Thomond RFC 12 – Sligo RFC 13
Sligo RFC commenced their Ulster Bank League campaign with a win by the narrowest of margins over a gritty Thomond outfit at a rain soaked Liam FitzGerald park on Saturday.
Sligo had to come from behind and withstand a stirring Thomond comeback to secure the points in a game which at the finish could have been won by either team.
As if on cue, the grey clouds closed in and the rain began to fall just as the teams were lining up for the kick off. The early exchanges were fraught with both sides trying to come to terms with the greasy ball. Sligo were looking to punch through the centre at every opportunity but the Thomond defence was well organised and coped well with the early Sligo threat.
Early pressure from Sligo earned penalties in the home teams half on the 10th and 15th minutes but the difficult conditions proved insurmountable for the kickers and the scorekeeper remained untroubled until half way through the first period.
It was the home team that broke the deadlock. A strong run from powerful centre Ger Finucane positioned Thomond in the Sligo 22 where an attacking scrum was earned. From the put-in the hosts opted to put width on the ball and a looping move gave winger Darragh O’Neill the space to squeeze in out wide on the right. Evan Cusack slotted the conversion to put Thomond into a seven point lead.
Sligo responded, but failed with another penalty attempt to try to open the scoring. Sligo looked to have made the breakthrough just before the interval when a Mike Wells half break looked to have unlocked the home defence but the final pass went astray and the score remained 7-0 at the break.
Sligo started the second half in determined fashion and began to impose their powerful scrum on their hosts. Props Mark Keegan and Conor Mitchell were well in control and their endeavour was forcing the home team to concede penalties at the set piece.
Sligo opened their account with a Mark Butler penalty on 56 minutes and followed up with a try on the hour to take the lead. A penalty at the scrum was kicked to the corner and the line out was secured by Diarmuid O’Dowd Hill. The pack smelled blood and rumbled towards the line with Shane O’Hehir on hand to touch down in the left corner.
The Sligo pack were now well in control and were starving the Thomond eight of meaningful possession. Shane Boyle and Matthew Cosgrove were carrying with intent and Ryan Feehily was orchestrating things well from the base.
With 10 minutes remaining on the clock Sligo further extended their lead. Good hands from Butler, Wells and Philip Carter gave Mark Rooney the chance to pick up Sligo’s second try out wide on the left.
To their credit Thomond were never going to lie down and battled their way back into Sligo territory going into the closing moments. Huge pressure was put on the Sligo defence in particular by the powerful Finucane. With the game deep in injury time Thomond breached the Sligo defence when David O’ Halloran finished off out on the left to put one point between teams with a conversion to come.
The tension was incredible as Cusack lined up the kick that would snatch the game for Thomond but the Sligo faithful breathed a huge sigh of relief when Cusack’s attempt drifted across the posts and wide. The referee blew the long whistle and it was the visitors that were celebrating.
Next up Sligo host UBL newcomers Malahide RFC. Malahide opened their account with a big win against Bective RFC on Friday night and will be hugely boosted by the addition of former Irish international prop Mike Ross to their ranks in the guise of player coach. Sligo will be relishing the opportunity to welcome the newcomers to Strandhill for the match which kicks off at 2.30 next Saturday (23rd)
Sligo Mark Keegan, James O’Hehir, Conor Mitchell, Ciaran Cassidy, Shane Boyle (Capt) Manu Parkin, Diarmuid O’Dowd Hill, Matthew Cosgrove, Ryan Feehily, Mark Butler, Philip Carter, Mike Wells, Mark Rooney, Callum Goddard, Jack Keegan. Reps Shane O’Hehir, Shane McGuinness, Matt Davey, James Wilson, Niall Gray