U13s learn hard lesson

Sligo 20 :: Galwegians (North) 31

For their first competitive fixture of 2008, Sligo Under 13’s played hosts to Galwegians(North) on a very chilly day at Hamilton Park, in a match that would prove to be a valuable learning exercise for the Sligo Panel.

As in their previous matches, Sligo rapidly took the game to their opponents. From the kick-off Sligo began to force Galwegians back towards their own line. Good rucking and mauling were to give Sligo the upper hand in terms of possession during the first half of what was to prove a very physical and hard fought meeting of two of the best panels in Connaught. Sligo were unlucky to have not scored a try within the first five minutes when Eoin Kilroy-Talbot was given the ball just outside of Galegians’ 22. Having burst through several Galwegian defenders, he was denied by a good hard tackle, the first of many experienced on both sides during this match.

Sligo were the first to score, with the persistent driving of the Sligo pack constantly putting Galwegians onto their back foot. As they carried the ball over their try line Galwegians were caught and the ball dropped, only to be pounced on by the Sligo Scrum-half Cian Mulligan. Drifting against the wind Conor Kerins’ kick just fell wide of the posts. This, however, was to be the spark to the fire beginning to burn in the Galwegians team, and virtually straight from the restart Galwegians drove through any gaps they saw to score their first try, which was subsequently converted.

Not to be outdone, Sligo gave the same answer to Galwegians, and good possession and territorial gains resulted in Aaron Donnellan crashing over for Sligo’s second try of the day. The wind that was driving into Sligo’s faces robbed them of the conversion, and Galwegians ran towards them again at the restart. Soon Sligo’s shape was not holding well and as the half was coming to an end, an over-long pass was intercepted by the Galwegians’ out-half who was able to run through unchallenged for a fourth try. The score at half-time lay at Sligo 10 Galwegians 19.

As the second half began, a combination of the effects of the physicality of the match and the long gap between competitive matches caused by Christmas began to show in Sligo’s backline. Not long into the second half, Sligo’s full back, Jack Selby, had to leave the field with an injured hand and Tyrone (?) was brought onto the wing to replace Eoin Kilroy-Talbot who had dropped back to be full back. Galwegians, who are a very well-disciplined team, appeared to capitalise on this change and using a good combination of aggressive forward play together with good ball-handling skills, constantly left Sligo exposed in terms of the width of play. It wasn’t too long before their centres had opened large gaps or taken the benefit of the space that they were granted to land another converted try.

Sligo had changed their strategy at half time, and had begun trying to use the considerable power of their pack to grind down the Galwegian side, but lapses in ball skills, and a somewhat rushed approach to play, frequently led to Sligo’s back three having to make saving tackles deep in their own half. It wasn’t too long before Galwegians had run in their fourth try. Sligo appeared to be running out of steam, and indiscipline began to show. Despite the scoreline the lads refused to give in and continued to attack the Galwegian defences. Good close passing and possession by the pack resulted in Leigh Dunne crossing the Galwegian line for Sligo’s third try.

Something, however, appeared to have gone from the Sligo panel. Whether it was the inability to convert the tries scored, or the persistent loss of possession at the last minute, the team did not appear to be capable of pulling back the deficit. The score now stood at Sligo 15 Galwegians 26, and time was running out, as was the strength left in the players who had been on the pitch all the time. This match was very physical, and Sligo’s coaches had decided that the less experienced members of the panel who were present were potentially at risk of injury, and had consequently avoided using substitutions.

Tiredness and lack of disciplined shape around the breakdown gave a strong advantage to Galwegians, who, almost inevitably at this stage, ran in their fifth try. Sligo, however, showed that they are true “men of the West� and did not hang their heads following this apparent nail in their coffin. The subsequent restart led to Sligo charging at anything that was not in a Sligo shirt which finally resulted in Galwegians’ inadvertently kicking the ball into one of their own players. The loose ball was pounced on and Sligo had scored their fourth. In the dying minutes of the game, Sligo gave away a needless penalty in front of the posts, but Strandhill’s wind decided this should not pass over the posts. The final score ran in at Sligo 20 Galwegians 31, which was a fair reflection of the play.

Whilst possession and territory throughout the game had largely been Sligo’s, their inability to convert this into scores, partly due to the very strong Galwegian defence and partly due to Sligo tending to rush passes combined with a general loss of shape, resulted in the superior skills shown on the day by Galwegians giving them the victory. Sligo did not perform to their true capability, but should view this match as a valuable lesson to be learnt. When they are capable of retaining and using possession, and determining the pace of a match, there are probably few teams in the country who could stand up to them. They should use the experience of this game to regain their discipline and shape within a match, using the full width of the pitch when appropriate, the power of their pack when it is needed, and the speed and skills of their backline when the space is available.

This was a passionate and hard-fought battle between two very skillful teams, one of whom outperformed the other on the day.

Panel: Cian Mulligan, Eoin Kilroy-Talbot, Matthew Davey, Darragh Burke, Aaron Donnellan, James O’Hehir, Leigh Dunne, Conor Kerins, Gabriel Knecht, Peter Murray, Karol Devaney, David Connell, Killian Filan, Jack Selby, Andrew Nairn, Cian Allen-Kiely, Stephen Martyn, Aaron Mulligan, Paul Mahon.

More photos from the game are available here.