- Result: Galwegians Firsts 29 - Sligo 29
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sat Oct 29th 2022
- Competition: AIL Division 2B
A dramatic late fightback saw Galwegians end up sharing the spoils in this see-saw AIL Division 2B encounter against provincial rivals Sligo at Crowley Park on Saturday.
Having opened their points account with a late 4-try salvage bonus point in their previous outing away to high-riding Belfast Harlequins. Wegians came into this game in a quiet confident mood. They opted to play with the strong first-half breeze blowing towards the clubhouse end, and early pressure led to a penalty which was safely despatched by full-back Darragh Kennedy for a 3-0 lead.
The hosts were unable to build on that though as the visitors soon settled into their stride. Sligo began to consolidate possession and territory, and they took the lead for the first time on 16 minutes. Two quick penalties gave them their first attacking platform, and after an initial lineout maul was pulled down, a tap and go saw prop Kuba Wojtkowicz bulldoze his way over the line near the right corner for an unconverted try.
The game then entered an uneventful period with neither side offering much in attack. The Blues finally made use of the strong breeze to take play into the opponents 22 with the game nearing half-time, and a concerted period of pressure on the line led to a yellow card for Sligo’s scrum-half Hubert Gilvarry. When Wegians hooker Christy Reilly was held up, it looked like the chance was gone. But when the Blues regained possession following the goal-line drop-out, scrum-half Andrew Sherlock spotted a gap and brushed off the tackle of Sligo’s 10 Euan Brown to burst over near the right corner for a well-taken try. Kennedy made light of the difficult breeze to strike an excellent kick between the sticks and put his side 10-5 ahead.
However it was a very short-lived lead. Wegians failed to deal adequately with the restart, and some sloppiness at the base of a scrum saw them cough up a close-range penalty. Sligo needed no second invitation and following a strong scrum, flanker Donnacha Byrne powered over for his side’s second try in first-half stoppage time. Brown landed an excellent conversion against the breeze to give his side a 12-10 half-time lead.
With the wind at their backs, the visitors wasted little time to set up camp in the Wegians half after the restart. Discipline was again costing the hosts, and on 44 minutes a clean lineout take set up an attacking maul, and a powerful drive was finished off by Wojtkowicz near the left-hand corner to secure his brace of tries. Brown was unable to add the extras leaving the margin 7 points.
5 minutes later and it was déjà vu as another penalty conceded gave Sligo another opportunity. Their effective pack, led by ex-Wegians in captain Jason East and forwards coach Ja Naughton, once again extracted full advantage. This time it was sub front-row Matthew Early crossing near the left corner to secure the bonus point with a fourth unconverted try for a 22-10 lead.
With the elements behind them and their pack well on top, the visitors looked well in control at this point. Wegians Coach Brendan Guilfoyle then emptied his bench to add a bit of impetus, and it had an immediate impact. Some good continuity play saw them take play into the Sligo 22, and on 55 minutes they gave themselves hope when sub hooker Dylan Keane dived over under a forest of bodies for his first senior try. Kennedy was unlucky as his conversion drifted just wide in the cross-breeze, so the gap was back down to 7 points.
A lapse of concentration cost the hosts as they almost immediately handed the initiative right back. They appeared to have a let-off when Sligo’s Brown missed a 30m penalty from in front of the posts. But in a near identical scenario to Sherlock’s first-half try, the visitors ran back the drop-out with interest, with flanker Byrne causing the damage before sending no. 9 Gilvarry over on the right. Crucially the scrum-half was able to round it off near the posts, and Brown’s conversion put Sligo 14 points clear entering the final quarter.
The neutrals were giving Wegians little hope at this point, but Guilfoyle and his coaching team are building up self-belief and resilience within his young squad. Despite the elements worsening with the rain now sheeting down into their faces, the Blues took the game to their opponents and they completely dominated the final quarter. Suddenly passes were beginning to stick, and on 68 minutes they got their just reward when captain Kieran ‘Dint’ Downey, with a helping hand from sub Conor Joyce, drove over under the posts. Kennedy converted and it was back to a 7-point game.
A stunning breakout from winger Hugh Gavin which took play from deep inside his 22 into the Sligo half further lifted spirits. The Blues were playing all the rugby now, and with Sligo captain East unfortunately no longer involved having hurt his elbow, the visitors were grimly hanging on. The Blues kept pummeling away and on 78 minutes they were rewarded.
An overcooked Sligo lineout inside their 22 was gratefully received by sub Guilfoyle at the tail. Although the player-coach was stopped just short, patient play saw sub scrum-half Kelvin Langan work it infield to his supporting runners. Downey played a captain’s part in barging over for his second and crucially his side’s fourth try to ensure a bonus. Kennedy kept his nerve to nail the conversion and suddenly out of nowhere, the game was level.
There was still time for late drama as Wegians went in search of a late win. They had a half chance when winning a penalty inside their own half. And although they secured the resulting lineout, the ball was spilt in open play and referee Tomas O’Sullivan blew for full-time. And so the spoils were shared with three points each, although the hosts were certainly the happier of the two sides,as Sligo will surely feel they let this one slip from their grasp.
So plenty to work on for the young Wegians side who travel North this weekend (Saturday 4th November) to face a tough and strong Rainey Old Boys team.