Sligo Development team 13 Ballinrobe RFC 10
It was only the hardiest of supporters who were brave enough to take to Hamilton Park last Sunday to cheer on the Sligo Development Team in their quest for a place in the Connacht Plate final. The weather was bitterly cold and the strong, swirling wind was destined to play a big role from the whistle.
Ballinrobe were quickest to settle into the game and their strong pack dominated for the first 10minutes, with their maul causing problems for the home side and eventually resulting in a drive over the Sligo line for the opening score of the game. The conversion seemed on target, but the wind proved too strong and the ball fell short of the posts.
Sligo upped their game from the restart and started to exert pressure on the visitors. The weather conditions continued to worsen, resulting in a litany of handling errors on both sides. The home side were dominant in the scrum and this provided them with a good attacking platform from which to run their set plays and exert further pressure on Ballinrobe. Indiscipline on both sides led to several penalties, but the strong wind negated any kicking options. It wasn’t until the half hour mark that Sligo were rewarded for their patience. After a scrum on the 10m line, the strong Sligo pack went through the phases and it was Sean Mullin who picked the ball off the back of a ruck to score under the posts. Garry O’ Hehir slotted home the extras and Sligo took the lead for the first time. However, this lead was short lived, as Ballinrobe regained possession from the restart and pushed for the line. The ‘Robe maul again proved too strong for the home side and they were able to add another 5points to their score. Just as with their first try, the wind proved to be too strong and the conversion fell short, to give the visitors a mere 3point lead at the half-way mark.
The short break re-energised the home side and they came out fighting in the second half. The crowd were delighted with the great display of interlinking play between the pack and the back line. Garry O’Hehir flashed the ball out wide to Charlie Cooper, who swiftly reversed the play back to O’Hehir and he showed an impressive turn of speed to break through the Ballinrobe defence and bring play up to the 10m. The visitors did manage to clear their lines, but Sligo counter-attacked and were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, which was slotted home by Garry O’Hehir to bring the score to 10-10.
Possession continued to change hands as the deteriorating weather conditions made handling difficult. Ballinrobe pushed forward again and a Sligo indiscretion in the ruck gave the visitors a penalty on the Sligo 22m line, which they opted to run. The Sligo defence held strong and Ballinrobe were reduced to 14 men, when their no8 picked up a shoulder injury and they had no subs on the bench. The sides stayed deadlocked at 10-10 until another Garry O’Hehir penalty put the home side 3 points up with 13 minutes still left on the clock. Brave Ballinrobe continued to battle, but Sligo were dominating in all the set plays and another injury reduced their numbers even further. The Sligo pack kept the ball in hand for the remainder of the game and went through the phases to retain possession and work their way up the pitch. The referee eventually called a halt to proceedings, much to the delight of the sizeable home crowd.
This was a well-deserved win, led by the player-coaches Ross O’Boyle, Garry O’Hehir and James O’Hehir, along with team manager James Gavin. Club President Des Cosgrove paid tribute in particular to the contribution of James O’ Hehir who has “fought his way back on to the pitch after several operations on his knee, being told not to play again” and who shows “remarkable commitment to our club”. The Man of the Match award must go to front row Jason East, who made a big impact on the game with his incisive decision-making and great ball carrying ability.
Having had an epic win last weekend to secure their place in the Connacht J1A league, Sligo Development Team will now finish their season with a Connacht final on 24th March in The Sportsground. Sligo will play Our Lady’s Boys Club (Galway) in the Connacht Plate Final, who had a 13-12 win over Dunmore in their semi-final win last weekend.
Sligo Development Team: Craig Adams, Ross O’ Boyle, Conor Mc Elligott, Michael Mc Morrow, Christian Nielsen, James O’ Hehir, Jack Gormley, Jake Sexton, Garry O’ Hehir, Donal Brady, Robbie Ryan, Charlie Cooper, Sean Mullin, Clive Morris, Matthew Kavanagh, Jason East, Liam Mc Elhinney, Gary Golden, Eoin Mc Cormack, Shaun Cawley