Bank of Ireland Connacht Junior Cup Final
(Stephen Loftus, Ross Burke, Cormac Lyons tries, Sam Walsh three conversions)
(Brian Donohoe, Ronan Dowd, Shane Purcell tries, Shane Purcell two conversions)
Kevin Egan at the Sportsground.
Dramatic scenes at the Sportsground this afternoon saw Cormac Lyons deliver the match-winning try for Westport RFC in the fifth minute of stoppage time, as they claimed the Bank of Ireland Connacht Junior Cup for the first time since 2015 and denied Creggs a league and cup double that seemed to be theirs for the taking when outhalf Shane Purcell danced across the goal line in the 79th minute of play.
It was an incredible finish to a contest that was fiercely contested and made for fascinating viewing throughout, with Westport’s dominance up front ensuring that the talented Creggs back line were denied the front foot ball that they needed to demonstrate their undoubted ability and flair.
Eddie Walsh’s troops hit the ground running here and controlled the ball for the first 15 minutes, while playing the game almost exclusively in the Creggs half of the field. Stephen Loftus pulled the strings brilliantly from outhalf with both ball in hand and with the boot, but the real strength was in the pack, where the tight five, in particular the second row pairing of Eddie Dunning and Chris Ryan, were exceptional.
Good interplay between Ross Burke and Kevin Corcoran set up Loftus for the game’s opening score, with Sam Walsh adding the extras, but even when they were on the back foot, the lively play of players like Mark Dowd, Shane Purcell and Ronan Dowd illustrated the threat posed by the league champions.
It was a wonderful clearing kick from Ronan Dowd in the 17th minute that set up their first meaningful attack, and after Brian Donohoe poached the Westport lineout, three phases later Mark Dowd sniped for the line off the base of the ruck and while he didn’t quite get there himself, he left Donohoe with a simple pick and go finish under the posts.
Westport continued to enjoy a lot more possession for the second quarter but they failed to add anything to the scoreboard, and paid a price when a wonderful step and offload from Tom Featherston set up Ronan Dowd for the lead score in the right corner just before half-time.
That lead was short-lived after the restart, as one of several rampaging runs from Kevin Corcoran blasted open the Creggs defence, and after sustained pressure sucked in a host of defenders, Ross Burke was able to drive over, with Sam Walsh finding the mark from the right hand side with an exceptional conversion.
That was the end of the scoring for the next 35 minutes or more, as the contest continued along the same lines. Back row forwards Ronan Cahill and Brian Diffley tried to break through for Creggs at various stages but the Westport tackling was sound and robust, with Conor Hastings, Adam Sheridan and Chris Ryan exceptional in this regard. It was a different story when Ronan Dowd, Shane Purcell or Eoghan Coyle got their chance to carry, but all too often they were taking the ball on from inside their own 22, as Westport continued to control the ball and march down the field, wielding their power advantage in the maul and through the phases to gobble up territory and wear out the Creggs defence.
Yet they left themselves vulnerable by failing to convert any of their chances, with a knock-on on the goal line from Kevin Corcoran particularly frustrating, and it looked like they might pay a heavy price when they were sucker punched by a brilliant try from Purcell, capitalising at the end of a wonderful attack that saw Creggs produce some gorgeous handling and brilliant lines of attack to take play from the own 22 right up to the opposition goal.
Once Purcell converted his own try, Westport needed to go over the line, a penalty was of no use. Brian Donohoe fielded the restart for Creggs but they couldn’t hold possession, were pinged for holding on in the ruck, and Westport set up one final attack by kicking for a lineout just eight metres out from the Creggs line.
One clean catch and powerful maul later, they were battering down the Creggs line, and in the end it fell to Lyons, who earlier this week suffered defeat at this very ground when lining out for Sancta Maria of Louisburgh in the Schools Senior “C” Cup final, to write his name into Westport RFC history books when he joined the line and powered across the whitewash with the final play, leaving Sam Walsh with the simplest of conversions to seal the deal.
Westport: Cormac Lyons; Aidan Walsh, Adam Sheridan, Ryan Convey, Rúairí Spellman; Stephen Loftus, Sam Walsh; Tom Geraghty, Ross Burke, Brendan McLoughlin; Eddie Dunning, Chris Ryan; Thomas Prendergast, Conor Hastings, Kevin Corcoran.
Replacements: Liam Scahill for Dunning (19), Alan Masterson for Convey (19, temp), Kacper Palamarczuk for Prendergast (37), Diarmuid Glavey for Hastings (65), Alan Masterson for Sheridan (71), Prendergast for Glavey (80+5).
Creggs: Ronan Dowd; Tom Featherston, David Gacquin, Eoghan Coyle, Mark Purcell; Seán Óg Higgins, Danny Arnold, Eoghan Cahill; Brian Donohoe, Aidan Leech; Ronan Cahill, Ciarán Purcell, Brian Diffley.
Replacements: Michael Feeley for E Cahill (37, temp), Tom Farrell for Gacquin (55), Peter Lohan for Higgins (55), Michael Feeley for E Cahill (62), Lee Kilcoyne for R Cahill (72), Bradley Heunes for M Purcell (72)
Referee: Mark Fitzgerald