BALLINASLOE 7    CONNEMARA 18

Connemara advanced to the second round of the Heineken Connacht Junior Cup with a deserved 18pts to 7 victory over Ballinasloe at Graigueawoneen on Sunday. The visitors came into this game on the back of two important league wins and their confidence and match sharpness was there for all to see. The locals, by comparison, have had only one outing since mid-December ( three weeks ago ) and their ring rustiness became  evident as the game progressed.

Ballinasloe were marginally the more convincing side in the opening half though their opponents did show on occasions what they could produce. The hosts displayed a determination and hunger early on with some rugged tackling that prevented the visitors from playing heir favoured running game. They were winning the tight exchange but when they decided to spread the ball wide their passing was often found wanting and their running lines were confusing. Though Ballinasloe made a number of forays into Connemara’s 22 they rarely looked like creating a try scoring opportunity. Ross Keller was off target with a long distance kick at goal in the fifteenth minute for the locals but they went ahead ten minutes later. A looping Connemara pass on the Ballinasloe 22 was smartly intercepted by Conal Gormley and he did well to make it to the try line on the stamina sapping heavy ground as the Connemara speedsters gave chase. Keller landed the conversion. The visitors  did put pressure on the Ballinasloe line as the half came to a close but the locals held on for a 7-0 interval lead

The second period was only miutes old when a loose kick into Connemara territory was gathered up by Peter O’Toole who ran it back into the Ballinasloe half and when the locals were found to be off side at an ensuing ruck, Shane Sweeney landed a thirty five metre penalty to reduce the deficit to 4pts. Connemara were now dictating the terms of the game and  Sweeney’s management of affairs was begining to tell. If his first half contribution was suggestive then his second half input was expressive, keeping his team on the front foot with well timed kicks in behind the backs sprinkled with setting up smart passing movements.

In the fifty fourth minute Connemara mauled their way towards the Ballinasloe line before flashing the ball out the backs  for Eoin Kilkenny to go over in the corner.  The try was not converted but crucially the visitors had moved a point ahead and were getting stronger. But Ballinasloe still had fire in their bellies and led on by forwards Kealan Headd and Niall Staunton and their willing but tiring pack they drove the visitors back yet struggled to maintain a base in the Connemara half. However, they were dealt a body blow mid way through ; a Sweeney punt into open country had Ballinasloe backs floundering to clean up loose ball. Ian Heanue was up rapidly to turn it over and hold it up long enough to set up Jack Vaughan for a try under the posts with Sweeney’s conversion making the score 7-15 in favour of the visitors. When he added a penalty shortly afterwards the writing was on the wall for Ballinasloe. And yet the locals never allowed their heads to drop and came back manfully seeking late scores. The final ten minutes were played around the visitors 22 but Ballinasloe were out on their feet at this stage and were really playing from memory. Their frenetic play with unforced errors bore all the hallmarks of a team whose energy had already been sapped. Oh how they must have wished that they had been more battle hardened for this fixture.                                                                                                                                                                              Ballinasloe: D.Burke, D.Freeman, C.Gormley, K.O’Neill, Cian Loughrey, R.Keller, J.Kelly, J.J.Carey, A.O’Hara, T.Dolan, N.Staunton, H.Reynolds, R.Wakefield, K.Headd(capt), A.Loughrey. Replacements: G.Donnellan, K.Gavin, J.Hayes, M.Tierney, A.Mannion.                         Connemara: E.Kilkenny, B.O’Toole, J.Vaughan, D.McDonagh, P.O’Toole, S.Sweeney, D.Clancy, E.Conroy, K.Barry, C.Reilly, T.J. Berry, N.Staunton, D.Heanue, K.Keogh, B.Gibbons. Replacements:  A.Pryce, I.Heanue, M.Gavin, M.Staunton.

Ballinasloe U18s had a one sided win over Westport/Ballinrobe in the first round of their cup competition at home on Sunday afternoon. They came through by 58pts to 7 and though fancying their chances from the outset, never expected such a landslide victory. They take on Ballina in the U18 Plate final at Ballyhaunis next Sunday.                                                                                  Liam Courtney, Club PRO.


U18 Girls team named to face Ulster