Stalemate at Strandhill

Sligo RFC 13
Ballina RFC 13

Rob Holian breaks through the Ballina defence and releases Hubert Gilvarry to score in the corner

Near neighbours and longtime rivals Sligo RFC and Ballina RFC played out an enthralling and intense draw in the much anticipated Energia All Ireland League, northwest derby, at Strandhill on Saturday. The result puts Sligo in fifth position in the division 2b table with 5 of the 18 rounds completed.

A strong westerly breeze greeted the sides as they took to the Hamilton park turf with Sligo playing towards the Knocknarea end for the first half.
The early exchanges belonged to the locals with strong carries from Rob Holian and Donnacha Byrne making inroads and the Sligo maul looking particularly strong.

The early Sligo pressure yielded a reward with 10 minutes on the clock. Josh Reeves opened the Sligo account with a penalty from the 22 as the Ballina defensive line was penalised for offside.

Sligo continued to press and camped in the Ballina 22. A five yard defensive scrum looked an ideal opportunity to put pressure on the visitors but the referee adjudged the Sligo effort illegal and the chance was lost.

Euan Brown clears his lines

The visitors made the most of the reprieve and a well worked backline move earned field position in the Sligo 22 where Craig McCormick levelled the scores with a penalty for the Moy men.

With 20 mins gone it was Sligo that struck the next blow. Matthew Early threw to Matthew O’Hara at a lineout on the 22. The Sligo forwards quickly set up an excellent maul and drove to within 5 metres of the line. Sligo’s energetic scrum half Hubert Gilvarry sniped down the blindside before releasing winger Stefano Giantorno who dived over in the corner.

From the restart Sligo attacked again with Donnacha Byrne, Guilherme Coghetto and Giantorno involved in a move that brought play to the Ballina 22 but scramble defence by the visitors forced the turnover enabling the clearance.

Sligo continued to press and an excellent Gilvarry break again brought play into the visitors 22 before linking up with Coghetto, Calum Goddard and Reeves. The ball made its way back to Goddard on the right touchline but the Ballina cover won the race to the touchdown following a chip ahead by the Sligo winger.

Sligo were owning the lions share of possession but the Ballina last line of defence was proving stubborn. Just prior to the interval a 50:22 from Euan Brown put the locals in an excellent position to attack the line. O’Hara again claimed the lineout and the maul drove to the line. The ref adjudged the effort short and Sligo had to settle for a 5 metre scrum. The Sligo forwards pounded the line and drew in the Ballina defence but when the ball was moved to the wing, to exploit the space, the pass was inaccurate and the chance was lost.

The teams went into the interval with Sligo leading 8-3.
Following the resumption it was the visitors who attacked first , working the ball to left winger Bradley Nealon who looked set to score but a thunderous Coghetto tackle prevented the score and the Sligo defence eventually turned the ball over on the 22.

Sligo immediately looked to counter and the ball was moved to midfield where Rob Holian burst through the cover and raced forward to the Ballina 10 meter line before linking with Gilvarry who sidestepped the covering defence and raced to the corner for a brilliant score.

Ballina closed the gap on 60 minutes with another Mc Cormick penalty to put a converted try between the sides, setting up a tense finale.
The equalising score for the visitors came with 10 minutes left on the clock. Prop forward Conor Mason squeezed over the Sligo line following a sustained period of pressure and McCormicks conversion levelled the match.

Sligo looked for the winning score and again used the maul to good effect to work their way into the scoring score but the opportunity never materialised and when the referee blew the long whistle the points were shared.

Sligo now take a well deserved one week break from All Ireland league duty before heading to Dublin on November 20th to lock horns with Blackrock College RFC. The match kicks off at Stradbrook at 2.30.

Sligo : Guilherme Coghetto, Calum Goddard, Enda Gavin, Josh Reeves, Stefano Giantorno, Euan Brown, Hubert Gilvarry, Eddie Coyle, Matthew Earley, Pedro Bengalo, Matthew O’Hara, Rob Holian, James O’Hehir, Daire Byrne, Donnacha Byrne, reps Craig Trimble, Jake Sexton, Sean Wynne, Ross Hickey, Philip Carter.

A minute’s silence was held before the match in memory of former Sligo senior player
Bob Frazer, brother of Conor Frazer, and Kay O Connor mother of Pat O Connor, grandmother of Ballina Senior Team Manager William and also also Kay Heffernan, mother of Ivan Heffernan. Heffernan Park in Ballina is named after the Heffernan family.

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