Sligo's Heineken Connacht Cup Hopes Dashed

Tuam 18 :: Sligo 3

Sligo, boosted by two impressive consecutive victories, travelled in optimistic mood to Garraun Park, Tuam, on Sunday last for their Heineken Connacht Junior Cup first round tie against the home side, but suffered a comprehensive defeat on an 18 -3 scoreline. The home side, who are having an indifferent league campaign, were metaphorically waiting in the long grass for Sligo, and giving a fine all round performance, they were thoroughly deserving winners.

The game was played in cool, but dry conditions,with the diagonal wind favouring Tuam in the first half. From the kick-off, it was clear that the home side were fired up for this encounter, and Sligo, with a few notable exceptions, failed to match their intensity. The home side included former Galway gaelic football corner forward, John Donnellan at full-back, and ex-GAA all-star, Ja Fallon, who played against Sligo in last July’s Nestor Cup final against Sligo, on the right wing.

Donnellan, with his prodigious boot, broke Sligo’s hearts with his lengthy clearances, which ensured that the visitors’ many wayward kicks were returned with interest. Fallon, apart from one late incisive run, was less influential, and Sligo will surely rue that in the entire game neither player’s tackling was tested. Indeed Sligo only looked like scoring a try in the very last action of the day, when Kakaber Machiditze’s made a fine break, but his offload at the line to the supporting Thomas Darcel was rightly adjudged by the referee to be forward.

It may have beeen ominous for Sligo that their kick-off to start the game went dead, and following the resulting scrum, Tuam just did not allow Sligo to get their hands on the ball for fully seven minutes. When Sligo did eventually attack they forced two penalties, and although Mark Boland was short from 40 metres after 8 minutes, he made amends two minutes later for outside the ’22’ to give his team a 3-0 lead. At this stage Sligo were coming into the game, but some dreadfully loose kicking handed the initiative back to Tuam, who responded with booming touch finders from Donnellan and out-half, Eoin Cosgrove.

In the 23rd minute, disaster struck. A lofted kick from Cosgrove was fielded well by Sligo full-back, Brian Hynes, but his clearance was charged down by flanker, Albert Lane, and scrum-half, Robert Kavanagh, picked up and touched down at the corner flag. Sligo got a reprieve when Donnellan’s superb touchline conversion attempt, into the wind, rebounded back off the crossbar.

Facing the wind in the second half, Sligo resumed with Ronan Gillespie at loose head for Martin Feeney, and soon afterwards, David Greene replaced Stephen Woods, with Thomas Darcel coming on for Hynes. Tuam continued to apply the pressure and John Donnellan converted a 15 metre penalty from in front of the posts to increase the lead to 8-3 after 8 minutes, when Sligo carelessly strayed offside. Simon Galvan entered the fray after 14 minutes for Simon Coulter as Sligo strove to lift the siege.

In the 20th minute, some poor defending paved the way for hooker, Michael Ward to break through for a try, and when Donnellan added the simple conversion to push his team 15-3 ahead, the game was slipping away from Sligo. In the 25th minute, Donnellan was again on target with a penalty, when Sligo were penalised for holding on after the tackle.

At this juncture, Sligo replaced Billy Leahy at scrum-half with Stuart O’Brien, and in the very last act of the game, Sligo almost got a consolation try. A quick tap and go from Kakaber Machiditze took him through the cover and when tackled just short of the line, his offload to the supporting Thomas Darcel was marginally forward. It was a frustrating ending to a game from which Sligo cannot take many positives. The old failing of not reproducing their Hamilton Park form on the road again manifested itself, and only a few of the 20 players used will be happy with their performances. The experience of Peter Mullan was missed from the pack, which struggled all afternoon to achieve parity. However, Jamie Livingstone gave an outstanding display in this sector, and did his utmost to rally his colleagues. Behind the scrum, Mark Boland had a huge game also, where his superb fielding and straight running were features of the game. Thomas Darcel tried very hard, but was given no opportunity to run at the defence, while Ronan Gillespie, David Greene and young Stuart O’Brien did their utmost also when introduced, while Cathal Culhane and Julian Ripon also tried very hard.

For Sligo’s management, it is back again to the drawing board, and they will be hoping embue the squad with the spirit which characterised their recent emphatic home victories over Coleraine and OLBC for the upcoming important fixtures.

Sligo: Brian Hynes, Julian Ripon, Mark Boland, Kakaber Machiditze, Ted Mulvanney, Gavin Foley, Billy Leahy, Adrian McHale, Ross O’Boyle, Martin Feeney, Simon Coulter, Jamie Bowes, Cathal Culhane, Jamie.Livingstone [c.], Stephen Woods. Subs: Ronan Gillespie for M. Feeney, David Greene for S. Woods, Thomas Darcel for B. Hynes, Simon Galvan for S. Coulter, Stuart O’Brien for B. Leahy.

Tuam: John Donnellan, Ja Fallon, Shane Quinn, Owen Lundon, Dave Burke, Eoin Cosgrove, Robert Kavanagh, Niall Higgins, Michael Ward, Stephen Kavanagh, Paul Canavan, Shane O’Neill, Brian Ruane, Michael O’Connor, Albert Lane. Subs: [all used] Austin Connolly, Gearoid Connolly, Michael Daly, Norman Tierney, Noel Fahy.

Referee: Mr. Dave O’Shea [Munster Branch].