- Result: Galwegians Firsts 19 - Cork Constitution 38
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Apr 30th 2016
- Competition: Bateman Cup
Galwegians’ season ended in disappointing fashion when they missed the chance to become the first Connacht team to lift the All-Ireland Bateman Cup, being beaten by an impressive and ultimately a cuter and more savvy Cork Con at a resplendent Crowley Park on Saturday.
Playing with the aid of a strong first-half breeze, Cork Con opened the scoring with a superbly-struck seventh-minute penalty from out-half Tomas Quinlan wide on the left. They were using the wind to good effect to dominate the opening territory phases, and they put down an early marker when they stretched their lead before the end of the first quarter with the game’s opening try. It was an opportunist effort from scrum-half Ryan Foley, who snapped up loose ball after Wegians had seemed to thwart a lineout maul, only for the nippy no. 9 to snipe inside Wegians’ lock Marty Cummins and score to the right of the posts. The extras were added by Quinlan to move Con 10-0 in front.
Things looked ominous at this stage for the home side, however not for the first time this season Galwegians responded well to the concession of a score to hit back at the other end. Their opening try came early in the second quarter, when a rock solid scrum on halfway provided the platform for centre Api Pewhairangi, who made a telling break to burst past four tacklers. Although held up just short, from a subsequent ruck his centre partner Brian Murphy burrowed over from close range. The difficult conversion was pushed wide by Aidan Moynihan and 'Wegians leaked three points following the restart, with Con captain and back-row James Murphy winning a breakdown decision and Quinlan coolly slotting over the kick.
The nip and tuck nature of the game continued as Wegians took a stranglehold on proceedings. Following more pressure and a penalty to the corner, the home forwards pressed from a maul, and although held up just short, a five-metre scrum set-piece saw Murphy take a fantastic line onto an Moynihan pass to score his second try under the posts, running hard into a gap left by Ned Hodson who had to go off with a knee injury. Moynihan converted to close the gap to 13-12, and with barely a half hour gone, suddenly things looked altogether more promising for the Blues.
The turning point of the game came on 35 minutes. With Wegians now firmly in control and again hammering the Con line, a pass by captain Ja Naughton was crucially intercepted by Con’s lock forward Bran Hayes on his 5-metre line. A powerful 20 metre burst and a superb boot downfield forced Wegians on the backfoot. Full-back John Cleary did exceptionally well to gather and clear for a lineout, but it prove to little avail, as from a swiftly worked lineout, Quinlan's well-weighted grubber was dotted down under the posts by Hodson's replacement, Irish U-20 international Shane Daly. Quinlan made no mistake to restore Con’s 8-point advantage, although he scuffed a last-minute drop-goal effort to leave the score 20-12 at the break.
The game was effectively won and lost in the opening ten minutes of the second-half. Wegians may rue their decision to stay on the field during the extended half-time break, owing to the live TV coverage, during which they were subjected to a heavy west of Ireland downpour. In contrast, Con emerged from the warmth and sanctuary of their dressing-room to meet not only bright sunshine, but also a change in the elements as the strong wind suddenly died down.
The wily visitors took full advantage of their good fortune to dominate the opening exchanges following the restart. The left-footed Quinlan lofted over a penalty on 44 minutes, and good work in contact from replacement Luke Cahill and Niall Kenneally kept Con on the front foot. Wegians were unable to gain any foothold, and before long Quinlan kept the scoreboard ticking over with his fourth successful penalty, leaving 'Wegians 14 points adrift.
It was difficult to see any way back for Wegians at this stage, but once again they showed great courage and spirit to work their way back into the game. Their third try came just before the hour mark, when a good lineout platform saw fast ball sped across the backline, and veteran top try-scorer Cleary finished in impressive trademark style, crossing near the left-hand corner at the clubhouse end. Replacement out-half Dave Clarke's cracking conversion from near the touchline brought 'Wegians back within striking range at 26-19, and suddenly it was all to play for again.
However crucially Wegians’ set-piece started to crumble, as the effects of a long season began to kick in with some tired bodies. The lineout started to misfire badly, and Con’s strength in depth became apparent at scrum-time, where they were starting to turn the screw. The clinching score came on 67 minutes. When Wegians lock Cummins paid the price for repeat offences, his maul infringement in the 22 earning him a yellow card, Con took advantage immediately, a classic lineout maul driving through for hooker Max Abbott to touch down.
Although Quinlan missed the conversion, the visitors were in a commanding position and with a man to the good. Despite some purposeful running from Cleary and Pewhairangi, 'Wegians were unable to respond as they emptied the tank, although they were also unfortunate with some marginal decisions, winger Ed O’Keeffe particularly unlucky to be penalised for what looked a perfectly timed tackle on Kenneally. Rubbing salt into their wounds, Con finished on the attack and man-of-the-match Foley completed his brace in the dying minutes, sniping through from a few metres out after gobbling up a home scrum ball that had squirted free. Quinlan's conversion made it a 19-point winning margin.
The final margin was harsh on Wegians who contributed hugely to the most entertaining Bateman Cup Final in recent years. However the Corkonians appear to have a stranglehold on this trophy, as their experience and smarts told in the end to secure a record four-in-a-row triumph in this competition.