Connacht Junior Cup Final
SLIGO       19
(By Clive Moore In The Sportsgrounds, Galway)

League champions Sligo added the Heiniken Connacht Junior Cup to their trophy cabinet after overcoming a hard working, courageous and valiant Ballina side in the Sportsgrounds last Sunday. It was a reversal over last week’s one point victory by Ballina in the Cawley Cup final over their north Connacht derby rivals and this match, like last week’s, was an enthralling spectacle right up to the final whistle. It was always going to be difficult for Ballina to beat a team of the quality of this Sligo side twice in seven days and in the end it proved beyond their best attempt, but it is a testament to this remarkable team that despite being dominated territorially and having only a fraction of the possession, not only did Ballina limit Sligo to scoring one try, but they actually drew first blood themselves and lead at half-time 10-3. Sligo started well and soon they were established in Ballina’s half. The Yeat’s County men disrupted a Ballina scrum by turning it ninety degrees and from the ensuing Sligo put in Ballina were penalised for not binding. The indirect penalty was quickly taken and as Sligo drove at the Mayo men, eventually after several phases Ballina were caught offside at a ruck. Mark Butler stepped up to take the kick and give his side an early lead but his effort was wide. Despite this let off Ballina had difficulty getting out of their half. From the 22 drop out the ball was knocked on and the scrum to Sligo kept Michael Murphy’s side pinned in their half. Both Michael Murphy and Ciaran Rouse were unlucky to see good relieving tactical kicks roll out over the dead ball line, bringing the lineout all the way back to where the ball was kicked from. The physicality of this Sligo team was very evident as they won most of the many collisions when they ran at Ballina, almost always able to ensure they were going forward and presenting good ball. The Ballina defence held firm lead by Cory Brown, Chris O’Neill and David Newman in the backline and Tom Tolan, Phillip Timoney, Phillip Rowe and Judd Ruane in the pack. Twice Ballina had penalties which would have given them the opportunity to kick to touch and relieve the pressure but on each occasion the over ambitious kick failed to find touch which gave Sligo the chance to run back at the Moysiders. With Mark Butler orchestrating things at out half and the likes of Mataela Fifita carrying the ball in the centre, soon Ballina had conceded another penalty, this time for deliberately knocking down a pass. Surprisingly the normally unerring Mark Butler was again wide with his kick. Ballina finally lifted the siege and broke out of their half following the 22 drop out. Sligo were penalised for deliberately wheeling a scrum giving Ballina some respite and in open play Ballina winger Stephen McCarron put in an excellent kick behind his opposite number Billy Leahy which Sligo full back David Gerritty couldn’t cover as it rolled into touch metres from the Sligo line. When Ballina ran at Sligo the league champions looked vulnerable and gaps began to appear as Cory Brown, David Newman and Chris O’Neill now began to combine well in attack, making space for Francis Conroy, Stephen McCarron and Ciaran Rouse out wide. Ominously Ballina put the phases together, with forwards and backs combining well together until eventually second row Judd Ruane cut back inside, running an excellent line and touched down for a brilliant try close to the posts. Cory Brown added the conversion and Ballina had a 7-0 lead, scoring with practically their first visit into the Sligo 22. Sligo responded as Ballina began to concede penalties which allowed their north Connacht rivals quickly get back into the game. There was some heroic defending by Ballina which became a feature of the game. As Mataela Fifita and Gavin Foley combined trying to create an opening for Billy Leahy the ball went to ground close to Ballina’s line and the ever alert Ballina winger Francis Conroy reacted first and hacked the ball ahead and chased down the covering Sligo full back David Gerritty. Try as they might Sligo could not break down the Ballina defence but again Ballina did not help their cause when their hard work at the breakdown close to their line earned them a penalty which they squandered by missing the kick to touch. Eventually Sligo’s pressure play took it’s toll and Ballina were caught offside from a ruck, yielding a penalty within Mark Butler’s range. The Sligo number 10 struck the kick well and got his side on the score board with three points. With some good breaks by Phillip Rowe, Michael Murphy and Cory Brown Ballina broke into the Sligo half again, and once again once there they looked dangerous. As the ball was being flashed through the hands across the back line it looked like Chris O’Neill had almost put Stephen McCarron away but Aaron Spring the Sligo winger did just enough to thwart the threat. Play was brought back for a penalty to Ballina and Cory Brown coolly slotted over another excellent kick which again stretched Ballina’s lead to seven points 10-3. Again Sligo threw everything at Ballina following the restart, and another period of heroic defending by Ballina followed. But worryingly for Ballina they continued to haemorrhage penalties and eventually Mark Butler kicked over another penalty kick to bring the score to 10-6. Worse for Ballina they were reduced to fourteen men when Phillip Timoney was sin-binned for not rolling away after tackling. Despite their numerical advantage Sligo just couldn’t break down the Mayo men’s defence. The final pass didn’t go to hand on more than one occasion, once in particular when Aaron Spring appeared to be in a great position to finish only for the pass to miss him and go straight out to touch. Ballina faced Sligo lineout metres from their try line but managed to contain their opponents driving maul, eventually winning a scrum from which Michael Murphy kicked the ball into touch allowing referee Joe Doyne blow the whistle for half time. Sligo got the second half under way but Mark Butler’s kick off went straight into touch, but they turned Ballina’s scrum ninety degrees and got possession back. Wave after wave of attack was launched at Ballina including one impressive break by Fifita who gathered a speculative kick into space and set off on a devastating run which was only halted deep in Ballina’s half. It was only the doggedness of Ballina’s scramble defence that kept their rivals out at times. Aaron Spring seemed to be away with a try the only possible outcome as he was put into space out wide by good handling in Sligo’s back line, but David Newman wouldn’t be beaten and his ankle tap tackle on Spring was enough to deny the Sligo speedster. When Ballina strayed offside Mark Butler put over a very well struck kick to reduce the difference to just one point 10-9. Butler also had a drop goal attempt which drifted wide as Sligo’s dominance became more established. Ballina had few chances themselves in the second half, but their Captain Michael Murphy made a wonderful break, eluding several Sligo defenders, giving a short pass to Phillip Rowe before getting it back off the Ballina flanker and continuing his run before been hauled down just outside Sligo’s 22. But Ballina were conceding too many penalties to hold out indefinitely and eventually a good period of sustained pressure by Sligo paid dividends when Aaron Spring finally got away and showed good pace to cross for an excellent try which had an air of inevitability about it. Mark Butler made no mistake with the conversion and his side lead for the first time 16-10. They now held Ballina in a strangle hold of possession and territory that the Mayo side just couldn’t break out of. The closest they came was when Francis Conroy fielded and called a mark which he took quickly and passed out to Cory Brown who moved the ball wide to Chris O’Neill who combined well with Stephen McCarron. Ballina recycled the ball quickly as they began to build the phases with Tom Tolan powering forward on one occasion. They managed to take play deep into Sligo’s half before eventually David Newman was harshly penalised for holding on when it appeared his tackler had made no attempt to roll away. In the end Mark Butler was able to add another penalty to Sligo’s tally when Ballina were again penalised in their half. This brought the scoreline to 19-10 in Sligo’s favour which it remained until the final whistle which was greeted by a jubilant Sligo team and supporters with much joy. They had good cause to celebrate after achieving a excellent double of league and cup and earning themselves a place in the AIL next year on the way. Ballina though disappointed on the day must surely reflect with much satisfaction on a great season for them as well, in which they finished third in the league, runners up in the Junior Cup and winners of the Cawley Cup. It bodes well for their future and is great testament to Michael Murphy and this squad of talented players and to the excellent work done by player/coach Cory Brown and the steady progress made by this side under his stewardship. The club can look back on the past season with some pride and look forward to next year with great optimism as they seek even greater success.                                 
SLIGO; Wesley Maxwell, Ross Manion, Adrian McHale, James Wilson, Jamie Bowes, Cathal Culhane, Simon Coulter, Paddy Conlon, Paddy Pearson (C), Mark Butler, Billy Leahy, Mataela Fifita, Gavin Foley, Aaron Spring, David Gerrity, Frank Feeney, Brian Hynes, Peter Mullen, Gary Conneely, Martin Feeney.
BALLINA; Paul Newell, Rodney O’Donnell, Tom Tolan, Connor Forde, Judd Ruane, Phillip Rowe, Phillip Timoney, Aiden McNulty, Michael Murphy (C), Cory Brown, Stephen McCarron, Chris O’Neill, David Newman, Francis Conroy, Ciaran Rouse, Ciaran Melvin, Liam Lynch, Mark Healy, Michael Clarke, Niall O’Malley.
REFEREE; Joe Doyne.
TOUCH JUDGES; Tom Horkan, Daithi Flood.


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