In a performance that matched the beautifully warm spring afternoon, Connemara claimed the club’s maiden Cawley Cup success thanks to a comprehensive 32-16 win over familiar adversaries, Westport on Sunday last.
The two clubs have met on three occasions this season, including a pre season encounter, and the Blacks have run out winners twice in the competitive fixtures with the pre season game ending in a tie. In their last league encounter, Connemara defeated Westport by a forty point margin, 43-3, and, naturally, the Mayo men were looking to seek a measure of vengeance on their Galway counterparts.
The early signs, however, pointed towards another difficult afternoon for Westport. Connemara, with their fleet footed and skillful team, revel on hard surfaced pitches and Crowley Parks surface felt more like concrete than turf.
Straight from the offset, the Blacks went for the jugular and were soon rewarded for their bloody minded perseverance. In order to stem the Blacks momentum, Westport attempted to slow down Connemara’s ball and tested the patience of the referee in doing so. Shane Sweeney, having such a fine season in the fly half berth, gratefully slotted over the resultant penalty to give Connemara an early 3-0 lead.
Soon after, Connemara were to extend their lead even further, thanks a to try quite clearly forged on the Blacks’ training paddock. First phase ball off the back of a scrum saw the ball swept wide to full back Jack Vaughan who evaded several would be tacklers before offloading back inside to outside centre Ian Heanue to dive over. Shane Sweeney accurately bisected the posts to take the score to 10-0 to the Blacks’.
Credit to Westport, though, they responded with an extended attacking foray of their own and soon had their own points on the board. The Blacks were over zealous in their attempts to pilfer ball at the breakdown and strayed in from the side. From the penalty, Dwayne Corcoran, one of Westport’s better players, caressed the ball between the posts to register Westport’s first points of the afternoon.
With the ball in hand, the Blacks looked menacing and each time they flexed their considerable attacking muscles, Westport found it difficult to live with the pace and variety of their moves. Barry Gibbons, reverted to hooker to accommodate for the missing captain Alan Pryce, added another try for the Blacks soon after, diving over from short from distance after a multitude of attacking phases. This time, however, Shane Sweeney was agonizingly close with his conversion, dragging the ball just wide. 15-3 to Connemara an in extremely open, entertaining game.
Whilst Connemara had the definite ascendancy in the backline, Westport were the dominant force come scrum time. Indeed, it was in their scrum where Westport’s next score had it’s genesis. A scrum eight man push from the Mayo men had Connemara retreating and the referee adjudged the Blacks to have wheeled the scrum. Dwayne Corcoran, once again, made no mistake from the kicking tee, taking the score to 15-6.
Westport, after consecutive scores, were beginning to build up a head of steam but Connemara checked their momentum soon after thanks to another Shane Sweeney penalty. Wary of the Blacks’ potency with quick ball, Westport did everything in their powers, legal and illegal, to prevent the Blacks from supplying their backs with regular front foot ball. This time, with the Westport tackler slow to roll away Connemara extended their lead to 18-6 with Connemara duly adding the resultant penalty.
A feature of the Blacks season has been their water-tight defence, and despite the best efforts of former Connemara player, Kevin Corcoran, and the totemic Liam Scahill, each of Westport’s moves were telegraphed and snuffed out. Despite being frustrated in their attempts to cross the whitewash, ‘Port remained patient and were soon rewarded when Connemara infringed at the breakdown once again allowing the impressive Dwayne Corcoran to add another penalty. 18-9.
Connemara’s next score encapsulated the difference in attacking proficiency between the two sides. Jack Vaughan, who had been thoroughly impressive all afternoon, hit a sumptuous line off Ian Heanue’s pass and sauntered over the line for an excellent virtuoso try. Shane Sweeeney added the extra’s with aplomb to make the half time score 25-9 to Connemara.
Westport rallied at the beginning of the second half and deserve kudos for their improvement. Still, despite the lions share of territory and possession they found the Blacks defence insurmountable.
To compound the Mayo teams’ misery even more, Connemara added another try five minutes after the interval. Connemara showed attacking bravado in spades as they decided to pick off the back off their own scrum five metres from their own line and run at Westport. Kevin Keogh picked off the base of the scrum and made significant yards before offloading to Peter O’Toole who danced by three attempted tackles before passing to Shane Sweeney; Sweeney then offloaded to the rampaging Jack Vaughan who in turn passed to David McDonagh to score. It was a try of magnificent craft, bravery and execution. Sweeney, again, added the extra’s to take the score to 32-9.
Many teams would have been demoralized staring down the barrel of a comprehensive defeat in a cup final, but Westport, coached by the brother of Connemara coach Eddie Walsh, JP, never gave in and were rewarded with their own try close to the final whistle.
Connemara had emptied their bench and the game had become fractious when Westport, thanks to an incisive kick from their fly half Tobin, touched down through Kevin Corcoran. The try was just rewards for Westport’s perseverance.
The final whistle blew to rapturous scenes from the Connemara players, staff and supporters alike. After a ten year drought, the Blacks have now won two trophies in three weeks.
Eddie Walsh, Gerry King, Gerard Faherty, Joe O’Connell, and, of course, the players all deserve massive credit in what has been an extremely encouraging season for the Blacks’. With an extremely young side, Connemara could go from strength to strength next season.
J. Vaughan, E. Kilkenny, I. Heanue, D. McDonagh, P. O’Toole, S. Sweeney, M. O’Toole. E. Conroy, B. Gibbons, K. Barry, R. Hogan, M. Flaherty, D. McHugh, N. Staunton, K. Keogh.