Sligo 10 – Westport 5
Giving their best performance of the season, Sligo avenged last season’s dramatic injury time, extra time, league play-off defeat by Westport, when they were victorious over their old rivals at Hamilton Park on Sunday last.
While the score-line might suggest otherwise, Sligo dominated for much of this game, and would not have been flattered by a wider winning margin. The home side entered this game with no fewer than eight of their 1st team squad unavailable due to injury. They were particularly shorthanded in the back line, as five backs were absent. To solve this dilemma, forwards Andrew Williams and Steven Connolly were given unfamiliar starting roles on the wings. While both players would probably have preferred to have been selected in the pack, they made valuable contributions to the victory, especially with their defensive work.
In last season’s two jousts with Westport, Sligo’s pack struggled to gain parity with their opponents. On this occasion, the home pack was a revelation. They dominated in all facets of forward play, being superior in the scrums, line-outs, rucks and mauls. The line-outs were a source of much of the winners’ possession. In this area, Sligo’s two jumpers, Jamie Livingstone and Peter Mullan, responded superbly to Ross Mannion’s accurate throwing, as they took their own throws with ease. In addition they created mayhem in Westport’s ranks as they filched several of their line throws.
The scrum, anchored by Connacht U-20 player, Ronan Gillespie, at loose-head, was extremely solid, with tight head, Joe Kelly having a fine game, while hooker, Ross Mannion had his most effective outing of the season. Second row, Adrian McHale used his strength and power to gain valuable territory with some big ball carries. Wing forwards, David Greene and Gary Conneally were very prominent, tackling well around the fringes, and scavaging competitively at the breakdown. However, the heroes in the pack were undoubtedly the aforementioned, Mullan and Livingstone. In his long career with the club, Mullan has surely never played a better game in the Sligo colours. His sure ball handling, astute decision taking and ball carrying were all of the highest standard, and he narrowly pips Kiwi, Livingstone for the ‘man of the match’ accolade. For his part, Livingstone was also immense, putting in some bone crunching tackles, and being outstanding out of touch.
Behind the scrum, Sligo were rock-solid in defence. Cathal Culhane capped a memorable display with an opportunist try, while his centre partner, Andrew Feeney was back to his very best form. Full-back, Roger Burrows handled with safety, and used his ability to remain on his feet after the tackle as a platform for his pack to recycle the ball.
Sligo’s half-back partnership of Gavin Foley and Billy Leahy compared very favourably with the highly rated Westport duo of Eddie Walsh and Paul Jennings. Leahy’s service from the base of the scrum was crisp, while his strength and tackling around the scrums and rucks were effective. Foley again was excellent in defence, and also moved the ball well. His goalkicking was also on song, as he landed two kicks from three attempts.
Sligo dominated the early exchanges,and took the lead with a fine 30 metre Gavin Foley penalty after 9 minutes. In the 21st minute they struck for a brilliant try. Centre, Cathal Culhane intercepted on the losers’ 10 metre line and broke forward. He linked with Gary Conneally, and following some top class continuity play involving Peter Mullan, Steven Connolly and Roger Burrows, Cullhane ran a great outside line, and touched down near the corner flag. Foley superbly converted from near the touch-line to give Sligo a 10-0 lead. Foley almost increased this lead in the 36th minute, but his well struck drop goal attempt rebounded back into play off an upright.
In the 4th minute of the second half, centre, Michael Heneghan reduced arrears with a fine try, but out-half Walsh missed the conversion, and in the 12th minute ex-Galwegians AIL player, Eamonn Molloy, who had entered the fray after the interval, was wide with a 35 metre penalty. However, Sligo rallied and enjoyed territorial dominance for the remainder of the game.
The referee played seven minutes of added time, so Sligo’s supporters, mindful of last season’s dramatic ending, were on tenterhooks, but their team comfortably held on for a deserved and impressive victory
Sligo: R. Burrows, A. Williams, A. Feeney, C. Culhane, S. Connolly, G. Foley, B. Leahy, R. Gillespie, R. Mannion, J. Kelly, J. Livingstone, A. McHale, G. Conneally, P. Mullan[c.], D. Greene. Subs: T. Sweeney for D. Greene[inj.]. Not Used: A.Tansey, D.Kilcoyne.
Westport: N. Munroe, O. Joyce, P. Staunton[c.], M. Heneghan, D. O’Toole, E. Walsh, P. Jennings, S. Keane, A. Cusack, P. Conway, S. O’Boyle, P. Walsh, M. Burke, J.P. Walsh, D. Keane. Subs: [Used]R.Martin, E.Molloy, M O’Brien
Referee:Michael Honan [Ballina]