- Result: Galwegians Thirds 19 - Loughrea 0
- Venue: Crowley Park on Sun Feb 4th 2018
- Competition: Connacht J2 League
As French referee Mathieu Raynal was getting proceedings under way at the Stadio Olimpico, two of Connacht’s oldest rugby clubs were also fielding at the legendary Crowley Park in the exciting and social 2017-18 Connacht J2 league.
Buoyed by wins in the First XV and under 15s, Galwegians R.F.C. looked to make it five wins on the trot over a determined Loughrea R.F.C. outfit fresh off a convincing win over league contenders the Connemara All Blacks. Billed as a rugby bonanza weekend, there was action taking place right across the Northern Hemisphere, with the oval ball feast continuing aplenty in Glenina. “Ready to roll” were the words of Galwegians player coach David “Hano” Hanly on the morning of the match; “Ready to roll over maybe” remarked a bootless Loughrea front row with knowledge of the overlapping history of these two coloured clubs.
With the all-important under twenties being taken on by an impressive and well-resourced looking UCD side, the junior teams rightfully ceded the main pitch and climbed the hill for their simultaneous three o’ clock kick off. With posterity looked after and the early spring sunshine setting the tone, the minds of both squads were focused on the impending contest. Loughrea winning the toss chose to play out from the Flannery’s end and blues fullback Ruairc Courtney got things underway with a lofty drop off into the lake men’s pack.
The city side took the initiative in the early exchanges dominating possession and gaining territorial advantage. This advantage was seized upon when tight head prop and thirds stalwart David Derham drove over in the right corner on eight minutes. Having abstained from the warm up to tend to flag and bag duties, it is reported management are now considering making this part of the front row and man of the match’s pre game regime.
Despite fly half and Captain Sean “Bawney” Hayes failing to convert from a tricky angle, his team’s momentum was not affected as Cork man Courtney ran in from distance after a well worked passage of play. This time there was to be no mistake from Hayes, landing a sweet score from inside the left touchline.
To add to their difficulties Loughrea’s shining light at inside centre, Portuguese man José “Aldo” Figueiredo was binned two minutes later for a controversial tackle on hooker Julian Lawlor. Of the thirty odd spectators and canines present the nature of the offence was debated but there was no hesitation on the referee’s part who duly produced the cartão amarelo (That’s cárta buí for the bilingual members of the audience). With just one minute of the bin elapsed, the Lisbon man’s eagerness to get Loughrea back in contention was evident as he pressed his Coach Pete Fallon on how much longer he was required to sit out.
Despite their extra man, Wegians allowed Loughrea to work their way back into the game as they enjoyed a sustained period of pressure. With much individual talent on display, Loughrea began to make some inroads into their opponents half. Tight head prop Declan Larkin carried admirably and held his own against seasoned loose head Johnny Derrick.
Also of note was hooker Dave Harney with the visiting pack keeping their heads and winning their own scrum nine for nine. This stability at the set piece and high work rate of flanker David Crowe enabled full back Joe O’ Conaire to create headaches for the Blues’ defence with some silky footwork and clever use of the boot from play. However, indiscipline at the breakdown and some questionable tactical decisions prevented them from translating their hard work into points on the board.
Some say the stats don’t lie and with Loughrea committing eleven penalty offences they were not doing themselves any favours. Galwegians’ superior discipline in a first half where they did not concede one penalty paid dividend. Minutes before the break newcomer Mike Loughman rewarded his side’s endeavour when he went over for their third try against the run of play. The O’ Moore County man has made the number fourteen jersey his own this season with a string of brave performances, and with his confidence up, Hayes slotted another kick from similar range extending the lead to 19 points.
Half time afforded the players a much needed break to regroup and get water on board. Galwegians pack leader Gary Carroll, who dispelled rumours linking him with a move to Corinthinas prior to kick off, was impressive in his collected assessment of proceedings and what was needed in the second half. Meanwhile across the fifty, Loughrea‘s Quinn rallied his troops who were under no illusions of the uphill challenge they were facing.
The second half started brightly for the home team who are in contention with Connemara, Creggs and Tuam for second place and an automatic home semi-final fixture. After a great line and individual effort by Courtney, kangaroo court notes were taken as he uncharacteristically fumbled the ball forward on the Loughrea line for what should have been a sure try. However, Loughrea’s dogged persistence and a creeping Wegians indiscipline facilitated exposure of the blue line on a number of occasions. Two quick penalties in succession on the 60th and 62nd minutes opened the door for the visitors. The useful and wiry half back pairing of Neil Gunney and Danny Murray synchronised well and created a platform for their men out wide.
The flamboyant Lisboeta inside centre showed no sign of fatigue despite commuting from Donegal on the day. Helped by his enthusiasm to run with the ball in hand, and a short rest in the bin, he was able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded him. Receiving a nicely weighted pass he paced wide along the right flank and around the Blues defence only to be hauled down inside the 22 metre line. This invigorated Loughrea spell almost resulted in a try under the posts as they seriously tested their opponents’ fortitude. A desperate tackle two metres from home followed by a rushed pick and go was turned over by Coach and Trainer Hano, allowing the home side clear the line and breathe a sigh of relief.
While the numbers show Wegians had far more handling errors, conceding nine scrums to three, it was indicative of the game they wanted to play and consistent with Captain Hayes’ desire to “go hands all day” from the outset. They kicked their penalties tactically which resulted in territorial gain and seven lineouts, five of which they won. In comparison, Loughrea had just one lineout which they won with Captain Quinn jumping well at the front. Alongside his partner Emmet Leonard in the engine room, they also managed to upset two of the home side throws. It was to be another scalp for Wegians however, with the final whistle blown on an exciting second half that remained scoreless with little separation between the sides. As both squads clapped each other off the pitch gratitude was expressed all around for the help and assistance provided by everyone involved before, during and after proceedings; the spirit of Connacht Junior Rugby is clearly alive and well!
Loughrea Coach and Medic Pete Fallon with his Player Manager Tony Keary will be pleased with many elements of their side’s performance, who despite needing a miracle run of results outside their control, still have an outside shot of stealing the sixth place playoff spot. If anything, this outing will be educational for a side that has a lot to offer down the road. Holding an in form home side such as this scoreless in the second half will give more reason for optimism as they look to finish the season on a high with matches against Tuam and Creggs.
Another body that will be happy with their showing at Crowley Park will be The Association of Referees at the Connacht Branch (ARCB). After a lacklustre performance from leading official Nigel Owens in Paris, the ARCB appointee was coherent at the breakdown and scrum, areas that were focus points of debate and controversy during the international. Unfortunately, this correspondent’s lack of effort to contact the Welsh MBE for comment was met, unsurprisingly, with no response.
Also, in line with referee instructions to crack down on “football-style backchat” received at a meeting in Heathrow airport last Wednesday, the man in the middle wasn’t afraid to use his whistle when pestilent commentary began midway through the second half. With Galwegians’ the primary offenders and their discipline waning, four penalties were conceded.
Coach Hano will feel fortunate his side were not reduced to fourteen and will have concerns regarding the lack of restraint coming from positions that usually know better, particularly as they face into their crunch fixture with The All Blacks in Clifden. Depsite having the league’s best defence, the Connemara men are the leading point scorers with a prolific tally and will gladly punish the city men for soft penalties.