And then there was one…

IMG_6691_640x510While two Connacht club rugby camps contested AIL semi-finals on Saturday, Monivea alone will carry provincial hopes on their shoulders after beating Coleraine at home 13-3. Westport, who travelled to Tullamore for the other AIL Junior Cup semi-final clash, were outclassed by a snappier set-up 21 points to eight.IMG_6770_546x640

It had proven a magical ride for the beleagured Westport mob, currently sitting below the halfway mark in the local 1A league, but all good things (more often than not) come to an end, as they did on Saturday. Proud co-coach John-Paul Walsh was upset his club’s cup campaign finished a week early but added his charges had long ago bucked several pundits’ projections and advanced far beyond 12 of the country’s foremost junior teams.

Ryan Cafferky posted three points for the Carrowholly Massive 10minutes in, but found few opportunities to post any more thereafter. Hooker Christy Dyra scored for the Bulls to pull back a measure of pride but the try, scored in the last play of the game, was largely mathematical.

Tullamore and Monivea will battle it out for Junior Cup rugby honours next Saturday (February 18) on Athlone’s Dubarry Park, kick-off 2.30pm.

IMG_6749_640x382Monivea on the other hand had a much happier day at the office on a mud-heavy, choppy homeground finishing 13-3 ahead of northern rivals Coleraine.

The tourists spilled the kickoff, an ominous-enough sign for a match of this gravity and Monivea needed no invitation climbing into the Coleraine midfield from the ensuing scrum. A slick Kevin Higgins switch opened up a hole for the red-and-blacks and Ger Divilly bothered the scorers moments after they settled down with their cups of tea. Monivea outhalf Ger O’Connor made short work of the conversion, and fired three points onto the board shortly after for a 10-nil lead. Divilly featured again latching on to a sluggish Coleraine pass on the Monivea 22m, and carved off 65 metres before he was bundled over the right hand touch.IMG_6710_640x353

Coleraine managed a penalty to close the gap to seven on the 30minute mark, before Divilly’s left wing compatriot John Culkin managed a telling burst too but wound up several yards short of the tryline.

That the wingers (and fullback Seamey Fahy) were so involved throughout in sticky conditions was testament to the Monivea gameplan which has worked so well for so long. Captain Darren Blade marshalled the heavies well, and they responded in the fashion to which Monivea supporters have become so accustomed.

The Monivea pack grafted tirelessly through the muck and mud of forward rugby for Blade and O’Connor to set the superbacks alight. While Coleraine had no shortage of possession, and to their credit managed to hang on to it for prolonged periods, Monivea denied them a chance-after-chance to do anything with it.

IMG_6720_640x338The same must be employed Saturday week v Tullamore. Tullamore and Monivea are no strangers having met each other in Cup and challenge matches before. While Monivea can bank on their backs doing damage with ball-in-hand, the tussle will be in the engine room for the ball full-stop.

Coleraine seldom pressured the Monivea grunters at the breakdown when Monivea had the ball which allowed the hosts fluid distribution from go to whoa, whereas Monivea stamped their own brand of authority at ruck and maul time, which dictated pace when Coleraine was in possession.IMG_6870_469x640

Monivea cannot afford to hunt in twos if they want anything remotely close to the luxuries enjoyed on Saturday, pods will have to be four and five strong to set a platform to guarantee workable ball. Monivea have been (and remain) a champion team, albeit with fewer championships than perhaps they have deserved in recent years.

The Cup finale in mid-February will at least give them an opportunity to atone for some of their higher-profile near misses of recent years.

Connacht Rugby, for one, wishes them the very best for their AIL decider.


Gallery: HT minis – Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Corinthians and Dunmore