- Result: Galwegians Firsts 29 - Buccaneers 25
- Venue: Dubarry Park on Sat Oct 4th 2014
- Competition: AIL Division 1B
- Match photos
Galwegians pulled off one of the greatest ever comebacks when they snatched victory right at the death against rivals Buccaneers in an enthralling local derby at Dubarry Park on Saturday. Despite being 22 points adrift at one stage, a Colin Conroy try in the very last play of the game gave the Blues their third bonus point victory in four outings, which keeps them top of UBL Division 1B.
These two sides have served up some memorable contests in recent years, but few could match this one for drama in a game which had absolutely everything. Buccaneers were clearly up for this one, aiming to avenge their recent Connacht Senior League defeat at Crowley Park and trying to knock Wegians off their perch. Indeed the hosts got off to the perfect with a try after only 2 minutes. No. 8 Luke Satchwell ran from inside his own half and all too easily evaded the attentions of the Wegians defence, showing great stamina to make it over the line for the opening score.
Out-half Alan Gaughan converted for an early 7-0 lead, and the Buccs no. 10 was making good use of the stiff first-half breeze to give his side field possession. The hosts doubled their lead with try number two in the 14th minute. It came following a lineout steal, and having worked their way up to the Wegians’ line, the ball was sped wide where Gaughan fed a pea-flick to full-back Eoghan O’Reilly who sauntered over, with Gaughan adding the extras for a 14-0 lead.
Despite the early set-back and having to play into the first-half breeze, Wegians were well in the game and creating chances, but some poor decision-making and sloppy handling was costing them. Just before the half-hour mark they lost two key players in captain and prop Ja Naughton and out-half Dave Clarke. Buccs were in no a mood to spare them, and when Gaughan launched a neat chip into open space on the right, full-back John Cleary’s nightmare first-half was summed up when he completely misjudged the bounce, gifting Buccs left-winger Billy Henshaw a clear run in to dot down for a third try. Gaughan was off target with this conversion, but moments later things went from bad to worse for the visitors when stand-in captain Brian Murphy was binned by referee Leo Colgan for hands in the ruck. This time Gaughan made no mistake, giving his side a three-score cushion at 22-0.
Many sides would have folded facing such a deficit and with 14 men, however this youthful Wegians side is made of sterner stuff. They kept playing rugby, and just on the stroke of half-time they threw themselves a lifeline. A sublime reverse pass from scrum-half Barry Lee fed Brian McClearn on the 22, and the veteran lock had enough gas in the tank to make it over the line for a try. Although the conversion was missed, this gave the Blues a glimmer of hope and planted a seed of doubt in the hosts.
If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it. Wegians coaches Matt Brown and John Muldoon clearly had words with their charges at half-time, and they came out on the offensive at the start of the second-half. Although the game was played in a very sporting manner, referee Colgan soon showed yellow cards in quick succession to Buccs scrum-half Mark Dolan and Wegians sub prop Doran McHugh. Despite the Blues lording both possession and territory, Buccs were content to soak it up, and all Wegians had to show for their efforts in the third quarter was a 54th minute penalty by substitute debutant Aidan Moynihan.
However when Buccs talismanic back-row Kolo Kiripati was binned just before the hour mark, this gave Wegians added impetus. They were now in complete control and they rounded off a sustained period of pressure on 64 minutes when a fired-up McHugh took a neat offload from McClearn and bulldozed his way past two defenders to score near the posts. Another debutant substitute, Connacht U-20 Conor Lowndes landed the conversion this time to reduce arrears to 22-15, and now it was very much game on.
However McHugh soon turned from hero to villain when he received his second yellow card for a needless high tackle, thus ensuring that Wegians would have to spend the final 15 minutes with 14 men. It also meant there would be uncontested scrums with Naughton injured, and although Buccs tried to use the explosive power of the returned Kiripati off the base, it had limited impact.
With their gander up and the wind at their backs, Wegians still had the momentum and always looked the likelier to score. It duly arrived on 76 minutes when Buccs spilled a pass near halfway. Prop Jason East hacked on, and the alert Lowndes showed great awareness and no little skill to scoop up the ball and race down the left wing for his side’s third try. The talented youngster then displayed nerves of steel to strike a magnificent conversion from out wide, and incredibly the sides were now level.
However no one could have forecast the dramatic finale which was about to unfold. Seeing their lead finally evaporate triggered an immediate response from the hosts who were stung into action. They reclaimed their own restart and went on the offensive, setting up camp in the Wegians 22. When awarded a penalty near the right-corner they opted for a scrum, only for Kiripati and scrum-half Dolan to get their wires crossed. However when Wegians failed to clear, Buccs came back at them and deep into stoppage time they won a penalty under the posts when the Blues were pinged for not rolling away. Gaughan kept his nerve to land the penalty and put the Buccs back in front, to the delight and relief of the home support who believed it was surely the winning score.
However Wegians refused to read the script. There was to be one dramatic final twist, and it was a score worthy of winning any contest. In the very last play, an inch-perfect restart was reclaimed by Wegians winger Matt Dever. Then when quick ball went right, full-back Cleary entered the line at pace before combining with Murphy, and his perfectly timed pass released right-wing Colin Conroy whose pace took him past his marker before side-stepping the covering tackle to score a sensational bonus-point try. Lowndes then completed a memorable debut by landing the touchline conversion. Referee Colgan then signalled full-time, sending the large travelling support delirious and leaving the hosts stunned in disbelief.
Buccaneers will wonder for a long time how they let such a commanding lead slip. However credit must go to Wegians for the sheer character they displayed. Their side featured no less than four U-20 debutants including forwards Paul O’Donnell and Josh Pim who acquitted themselves very well, and indeed they ended the game with debutant half-back substitutes. But new coach Matt Brown has inherited a team with deep reserves of self-belief, determination and no little skill, and it was these qualities which got them over the line at the end.
This win keeps Wegians top of UBL Division 1b with 19 points from a possible 20. They lie one point clear of old rivals Ballymena, which means it is last season’s promoted duo who are setting the early pace. These two sides will now enjoy a 3-week break before they go head-to-head in a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash at Crowley Park on Saturday November 1st, where they will do battle for the Des Dempsey Memorial Cup.
J Cleary; C Conroy, B.Murphy, G.O’Brien, M Dever; D Clarke, B Lee; J Naughton (capt.), P O’Donnell, J East; B.McClearn, M.Cummins; E Rooney, J Pimm, A.Ryan.
Replacements:- D.McHugh, C Dunne, M Towey, A Moynihan, C Lowndes.