Emmett Mallet, Paul Flannagan.