- Result: Galwegians Firsts 35 - Ballynahinch 31
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Jan 16th 2016
- Competition: Bateman Cup
- Match photos
Galwegians made history by becoming the first Connacht side to make the All-Ireland Bateman Cup Final since UCG in 1936 when they won a thrilling nine-try contest against Ulster Cup-winners Ballynahinch at Crowley Park on Saturday.
These two sides got to know each other intimately having played home & away fixtures in recent weeks in UBL Division 1a. Both sides were forced to make extensive changes from last week’s League encounter at Ballymacarn Park where the Ulstermen ran out decisive winners. However it was the Blues who proved they had the greater strength in depth when they shaded this epic contest.
Playing towards the clubhouse end, the visitors made the brighter start and should have taken the lead in the opening minute when scrum-half Chris Gibson crossed the line, only to knock on following a try-saving tackle from Wegians young centre Alan McMahon. A sluggish Wegians failed to heed the warning signs, and they went behind on eight minutes when a clean lineout take by Dave Nolan was turned over. Hinch centre Jordan Grattan then hacked clear, and flanker David McGuigan was on hand to finish off by sauntering under the posts for the opening try, which was converted by Chris Quinn.
This seemed to rouse the hosts from their slumber, and they quickly set about gaining a stranglehold on proceedings. On 15 minutes they opened their account with their first try, when hooker Juan Anaya got on the end of a forward rumble to touch down near the posts. Out-half Aidan Moynihan added the easy conversion to level the game.
The home pack were now getting on top, and they deservedly went in front in the second quarter with their second try. It came following an astute kick from scrum-half Barry Lee which forced a close-range attacking lineout. And when Anaya again hit his target man Nolan, it was déjà vu as the Blues pack rumbled towards the line in unstoppable fashion, with flanker Josh Pim this time grounding the ball. Moynihan landed an excellent conversion from the right, and the Macroom native soon tagged on a penalty and a drop-goal to give the Blues a commanding 20-7 lead with barely a half-hour gone on the clock.
At this stage the hosts looked like they might run away with the game, but credit the Mournemen who never lost self-belief. They gave themselves a lifeline when winning a penalty in the 35th minute, and in what was their first foray into Wegians territory since their opening try, they made it count with lock Jonny Madden finishing off near the right-hand corner for a second try. However this time Quinn was unlucky with his conversion attempt which rebounded off the post.
Wegians again responded well to the concession of a score, and when Hinch scrum-half Gibson was binned in stoppage time for a deliberate knock-on, it set up yet another attacking lineout in the corner. After another clean catch by Nolan, once again the visiting pack were unable to deal with the maul, and this time lock Marty Cummins peeled off and burst over from short-range to score try number three. Moynihan was off target for the first time with his conversion, but the Blues were good value for their 25-12 half-time lead.
Wegians lost their temporary advantage of an extra man soon after the restart when blind-side flanker Matt Towey was binned in the 43rd minute. It didn’t take the visitors long to capitalise, as barely three minutes later a good phase of attacking play was neatly finished off by full-back Manu Eden who skipped through the defensive cover to dot down near the left corner. Quinn was again off target with the difficult conversion, thus reducing the margin to eight points.
Wegians however regained the initiative, and when Moynihan kicked an excellent long-range penalty to the corner on 56 minutes, there was a sense of inevitability about the outcome. Anaya again found that man Nolan, leading to another forward surge which the visiting pack were helpless to prevent, and this time prop Doron McHugh claimed the touchdown. Moynihan landed a magnificent conversion from near the touchline to give his side a 15-point lead, and at this stage the Blues looked home and hosed.
Both coaches had by now rung the changes from the bench, and full credit is due to the visitors who suddenly found an extra pep in their step. They were now playing all the rugby and asking questions of the Wegians defence. On 66 minutes they were rewarded with their own fourth try when prop Craig Trenier finished off some relentless pressure by diving over near the left. This time Quinn found his range to reduce the margin again to eight points.
Buoyed by this score, Hinch came back straight from the restart and again laid siege to the Wegians line. In the blink of an eye they again crossed the whitewash for a fifth try, this time substitute back Justin Rea diving over on the left. Quinn nailed the conversion yet again, and despite having been outplayed for long periods of the contest, astonishingly the visitors were now just a solitary point behind, and with the momentum seemingly behind them with more than ten minutes remaining.
This set up a dramatic finale, however not for the first time the pendulum swung back in this enthralling game. The Blues steadied the ship with team captain Ja Naughton, sprung from the bench, and captain on the day Brian Murphy in particular giving leadership to their younger team-mates and keeping cool heads. Not surprisingly it was another lineout which helped seal the deal in the 74th minute, with sub hooker Patrick Curran this time finding target-man Cummins. And although Hinch kept their try-line intact, they conceded a penalty under the posts, which Moynihan duly converted to give his side a four-point cushion.
The Blues sensibly closed out the game in opposition territory. And despite their best efforts, the visitors were unable to break out of their half before referee Shane Kierans blew the final whistle deep into stoppage time, much to the joy and relief of the home faithful.
Wegians will face three-times defending Cup-winners Cork Con in the Final after they defeated a much-depleted UCD at Belfield. The Final will be played on the weekend of April 30th / May 1st with the venue to be confirmed.
1. Doron McHugh, 2. Juan Anaya, 3. Jason East, 4. Martin Cummins, 5 David Nolan, 6. Matt Towey, 7. Josh Pim, 8. Anthony Ryan, 9. Barry Lee, 10. Aidan Moynihan, 11. Peader O’Beirn, 12. Brian Murphy (Capt.), 13. Alan McMahon, 14. Gearoid Armstrong; 15. John Cleary.
SUBS: 16.Patrick Curran, 17. Jarlath Naughton, 18. Matthew Burke, 19. Paul Hackett, 20. Rory Hogan, 21. Ronan Moore, 22. Eamonn Dowling.