Galwegians claim place in Bateman final after Glenina epic
Galwegians made history by becoming the first Connacht club to qualify for the Bateman Cup final since UCG in 1936 when they won a thrilling nine-try contest against Ballynahinch at Crowley Park.
These two sides got to know each other very well having played home and away fixtures in recent weeks in Ulster Bank League Division 1A. Both coaches were forced to make extensive changes from last week's league encounter at Ballymacarn Park where the Ulstermen ran out decisive 33-16 winners.
However, it was Galwegians who proved they had the greater strength in depth when they shaded this epic 66-point encounter in Glenina.
Playing towards the clubhouse end, Ballynahinch made the brighter start and should have taken the lead in the opening minute when scrum-half Chris Gibson crossed the line only to knock on following a try-saving tackle from young 'Wegians centre Alan McMahon.
A sluggish 'Wegians failed to heed the warning signs, and they went behind on eight minutes when a clean lineout take by Dave Nolan was turned over. 'Hinch centre Jordan Grattan then hacked clear, and flanker and Ireland Sevens international David McGuigan was on hand to finish off with Chris Quinn converting.
This seemed to rouse the hosts from their slumber. In the 15th minute they opened their account with their first try, hooker Juan Anayagetting on the end of a forward rumble to touch down near the posts. Out-half Aidan Moynihan added the easy conversion to level the game.
'Wegians deservedly went in front in the second quarter with their second try. It came following an astute kick from scrum-half Barry Lee which forced a close-range attacking lineout. And when Anaya again hit his target man Nolan, it was déjà vu as the Blues pack rumbled over, with Josh Pim grounding the ball.
Moynihan landed an excellent conversion, and the Macroom native soon tagged on a penalty and a drop goal to give 'Wegians a commanding 20-7 lead with barely half an hour gone.
At this stage the hosts looked like they might run away with the game, but credit to Derek Suffern's side who never lost self-belief. They gave themselves a lifeline when winning a penalty in the 35th minute, and in what was their first foray into 'Wegians territory since their opening try, they made it count with lock Jonny Madden scoring. Quinn was unlucky with his conversion attempt which rebounded off the post.
'Wegians again responded well, and when Hinch scrum-half Gibson was sin-binned in stoppage time for a deliberate knock-on, it set up yet an attacking lineout in the corner. After another clean catch by Nolan, once again the visiting pack were unable to deal with the maul, and this time lock Marty Cummins burst over for try number three. Moynihan was off target for the first time with his conversion, but the Blues were good value for their 25-12 half-time lead.
The Galway men lost their temporary advantage of an extra man soon after the restart when blindside flanker Matt Towey was binned in the 43rd minute. It did not take the visitors long to capitalise, as barely three minutes later a good phase of play was finished by full-back Manihera Eden.
'Wegians hit back, however, and when Moynihan kicked an excellent long-range penalty to the corner on 56 minutes, there was a sense of inevitability about the outcome. Anaya found that man Nolan once more, leading to another forward surge, and this time prop Doron McHugh touched down. Moynihan landed a fine conversion to give his side a 15-point advantage.
'Hinch suddenly found an extra pep in their step. On 66 minutes they were rewarded with their own fourth try when prop Craig Trenier finished off some relentless pressure. Quinn found his range to reduce the margin to eight.
'Hinch came back straight from the restart and crossed for a fifth try, this time replacement back Justin Rea diving over. Quinn nailed the conversion and despite having been outplayed for long periods of the contest, astonishingly the Ulster Senior Cup champions were just a solitary point behind (32-31) with ten minutes remaining.
This set up a dramatic finale. The Blues steadied the ship with team captain Ja Naughton (pictured), sprung from the bench, and captain on the day Brian Murphy, in particular, giving leadership to their younger team-mates.
And it was another lineout which helped seal the deal in the 74th minute, with replacement hooker Patrick Curran this time finding Cummins. And although 'Hinch kept their try-line intact, they conceded a penalty under the posts which Moynihan duly converted to give his side a four-point cushion.
Matt Brown's charges will face champions Cork Constitution in the final on the weekend of April 30-May 1 after Con defeated UCD at Belfield.