Sligo U15s played a very strong Bucanneers team in the U15 league final on the 5th of December 2021 in Creggs Rugby Club for the League title.
The north-western men started strongly against the table toppers from the other half of the league. Sligo weathered some early nerves to make their way into the opposition 22 in a game played under blue skies. Impressive centre Cillian O’Neill darted through following a sustained bout of pressure to intercept a pass scoring under the posts. Cillian then tacked on the conversion to give Sligo a 7-0 lead in the first ten minutes. Sligo gathered the restart and flowing back play brought them inside Buccaneers’ half where repeated good rucking by Sligo’s well drilled forwards resulted in a penalty. Electing to kick this sailed narrowly wide and play moved back to centre of the pitch where two evenly matched teams went toe to toe for long periods. Buccaneers were the heavier and physically stronger team, getting the upper hand in the set pieces but Sligo’s mobile pack complimented their fleet footed backs playing an open brand of rugby.
The game was played on a beautiful surface in front of a packed stand with both teams contributing to a nail biter. The first half favoured Sligo but there were ominous signs of Bucanneers’ strength with a number of lineout steals and scrums against the head. Sligo continued to play off limited possession however with livewire scrum half Andrew Ryan feeding out half James McGetterick whose first instinct was to run . Centres Cillian O’Neill
and Paddy Brady ran smoothly and passed beautifully time and again to bring Conor Van Rensburg into the game from fullback. Alert wingers Conor McGoldrick and Tadhg Murphy were prominent in both attack and defence but in truth the backs and forwards were matched by Buccaneers throughout.
Half time came at 7-0 to Sligo and this was never going to be enough against a team with a number of bigger, faster players than their opposite numbers. Sure enough a lapse in concentration allowed Buccaneers to run a penalty, bump some tiring Sligo players and clever hands fed a centre at full tilt to score. Pushed out wide by last minute tackling the conversion was too much and it was game on at 7-5. This heralded a period of domination by Buccaneers who were camped inside the Sligo 22 for 15 minutes with a number of attacks repelled by last ditch tackles and even a goal line drop out, when Buccaneers were held up over the line. Sligo were charged down during this time but always had a man alive to dive on the rebound. On another day Buccs would have scored heavily! This period also heralded the performance of the season defensively from Sligo. Robbie Gilleece on his debut season , hooker Ryan Burrows, blossoming tighthead Roghan O’Neill
formed the first line.Twin threats in the second row James Mackey Naoise Fitzgerald were immense who along with backrows Will Draper, Jake Laws and Sean Keaney Sligo had decided they wouldn’t miss a tackle and didn’t. The coaching staff of Ken O’Neill, Carl Van Rensburg , Aidan Mackey, Gavin Laws and head coach Roger Burrows were less sanguine than the team as all of them aged visibly during the second half.
Substitutes Ricardo Gambi Wheelan and Sam Garvey added to this wonderful defensive effort when coming on in the second half. The backs were not to be out done and when a forward wasn’t tackling every back on the field filled the gap and threw themselves into the fray.
The travelling supporters and coaching group were as tired as the players when mercifully Conor Van Rensburg lifted the siege as he pounced on a loose ball and ran 60 metres to be hauled down just shy of the try line. With 30 seconds to go a fumbled lineout ball was taken on by Roghan O’Neill only to be bundled into touch ending the game. The final whistled capped a wonderful second half defensive display for Sligo to emerge Connacht U15 League champions 2021 by the narrowest of margins 7-5 against a Buccaneers team who will doubtless have silverware in their future. The travelling squad of 30 players then stayed on to support and celebrate with the Sligo U17 team who also won their league final on the same pitch to mark a wonderful day for underage rugby in Sligo.