Sunday 19 January 2020

Sligo bow out

All-Ireland Bateman semi final at Hamilton Park: Sligo RFC 10 Cork Constitution 38

Kuba Wojtkowicz, back, for Sligo RFC, powers forward
Kuba Wojtkowicz, back, for Sligo RFC, powers forward

John Kane

Having qualified for the 2020 All-Ireland Bateman Cup by virtue of the recent Connacht Senior Cup success, Sligo were handed a task of David and Goliath proportions by drawing All-Ireland League Division 1 runaway leaders Cork Constitution in the semi-final of Irish Club Rugby's most prestigious cup competition. 

Constitution hold a proud record in the Bateman Cup having won an unprecedented five-in-a-row titles from 2013 to 2018 and arrived in Strandhill having won all nine of their AIL fixtures this season. 

Come kick-off time, a large crowd had assembled at Hamilton Park to witness a proud day in the long history of Sligo RFC and though the fairy-tale of a Sligo win did not come to fruition, some of the rugby played was outstanding and a credit to both clubs.

Constitution, captained by Sligo native and Irish Clubs International Captain Niall Kenneally, signalled their intent early as they produced an excellent first quarter of high-intensity precision rugby, starving Sligo of any meaningful possession, which produced tries from Vincent O'Brien, Alex McHenry and a double from Barry Galvin. 

Sligo, to their credit, gamely stuck to their task and began to get a foothold into the game.

Fine work at the scrum by Tom Gormley and Jason East earned a scrum penalty on the halfway line and Euan Brown put in a perfect touch-finder to place Sligo five yards from the 'Con line. 

Shane O'Hehir found Shane Boyle at the lineout, Boyle transferred to Ryan Feehily who linked up with senior debutant Donnacha Byrne.

The ball was quickly recycled and East, Rob Holian and Ciaran Cassidy all tested the visiting defence before Brown put in an inch perfect left to right cross kick for Calum Goddard to collect and touch down in the corner.

'Con again responded and Galvin's third of the day put the score to 5-31 at the interval. 

Following the resumption Sligo continued to battle, bringing the game to the visitors at every opportunity.

The returning Kuba Wojtkowicz was proving a handful with some barnstorming runs into the heart of defence, ably supported by Matt Davey.

Daire Byrne, Mark Butler, Philip Carter and Enda Gavin were defending with huge intensity.

Brian West and Diarmuid O'Dowd-Hill brought energy to proceedings when called into the fray.

Despite the Herculean Sligo defensive effort, Kenneally's well-timed pass put McHenry over for his second of the day with 10 minutes remaining, but it was the home side that finished out the scoring. Pressure on the 'Con attack forced a turnover on the halfway line.

Brendan Cunningham switched play to the left and Matthew Earley made an excellent break into the 22. James O'Hehir secured possession at the ruck and Cunningham moved the ball quickly right.

Butler threw a long pass to Feehily who stepped inside the cover before releasing Goddard to touch down in the corner. 

Despite the score line, Sligo will take heart from the performance against opponents of such high quality and will undoubtedly use the game as a springboard to drive to further success when they resume their Division 2B AIL campaign with a trip to Mayo to lock horns with Ballina next Saturday.  The match kicks off at Heffernan Park at 2.30pm.

SLIGO RFC: Enda Gavin, Calum Goddard, Mark Butler, Daire Byrne, Philip Carter, Euan Brown, Ryan Feehily, Mark Keegan, Shane O'Hehir, Tom Gormley, Ciaran Cassidy, Rob Holian, Shane Boyle, Matt Davey, Donnacha Byrne. Reps: Jason East, Matthew Earley, Kuba Wojtkowicz, Brian West, Diarmuid O'Dowd-Hill, James O'Hehir, Brendan Cunningham.

Sligo Champion