Westport 12 :: Sligo 9
Sligo’s gave a very brave performance at Carrowholly on Sunday morning last, when they were unluckily defeated by Westport in an enthralling semi-final of the Connacht U-18 Cup. The home side had knocked out the Division A league winners, Corinthians, after a replay, and entered this game as favourites, but Sligo, who won the Division B league, came very close to upsetting the odds.
Sligo were forced to line out without their talisman, Aaron Spring,who was on International Youth [U-18] duty in Italy, but the entire team, excellently organised by coach, Simon Galvan and team manager, Ber Dunne, brilliantly rose to the occasion, and gave an outstanding performance. They had the advantage of the strong diagonal wind in the first half, and for long periods failed to take advantage of the elements. In this half, they experienced problems in the line-out, but towards the end of the half, they moved David Bergin to No 2 in the line, and from that point onwards they comfortably won all their own throws, and brought the game to Westport.
The winners had the game’s star performer in No 7, Liam Carpenter, a Connacht Schools’ Interprovincial, and he proved to be their match winner. Carpenter scored the opening try after 14 minutes to give his team a 5-0 lead, and in first half injury time, he scored an opportunist try at the posts, which was converted by out-half, Brendan Carpenter. Between Carpenter’s two tries, Sligo more than matched their opponents, and out-half, Niall Kenneally landed a peach of a penalty from 35 metres in the 29th minute.
Westport enjoyed a flattering 12-3 lead at the interval. In the second half, Sligo certainly were the dominant side, despite the fact that the direction of the wind changed, and was of considerable asdvantage to Westport. After consistent pressure, Sligo reduced arreares after six minutes when Kenneally popped over a penalty from the ’22’. In the 13th minute, Niall Kenneally was again on target from 30 metres to now leave the score at 12-9, and amazingly this was the last score of the game.
In hindsight, Sligo will probably regret that they did not resort to a ‘pick and drive’ game, and draw penalties for Kenneally to convert, rather than attempt to move the ball wide in that frenetic final quarter. However, they can take some consolation from the fact that no fewer than 12 of the team, and Aaron Spring, are again eligible to play at U-18 next season, and that the entire team played with a lot of skill, pride and passion.
Out-half, Niall Kenneally emerged as the hero of the back-line, with his 100% goal kicking record, his excellent line kicking and fine distribution. His half-back partner, Colin Keane, had a great game, and is clearly a player for the future. Full-back, Keith Farry dealt very capably with everything which came his way. Inside centre, Rory Kerins, although a natural No 7, tackled everyone who came down his channel, while outside centre, Chris Nairn showed his ability with a few searing breaks. Both wingers, Brendan Glynn and Stephen Mullaney did an amount of useful work.
The Sligo pack starred a unit and individually. Tight head, Thomas Gormally was a very impressive performer and received great support in the front row from Craig Adams and Thomas Stenson. In the second row, Tadgh Power and Michael McMorrow did a tremendous amount of work, especially at the breakdown. Sligo had an all action back row in Eavan O’Donnell, still an U-16 player at blind side, Daniel Bergin at No 8 and Aaron Loftus at open side. Bergin was their main ball winner in the line-outs, and when he moved to the front he was dominant. Both O’Donnell’s and Loftus’s tackle counts were exceptional.
Overall, a stirring performance from Sligo, which certainly augurs very well for the future. Great credit is due to the entire squad and to the coaches, Simon Galvan and Ciaran Foley, and manager, Ber Dunne, for all their work with the squad throughout the year. This is a squad with a lot of talent and potential.
Sligo: Keith Farry, Stephen Mullaney, Chris Nairn, Rory Kerins [c.], Brendan Glynn, Niall Kenneally, Colin Keane, Craig Adams, Thomas Stenson, Thomas Gormally, Michael McMorrow, Tadgh Power, Eavan O’Donnell, David Bergin, Aaron Loftus. Subs: Luke Henderson, Peter Walpole.