Connemara returned to the summit of the Connacht J1A League with a hard fought win over a physically robust and well organized Ballinasloe side on Sunday last.
The game, which was played in glorious and unseasonal October sun-shine, was quite an even contest but Connemara’s win was built on a rock solid defense and that extra bit of magic when close to the try line.
The Blacks had made two changes from their last outing, the 40-5 demolition of Boys Club, with two former captains, Alan Pryce and Kevin Keogh, returning to the pack. Pryce’s return at hooker saw Barry Gibbons move to the back-row and Keogh’s return saw captain David McDonagh move to his regular position, inside centre. For so many of the Connemara player’s to be so versatile is a major fillip for the Blacks’ coach, Eddie Walsh.
Indeed, to accommodate Kevin Keogh’s return, David McHugh, who has been outstanding so far this season moved to the second row to partner Martin Faherty and, Eoghan Bourke, usually an inside centre, moved across one to number thirteen to replace the unavailable Ian Heanue.
Ballinasloe, coached by the former Irish player Noel Mannion, started the game in the ascendancy. Clad in all yellow, Ballinasloe, who have started their own season so impressively, made early forays into Connemara territory with their massive pack attempting to bludgeon Connemara.
Connemara, though, remained characteristically stubborn in defence, and, despite the lions’ share of territory and possession the east Galway side had no answer to Connemara’s resistance.
As the first half progressed, Connemara grew into the contest and, after a patient series of pressure, the Blacks struck first blood.
Scrum half Michael O’Toole, an extremely consistent performer for Connemara over the past season and a half, can claim major credit for the game’s opening try. O’Toole’s incisive inside pass changed the point of attack for the Blacks and back row Barry Gibbon’s intelligent line exploited a chasm in the Ballinasloe defense and the former Shannon man skipped in for the game’s opening try. Shane Sweeney’s conversion was a mere formality and the Blacks were delighted with their seven point lead, despite spending most of the opening period on the back foot.
Ballinasloe, to their immense credit, never floundered after the concession of a try and upped the ante soon after. Wave after wave of the visitors pressure, saw Connemara infringe once too often at the break down and prop Eugene Conroy was deemed the guilty party and was sent to the sin bin for ten minutes.
With a man advantage, Ballinasloe turned the screw and, eventually, their pressure paid dividends as a strong eight man push from their scrum saw the referee award a penalty try. The conversion, like Connemara’s, was straight in-front of the posts, and their ten, K.Head, made no mistake in levelling the game up at 7-7.
The half time whistle sounded with the score at the interval 7-7.
Riled by the breach of the defense at the end of the first half, Connemara started the second half in bloodthirsty fashion, which was personified by David McHugh.
McHugh, a Connacht underage representative, claimed Connemara’s next try as his barnstorming run couldn’t be contained by the Ballinasloe rearguard. Swatting away several attempted tackles, McHugh stretched and touched down to restore Connemara’s lead. Once again, Shane Sweeney found the conversion elementary and the Blacks found themselves deservedly 14-7 up.
The game was extremely physical and the excursion caught up with Ballinasloe late on with two of their players limping off injured. From then, their game lost the direction it had in the first half and the new found fractious nature of the game suited Connemara.
Connemara’s next score had its genesis in a massive carry from Kevin Keogh. Picking the ball from the back of a retreating scrum, Keogh evaded the attention of two would be tacklers , one of which he bounced out of his way, and gained over thirty metres. With Ballinasloe on the rack and the Blacks primed to go wide, one of the visitors back rows infringed at the breakdown and gave Shane Sweeney a penalty attempt. Accurately, Sweeney bisected the posts to stretch the lead to 17-7 Connemara.
From there on in, the Blacks were in the driver’s seat and, on the stroke of full time, Sweeney added some gloss to the scoreline with another successful penalty, taking the final score to 20-7 to the Blacks.
1: Eugene Conroy
2: Alan Pryce
3: Kevin Barry
4: Martin Faherty
5: David McHugh
6: T.J. Berry
7: Barry Gibbons
8: Kevin Keogh
9: Michael O’Toole
10: Shane Sweeney
11: Conor Clarke
12: David McDonagh
13: Eoghan Bourke
14: Peter O’Toole
15: Jack Vaughan