CONNEMARA 20 CREGGS 14
By John O'Sullivan
Connemara qualified for the Connacht Junior Cup semi finals after a hard fought victory over Creggs on Sunday at the Monastery Field.
In a repeat of last season's Junior Cup final, 12 points from Henry O'Toole and a Shane Sweeney try secured victory for the hosts, but it was their defence -- which the rock solid centre Eoin Bourke personified -- that won the day.
The visitors, meanwhile, registered three penalties through Shane Purcell and notched a try from Maurice Buckley. But, despite having the lions share of territory and possession, Creggs were unable to prize open the Blacks stubborn defence on enough occasions. The win gives Connemara the opportunity to complete consecutive Connacht League and Cup doubles.
Connemara and Creggs were winners and runners up in both the League and Cup last season and it was clear from the beginning of the game that there was no love lost between both sets of players.
The tempo was high and the physicality was intense and it was the home team who started better. The first of many dominant scrums provided clean ball for the Blacks' backs. The ball was worked to last season's Connacht Junior Player of the year, Henry O'Toole, and the full back drew a tackle before releasing the scoring pass to winger Shane Sweeney to touch down.
5-0 soon became 8-0 with a penalty from O'Toole as another powerful scrum the home team yielded a penalty.
If Connemara were dominant in the scrum, then Creggs' line out was in the ascendancy. Accurate throws from Buckley fed a dominant maul which sent the Blacks marching backwards at a rate of knots. It was through this route that the visitors got themselves on the board. Purcell accurately slotted a penalty after the hosts were penalised for collapsing a maul.
Creggs were now well and truly in the game and two Purcell penalties translated their dominance into points. But the Blacks -- through O'Toole and Sweeney -- scored two three pointers themselves, showing a clinical touch despite having meagre amounts of possession and territory, to make the half time score 14-9.
The second half was played in the same manner as the first; Creggs dominant but the hosts defence proving well organised and game, even when two separate yellow cards twice reduced them to 14 men.
The ever impressive Shane Dowd at full back and outside centre Eoghan Coyle both made running incisions into Connemara territory but every attempt was met with the same resistance.
On the rare occasions they enjoyed possession, the home team made it count on the board; a capability and efficiency that ultimately proved the difference between the sides. Two more O'Toole penalties brought the score to 20-9 and time was running out for Creggs to find a route to victory.
Another surging rolling maul saw the visitors drive their opponents backwards and this time -- unlike all the others -- it bore try scoring fruit with Buckley touching down at the base. The block was against Creggs, however, and when an attempted, quick drop kick conversion drifted wide the final whistle sounded.
Connemara team: (15-9): H.O'Toole; S.Sweeney; E.Bourke, D.McDonagh, M.Conneely; C.Jonas, M.O'Toole; (8-1): T.J.Berry, P.Lee; C.O'Malley; K.Keogh, N.Staunton; I.Staunton, B.Gibbons, E.Conroy.
Replacements: M.Mullins, J.Vaughan, D.Kennedy, I.Heanue, F.Heffernan.
Creggs team: (15-9): S.Dowd; K.Gavin; E.Coyle, T.Callaghan; S.Purcell, A.Callaghan; (8-1) B.Diffley, P.Lohan, J.Brandon; B.Donoghue, K.Brandon; A.Leech, M.Buckley, T.Fleming.
Replacements: D.Arnold, R.Horan, E.Farrell, R.Cahill, M.Brandon.