“Belief, ambition, community” are the words inscribed on the Connacht U13 gold medals and the Sligo team certainly reflected that ethos throughout their season. It has been 11years since Sligo brought home the Connacht U13 Cup, but they did so with style, overcoming a 7point deficit to win by 3points against Athlone outfit Buccaneers.
Sligo were considered the underdogs, given that Buccaneers had already had a clean sweep in the non-competitive Connacht league, but it was the favourites who found themselves at the wrong end of a disciplined and decisive performance by Sligo RFC.
The first half was dominated by Sligo, who showed flair and determination, but failed to puncture the Buccaneer defence. The scoreboard read 0-0 at halftime, and both teams had everything to play for, but Sligo now found themselves playing into a strong headwind.
Buccaneers made the most of this advantage, breaching the Sligo defence halfway through the second half to clock up the opening score of the game. A well-worked break resulted in a try under the posts and the conversion gave Buccaneers a 7-0 lead.
The large travelling support gave the Sligo lads the impetus they needed, and their heads never went down. Jack McDaniel made a powerful break from the halfway line and was eventually chased down, preventing a certain try. Sligo had their tails up at this stage and were finally rewarded when first centre Ronan O Connor broke from his own 22 to cross the try line and bring Sligo within 2points. Captain Mark Tempany’s conversion lost the battle with the wind and drifted wide.
Buccaneers rallied again, but it was Sligo who were proving the more disciplined and determined in their play, epitomised by the David versus Goliath moment, when Clyde Regan, perhaps the smallest player on the pitch, put in a crunching tackle against Buccaneers’ biggest player. With only 7minutes left on the clock, Sligo’s Dean Marsden broke through on the halfway line to score out wide, much to the delight of the large, travelling crowd. The difficult conversion fell short of its mark, but more importantly Sligo had a 3point lead.
The remainder of the game was played at a high tempo, with both sides threatening to cross the whitewash, but Sligo’s defensive line was disciplined and held strong. In the final play of the game, Buccaneers thought they had scored, but the referee deemed it a knock-on and his final whistle was greeted with relief and celebrations from the Sligo contingent.
This was a real battle of the packs, a game won and lost in the rucks. Sligo played honourable and disciplined rugby, having confidence in each other and in their own abilities.
Captain Mark Tempany accepted the trophy on behalf of his team, thanking the coaches and management, supporters and his players, having given it 100% on the pitch. Head Coach Ken Draper said that it was “very thrilling to see a bunch of players get such a result, that they really deserve”. Many impact players had only started playing rugby this year and it’s a credit to the coaching staff to have brought the players to where they are today. The young team had got better and better as the season progressed, putting in extra training sessions, with great commitment from the players and great support from their parents. The U13 team have players from a wide catchment area including Tubbercurry, Coola, Riverstown, Ballinafad, North Sligo, Charlestown, Ballisodare, Strandhill, Rosses Point and the greater Sligo area.
Sligo U13s: Evan O’Beirne, Cathal Hughes, Rory Johnston, Cathal Lang, Jack McDaniel, Max O’Hehir, Dean Davey, Isaac Marsden, Jack Draper, Mark Tempany (c) Cormac Mullins, Ronan O’Connor, Eamon Keane, Abhainn Savage, Clyde Regan, Joris Rooney, Evan Gormley, Ronan Tobin, Ben O’Hehir, Aodhan Shovelin, Seamus Casey, Ultan Bree, Devon Carey, Conor Marren, Thomas Nooney, Patrick Sweeney, Christian Mc Entire Coaching staff and management Ken Draper, Donal O’Connor, Niall Hughes, David Tobin and Emer Bree