Loughrea, despite their loss to Galwegians in the Connacht Junior Heineken Cup this month, have managed a second giant-killing disposal of the favoured Ballina.

Loughrea beat Junior 1A placegetters Ballina in the March Heineken Cup semi-final, and did it again by the narrowest of margins, 18-17 in the Cawley Cup over the weekend.

Our Lady’s Boys Club secured the second berth in the Cawley final knocking over Corrib in Headford on Sunday, 11-nil, in squally conditions.

cawley4Ballina, who finished fourth in the league competition this winter, travelled to Loughrea last time around, but played host at Heffernan Park over the weekend. Once again, a healthy-sized Loughrea contingent brought with them a formidable reception (and cheer squad) characterised by brutal defence and an uncompromising final 20.

That Loughrea want some heavy-duty silverware this year is a given. Whether or not Boys Club will be the spanner in those works remains to be seen, but Boys Club and Boys Club alone stands in the way of Loughrea’s primary focus. In winning the Junior 1B league, Loughrea advance automatically into the province’s foremost junior league competition at Castlebar’s expense, so next winter’s schedule is a given.

What remains this winter is a final fixture, as important as the unsuccessful Heineken Connacht Junior Cup final – a high-profile trophy against one of junior rugby’s most mercurial outfits.

OLBC started the league well, and ended in high fashion also, but dropped a notch or two in the middle. They are hitting their straps now however, Sunday’s to-nil result over Corrib the most telling feature of that victory.

Holding even the most lacklustre and predictable host scoreless is a feat warily sneezed at, and Corrib at home were far from lacklustre. Boasting a huge front row, and formidable second, OLBC struggled to maintain a steady scrum. While the white-and-blue visitors never went backwards, they circled their way out of possession time and again, Corrib masterminding several clever wheels to turn over the feed.

What Corrib had in forwards, they lacked in backs however and OLBC, despite Dave Prior and Conor Mulligan’s absence, punished them in broken play.

Hands alone let the visitors down, unable to string more than four phases together in trying, blustery conditions.

Corrib junior rugby’s hairy godfather Martin Lee, a towering presence at set-piece and as mobile a loose forward as any to grace the front row, took a heavy knock nine minutes in. He never came right. While he battled on throughout the first half, he finally succumbed to discomfort 11minutes in to the second and walked from the field.

The home scrum hardly suffered but the talismanic Lee was sorely missed about the paddock as Steve Casserly, Derek Boyd, Shaney Connors and scrumhalf Eamonn Dowling began to assert dominance for Boys Club at the breakdown.

David Dooley, at fullback, managed two long-range penalties to tick the board over for the visitors (although he let two more-getable chances drift wide), and a Dowling try secured the win seven minutes from the end.

The smallest battler in the fray, Dowling spotted a quick gap and the winger-by-trade used his signature pace to close the gap from nine metres out in the left-hand corner. He employed a piston fend to keep his much larger quarry at bay and crashed over in front of the Boys Club camp.

OLBC will not get Mulligan back, but Prior returns for the final, although Matt O’Mahoney looked every bit the consummate professional at 13 and has caused headaches for wouldbe tacklers at 12 this season already.

In the other semi-final, a last-gasp dropped goal from Loughrea impact sub Michael Martyn swung the balance in favour of the tourists – in a finish only little boys dream about.

Ballina lock forward Connor Forde couldn’t be stopped three metres out after a punishing Ballina scrum four minutes into the game. Francis Conroy went close with the conversion, but was wide so the home side lead 5-0.

Loughrea began to dominate the lineout, and as possession flowed their way confidence grew. Twin Towers Seamus Clancy and Artjons Sitars carried for good yardage and inevitably Loughrea worked themselves deep into Ballina territory, Willie Cullinane on the side of the scrum reaped the benefits with a five-pointer.

unsuccessful with the conversion, Darren Griffin touched down with five for his first score wide on the lefthand touch, for a 10-5 lead.

Relentless counter-pressure paid off for Ballina centre Jerome Harrimate who blocked down an attempted Griffin clearance and number-eight Aiden McNulty pounced for the game’s third score and drew level 10-all.

Ballina continued that groundswell and their forwards rucked effectively for fast ball, and hulking second-rower Mark Healy found space. He did well to power forward and offload to prop David Rowe who raced on to score under the posts with no cover defence in sight. Francis Conroy converted for the greens to lead 17-10.

No rest for the wicked had Loughrea down the other end of the paddock within three minutes, and evergreen former Connacht Junior Mark Mullins carved off even more yards. He recycled once grounded, and winger Daniel Africano stole the match’s fifth try for Loughrea, two points down 15-18.

Loughrea won a penalty, kickable by Griffin’s standards, but he sent it wide. In injury time, Michael Martyn (on as an outhalf sub) coolly sent a three-pointer through the sticks from open play to put Loughrea one ahead with seconds left.

Loughrea, although weatherbeaten and creaky, have a good season in them as they stand let alone a game and will not struggle for motivation in this, the Cawley Cup final: the last gasp chance for premier junior rugby title honours in 2012.


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