Action for these two Galway sides resumed after the Christmas break, in Division 1A, at Graigueawoneen on Sunday and what a post festive feast they served up. Played in dry but bitterly cold conditions, both teams seriously needed a win to maitain an interest in league honours; Connemara in order to keep pace with Monivea at the top while Ballinasloe’s faint hopes needed a win here and unlikely results in other games to go their way. And as we were set for a battle royal the two sides served up a dish that displayed all the passion and rawness of junior rugby at its grassroots best.

Ballinasloe were rapid in taking the initiative and Kealin O’Neill landed a penalty in the opening minute after the visitors were caught off side at the first ruck. There followed some tit for tat play before Connemara increased the tempo and got their passing game going. They wisely kicked two penalties into the corners, to keep the locals pinned back, rather than aiming at goal and into a strong and tricky breeze. Their time in the Ballinasloe 22 proved a profitable stay when after 17 minutes full back Jack Vaughan sauntered unimpeded to the line for the opening try of the game which went unconverted. It was a down moment for Ballinasloe as a missed tackle looked bad and it was the kind of filip that they did not want to give to their opponents so early in the contest. But they responded in the best way possible, with a try of their own. The pack made decent headway down the tramline to the right hand corner, paving the way for the alert Jamie Kelly to pounce for a try with no additions. Shane Sweeney was off target with a kick at goal for the visitors after twenty minutes.

Ballinasloe scored a well executed try in the 30th minute. Having taken a lineout off the top, Kealin O’Neill floated a delightfully weighted kick to the right hand touchline where Darragh Burke fielded cleanly to touch down for the locals’ second try and again the conversion was not added. The score was now 13-5 in favour of the hosts but they could not rest on their laurels for long.  Connemara again came marauding and Eoin Kilkenny must have been as surprised as everyone else present that he could cut through for his side’s second try without the most timid effort at a tackle being made. Sweeney kicked the conversion to leave the minimum between the sides at the interval. The west Galway side would have been the most pleased at this juncture; a point in arrears and a strong diagonal breeze to assist them in the second period.

The hosts made the better start on the turnover. They carried the ball with conviction and with John Hayes leading the way they made it difficult early on for their opponents to settle into any sort of rhythm. As the half advanced though a pattern began to emerge, the visitors were begining to win quick ball and bring their running game into play. One could not but admire their crisp and accurate passing but it did not have the desired result on the scoreboard. Ballinasloe’s defensive game was top notch in the second half and we were treated to a real contrast in styles, Connemara’s possession and swagger against a defensively defiant Ballinasloe. One woundered where some of those big tackles were in the first half when the locals conceded those two tries.

With very little between the sides on the scoreboard the game hung on the proverbial knife edge. Shane Sweeney was wide with two kicks at goal in the 54th and 63rd minutes and still Ballinasloe hung on but he did land a vital penalty after 67minutes as a Ballinasloe player was yellow carded. And when the locals seemed to have absorbed as much as Connemara could throw at them they found deep reserves of energy from somewhere to go in search of a late victory. The visitors were really under the cosh in those final ten minutes as Ballinasloe peppered their try line. Connemara’s defensive game was now being forensically examined and it was no time for faint hearts. With less than three minutes left on the clock Ballinasloe stubbornly mauled their way over the try line but the referee deemed the ball to have been held up. Yes it was that close. And they still had the chance to pull off a win in the closing seconds but that pesky wind ordained that a kick at goal veered to the right of the posts and the spoils went west.

These two sides will have the opportunity to entertain us all over again at the same venue when they meet three weeks hence. This time it will be in what is undoubtedly the tie of the first round of the Heineken Connacht Junior Cup. Another cracker should be in store.                           BALLINASLOE: A.Mannion, D.Burke, C.Johnston, R.Cullinan, Cian Loughrey, K.O’Neill, J.Kelly, J.J.Carey, A.O’Hara, T.Dolan, N.Staunton, H.Reynolds, A.Loughrey, K.Headd(capt), J.Hayes. Replacements: G.Donnellan, M.Harrigan, K.Gavin, D.Freeman, R.Keller.                                      CONNEMARA: J.Vaughan, E.Kilkenny, I.Heanue, D.McDonagh(capt), P.O’Toole, S.Sweeney, E.Burke, E.Conroy, A.Pryle, K.Barry, M.Faherty, N.Staunton, T.J.Berry, K.Keogh, B.Gibbons. Replacements: C.Reilly, D.Heanue, D.McHugh, B.O’Toole, D.Clancy.                                                  REFEREE: D.Connolly (Connacht Branch).                                                                                                 Liam Courtney, PRO, Ballinasloe RFC.


The Jes reach last four with last minute winner