Navan RFC 15 – Sligo RFC 5
Sligo’s bid to capture the 2016/17 Ulster Bank League division 2c crown ended in disappointment with defeat to league winners Navan at Balreask Old in the final round of regular season fixtures on Saturday. Having won ten UBL matches in a row Sligo entered the game full of confidence but were pitted against a Navan side that had only been bested three times in the entire league campaign, were undefeated in 2017, and whose biggest losing margin was a mere seven points. Going into the game three league points behind, Sligo not only had to win the match but also had to ensure that Navan were denied a losing bonus point because in the event of a tie on League points the Meath outfit had a superior scoring points difference.
Come kick off time the atmosphere was electric as a massive vocal travelling support welcomed Sligo onto the pitch, led by mascot Niall O’Driscoll, through a tunnel provided the Sligo under 10s and 12s who earlier in the day had acquitted themselves very well in a series of matches against their Navan hosts.
Playing with the aid of the slight breeze Navan kicked off and immediately tried to impose their game on Sligo through their physically imposing powerful pack of forwards. Sligo were solid in defence and gave as good as they got in the early exchanges as both sides battled for dominance.
With six minutes gone Sligo’s cause took a blow when dynamic hooker Shane O’ Hehir had to retire due to an ankle injury sustained during the warmup which meant Coach Ross Mannion had to reshuffle his deck and bring James O’Hehir into the fray much earlier than he would have planned for.
The game ebbed and flowed for the first half hour with neither side able to make the breakthrough, both sides missed early penalty attempts on a day where kickers failed to shine.
At scrum time Conor Mitchell and Kuba Wojtkowicz were edging the battle and Diarmuid O’Dowd Hill was doing excellent work at disrupting the Navan lineout.
Just before the interval Navan made a crucial breakthrough. A penalty award on the Sligo ten metre line was kicked to the corner. Sligo repelled the driving lineout maul and Navan moved the ball left. Some big carries by the powerful Navan forwards brought the play close to the line before an excellent line by the Navan full back opened the defence and put the home team five points up at the interval.
Following the resumption Sligo upped the tempo to work their way back into the game. Daire Byrne was carryIng strongly Into the heart of the home defence and Ryan Feehily was proving a handful at the base.
Ten minutes into the half Sligo achieved parity. A series of drives involving the powerful Jamie Bowes and his excellent engine room partner Ciaran Cassidy positioned Sligo in the Navan scoring zone and Wojtkowicz burst through to open Sligo’s account.
The game continued with both sides looking to take the advantage. Unfortunately for Sligo the challenge of controlling the giant Navan pack began to take its toll and with 15 minutes remaining Navan were awarded a penalty try from a scrum in front of the Sligo posts.
Incredibly, the Sligo rush blocked the conversion attempt but Sligo needed an eight point margin of victory to secure the title and were now facing a mammoth task.
To their credit Sligo threw everything at the Royal county men to bridge the gap but the day belonged to Navan and a late try confirmed Navan as 2016/17 UBL Division 2C champions.
The ultimate prize of promotion is still alive for Sligo as they now face Rainey RFC in the promotion/relegation playoff semi final at Hamilton Park next Saturday. The winner will play the succesful team from the Bective v Tullamore second semi final. The match kicks off at 2.30 next saturday.
Sligo Jack Keegan, Conor Kerins, Mark Rooney, Daire Byrne, Callum Goddard, Mike Wells, Ryan Feehily, Kuba Wojtkowicz, Shane O’Hehir, Conor Mitchell, Jamie Bowes, Ciaran Cassidy, Matt Davey, Diarmuid O’ Dowd Hill, Shane Boyle (Capt) reps Thomas Gormaley, James O’Hehir, Mark Keegan, Simon Coulter, Graham Kerr