It is a sure sign that Rugby season is truly underway when the U-13s make their pilgrimage to Limerick for the 20 team annual Pat Lawler tournament. This season’s tournament was slightly different in that the Munster branch have changed their qualifying date of birth from July 1st to January 1st which meant that Sligo had to assemble a Squad consisting of a mixture of U-13s and U-14s. And though this group of players had not played together before it is a credit to them that they gelled so well and produced some top drawer rugby.
The opening cermony commenced at 10.30 with welcome greetings from the Mayor of Limerick and newly appointed Munster coach Tony McGahan. The traditional parade followed and then it was down to the real rugby business.
Sligo were drawn in a tough group with hosts UL Bohemians, Tralee RFC, Young Munster and Limerick club Richmond so it was clear that they would have to be at their best to make an impact on the competition. First game up was against the Hosts UL Bohemians. As with all encounters with Munster teams the game was played with a huge level of physicality and commitment with both sides generating scoring chances before UL Bohs went ahead with 3 minutes left on the clock. Sligo were determined not to start the day on a losing note and following some great driving play by Eddie Burke were awarded a penalty 10 metres from the Bohs line. Quick thinking scrum half Stephen Kerins fed the hard driving Leigh Dunne who burst through the Bohs defence for the equalising score. Sligo put their opponents under huge pressure for the final moments of the game but the Bohs defence held out for a draw.
Next up came Tralee RFC. This time it was Sligo who took the initative with an early try from Eddie Burke. Tralee equalised through their pacy backline but Sligo worked their way back into the lead with a well worked score from Eddie Weaver. Sligo tried hard to capitalise on their dominance but the fast Tralee backs had the last word when right at the death they broke out of defence for an equalising score.
Young Munster were next for a Sligo side hungry for their first win and this time they were not going to be denied. Scores from the influential Peter Murray, the strong running Mark Gerrity, a brace from Leigh Dunne and one from the speedy Jack Selby saw Sligo run out 5-1 winners.
With their place in the Shield quarter final assured, Sligo faced Richmond in their last group game. The previous three tough games began to take their toll and Richmond’s physicality saw them defeat Sligo by 3 tries to 1 in a bruising encounter. Team captain Leigh Dunne again delivered the Sligo score.
The final points calculations saw Sligo pitted against Old Cresent in the Shield Quarter-final. Sligo began in determined fashion and went ahead with a superbly taken score by Stephen Kerins. Old Cresent responded with a try but Sligo were not to be denied and a Peter Murray try saw the march to the semi-finals.
Richmond awaited Sligo in the semi-final. Sligo were hungry for revenge and in what some neutrals described as the best perfomance by any team in the tournament, Sligo avenged the earlier defeat with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over the Limerick outfit. The prolific Dunne again graced the score sheet along with Murray, Weaver and Selby. A notable feature of this match were the performances of Dylan Feeney and Sean Hurley.
Cork Constitution awaited Sligo in the final. Unfortunately for Sligo they had to line up without the pacey Jack Selby who picked up a knock at the end of the semi-final. Con used this to their advantage and moved the ball to their fast men at every opportunity and soon were three tries ahead. However the brave Sligo outfit again proved their mettle and quickly got themselves on the scoresheet through a well worked Murray try. Tommy Jackson almost added a second moments later but was adjudged to have been bundled into touch before grounding the ball. Sligo camped on the Con line but earned no more reward for their efforts before the final whistle of a long day was blown.
A beaten but proud Sligo outfit were presented their runner up medals by Munster player Mossie Lawler at the end of a great day of rugby.
Along with those already mentioned Sligo were well served all day in the forwards by Killian Filan, Matthew Cosgrove, Rory Molloy and Conan O’Donnell and in the backline by Conor Greene and Ferdia Browne.