REPORT: Connemara regain BOI Connacht Junior Cup

25 March 2024

REPORT: Connemara regain BOI Connacht Junior Cup

Connemara        18

(Ethan Griffiths, Marty Conneely tries; Henry O’Toole two pens; Ian Staunton one con)

Dunmore            0

Kevin Egan at the Dexcom Stadium.  

Connemara are Bank of Ireland Connacht Junior Cup champions for the sixth time in their history, after their guile and sharpness was enough to see them past a Dunmore side that offered plenty by way of power and tenacity, but simply didn’t have the cutting edge to put scores on the board on a wintry and wet afternoon at the Dexcom Stadium.

Playing in their first ever final, Dunmore ran onto the field with a raucous roar from their supporters ringing in their ears. Despite Connemara choosing to play with the wind in the opening half in a bid to dampen the feistiness of the North Galway underdogs, the Dunmore players matched their supporters’ vim and vigour with a lively start.

To describe their play as flawless would be inaccurate, but it was forceful and direct, winning three penalties and forcing Connemara back inside their own 22. The first scrum of the game, five minutes in, saw Dunmore drive Connemara back to continue the same momentum, but when it came to line speed and defence, the All Blacks were as sharp as ever.

A long clearing kick left Dunmore full back Jamie Coen isolated and when he was pinged for holding on, Connemara had their first attacking possession of the game. The kicked inside the Dunmore 22 and claimed the lineout, with hard runs from Eugene Conroy and Ian Staunton carrying play up to five metres out. Dunmore’s defence held firm initially, with Jordan Mills and Michael Mannion making big tackles to repel what looked like a scoring drive from Niall Staunton and force a knock on.

Gert Coetzee’s clearing kick got held up by the breeze however, giving Connemara a lineout inside the Dunmore 22, and this time they were able to work through the phases moving across the pitch, eventually scoring through Ethan Griffiths.

As the half progressed and the game settled, Connemara continued to look sharp with ball in hand, but Dunmore’s power in the pack gave them an excellent platform, even if they struggled to break the defensive line to the same extent.

One outstanding break from Jordan Mills looked like it might open up a tryscoring chance and when he got the ball away to Dean Slattery, the score was on for the flanker. An incredible tackle from Michael O’Toole saved the day however, giving the Connemara defence a chance to reset.

Dunmore had their chance to open the scoring when Ian Staunton was penalised and yellow carded for a deliberate knock on, but they went for the scrum option and couldn’t create the chance they needed, with play soon shifting back down to the other end of the pitch.

By half-time, Connemara’s shrewd use of the breeze, their ruthless defensive work and two outstanding penalties into the breeze gave them and 11-0 advantage, which was commanding, but still not insurmountable, given the strength of the wind.

If Dunmore had found a way to register the first points of the second half, they might have brought their supporters into the game more, and place a little bit more psychological pressure on the All Blacks, who had already lost one incredibly competitive final this year in their league decider against Creggs.

When it came to tackling, spacing, discipline and control in defence however, Connemara remained absolutely impeccable. One clever lineout move saw Ryan Cummins claim the throw and feed Colin Lyons who darted through the line, but Austin Brummer had too many defenders in front of him when he took the offload, and was forced out over the line.

And once Dunmore started to try different things to break down the Connemara defence, mistakes were always more likely to creep into their game.

All it took was one misplaced, floated pass after ten minutes of the second half, and the first-time finalists were ruthlessly punished. John O’Brien made the intercept and wasn’t content with the turnover, getting an excellent offload away to Shane Sweeney, who in turn gave Marty Conneely the chance to show his speed and gallop into the right corner.

Ian Staunton added the extra points, and there was never a stage from then on when it looked like Connemara would do anything other than see out their victory in a clinical, precise fashion. They even wheeled a Dunmore scrum and won a penalty from it midway through the second half, just to score further psychological points and diminish the dwindling hopes of the underdogs.

Dunmore never stopped trying to find a way through to put something on the board, but whether they looked to chip behind, blast straight through, or pick the lock with good close passing, they simply didn’t have an answer for relentless Connemara defence, and by the end it was the All Blacks’ fans who were shouting loudest, as they hailed their club’s successful bid to win back this historic trophy and succeed Westport as Junior Cup champions.

CONNEMARA: Henry O’Toole; Marty Conneely, Ethan Griffiths, John O’Brien, Ian Heanue; Shane Sweeney, Michael O’Toole; Eugene Conroy, Barry Gibbons, Ian Staunton; David O’Reilly, Niall Staunton; Oran O’Neill, Tommy Mullen, David McDonagh.

Replacements: Michael Ryan for O’Reilly (24), Enda Conneely for O’Neill (51), Jack Keaney for N Staunton (62), Conor O’Malley for Conneely (66), Alan Keogh for H O’Toole (76), Eoin Bourke for O’Brien (77), Shane Hathaway for Mullen (80), Mark Joyce for Heanue (80).

DUNMORE: James Coen; Bradley Hughes, Conor Burns, Jordan Mills, Cameron Carruthers; Gert Coetzee, Colin Lyons; Scott Holloway, Jamie Geraghty, Stephen O’Toole; Ryan Cummins, Andrew Doherty; Dean Slattery, Austin Brummer, Michael Mannion.  

Replacements: Andrew Glynn for Geraghty (50), Ronan Mullin for Holloway (50), John O’Toole for Doherty (54), Martin Walsh for Mannion (58), Dylan Brady for Hughes (63), Brendan Walsh for Brummer (70), Tomás Cronin for Coen (74), Brendan Carr for Coetzee (74).  

Referee: Shane Tuohy.