Two converted tries either side of half-time were enough to see NUI Galway prevail over Sligo in the Connacht J1c league decider at a windswept, sleet and rain-soaked Hamilton Park, Strandhill, on Sunday 22 February.
The home team were installed as favourites going into the promotion playoff game, having won the last two encounters between the sides. The stormy weather and atrocious underfoot conditions meant that whichever team dealt best with the elements would have a significant advantage.
Overall, Sligo probably edged the set piece, while College’s maul and organised phase play in the loose gave the students a decisive edge over the 80 minutes. The bad weather also rendered the set-piece a lottery, especially the lineout.
The opening quarter saw both teams come to terms and intense physicality, played mainly between the respective 10 metre lines. Crucially, College’s breakthrough came just before half-time. Concerted, powerful play by the College forwards was starting to create space and momentum behind Sligo’s gain-line.
After great work from the pack, out-half Mark Comerford put centre Billy Delaney through for a superbly worked team score. Facing a gale-force cross wind Comerford coolly struck the conversion and bisected the uprights.
The decisive score for NUI Galway came after the break, again after great work from the pack, expertly marshalled by scrumhalf Jack O’Callaghan. Sustained College pressure eventually yielded the try, with impressive lock Peter Claffey forcing his way over. Tony Hall, who replaced Comerford on 50 minutes, slotted the difficult conversion.
Although Sligo scored a try following the restart, they could not add the conversion. In response, College raised their intensity in defence and worked the elements well, holding on for promotion and the win.
The man of the match was awarded to College number eight Gearoid Crowe who turned in a massive day’s work. A great result for NUI Galway and well deserved for all involved: captain Darragh O’Loughlin and his players, and the coaching team of Pete Small, Barry Kilroy, Bartley Fannin and Tom O’Regan.
- Shane Faulkner, 2. Niall Wilcox, 3. Charlie O’Neill, 4. Eoin Casserly, 5. Peter Claffey, 6. Darragh O’Loughlin (capt.), 7. Roy Stanley, 8. Gearoid Crowe, 9. Jack O’Callaghan, 10. Mark Comerford, 11. Jack Whooley, 12. Billy Delaney, 13. Max Sale, 14. James Kennedy, 15. Ruairi Kehoe-Clarke. Subs (all used): Kevin Harty, Josh Dunne, Matt Davey, Rob Conneely, Tony Hall.
By NUIG Rugby PRO