Connemara won the repeat of last season’s Connacht Junior Cup final with a 16-8 victory away to Creggs on Saturday night, writes John O'Sullivan.
The Blacks, who began the game at the top of the Connacht J1A League, trailed to an unconverted Eoghan Coyle try, but rallied in the second half and sealed the victory thanks to a late Curtis Jonas try — added to three Henry O’Toole penalties — which Shane Sweeney converted.
Creggs and Connemara went head to head for both the Connacht Junior League and Cup last season, with the Clifden based side victorious in both competitions, and it was clear from the early exchanges that the hosts were keen to avenge their defeats.
The tempo of both teams’ defensive line-speed was at a ferocious level and the ambition with ball in hand was evident. The running games that brought so much success for both of the games contestants last season still the weapon choice.
However, defensive solidity was the prominent feature of the opening 20 minutes with the game played largely between both sides 22s.
It appeared as if it would take something special to open the nights try scoring account, and Creggs duly obliged midway through the half.
Eoghan Coyle, brushing off four would be tackles, burst through the Connemara defence and ran in a score of individual brilliance from the halfway line, much to the delight of the large crowd assembled under the new stand at The Green.
Shane Purcell’s conversion, from tight to the right hand touchline, was narrowly wide but any lead in a game of such narrow margins felt huge.
To the visitor's credit, the concession of a try stirred a reaction from them and they were on the board themselves not long after. After a high tackle yielded a penalty, O’Toole — last season’s Connacht Junior Player of the Year — slotted the three points to make the score at half time 5-3 in favour of Creggs.
The second half saw no dampening of the attacking approach and Creggs’ Brian Diffley and Connemara’s Niall Staunton were both willing and massively effective ball carriers.
The home side notched the first points of the half when Purcell, after the Blacks were penalised for being offside, bisected the posts with an accurate penalty.
An 8-3 lead would be as good as it got for Creggs, though, as Connemara began to assert themselves and eventually make it count on the scoreboard.
Two further O’Toole penalties gave the table toppers a narrow 9-8 lead, but the best was saved to last for Connemara.
Picking up at the back of a retreating scrum just inside his own half, number 8 Jack Vaughan made headway through the heart of the Creggs defence before offloading to his scrum half, Michael O’Toole.
O’Toole, jinking through contact, found centre David McDonagh whose powerful run brought the Blacks deep into the 22. Before being tackled near the line, McDonagh had the wherewithal to skillfully offload to the onrushing fly half, Jonas, who acrobatically touched down for a try worthy of winning any game.
The conversion, from a difficult angle on the left hand side, was struck firmly and true by Sweeney to give the Blacks the win and — perhaps crucially come the end of the season — take the losing bonus point away from Creggs. Creggs
T.Fleming, M.Buckley, A.Leech; I.Whittington, B.Donoghue; P.Lohan, J.Brandon(C), B.Diffley; E.Coyle, S.Purcell; K.Gavin; T.Callaghan, E.Jennings; R.Dowd; S.Dowd.
Replacements:D.Arnold, S.Higgins, K.Brandon, M.Brandon, M.Quinn. Connemara
E.Conroy, B.Gibbons, F.Heffernan; M.Mullins, N.Staunton; J.Vaughan, P.Lee, K.Keogh; M.O’Toole, C.Jonas; P.O’Toole(C); D.McDonagh, E.Bourke; M.Conneely; H.O’Toole.
Replacements: K.Barry, C.O’Malley, S.Sweeney, R.O’Halloran, E.Conneely