Title decider on in Navan
Sligo RFC 30 Tullamore RFC 9
Sligo took a giant step towards the capture of the Ulster Bank League division 2C crown when they defeated fourth placed Tullamore in an intense encounter at a sun drenched Hamilton Park on Saturday.
Sligo went into the game knowing that a bonus point win would leave them within touching distance of league leaders Navan RFC whom they travel to next Saturday for a mouth watering winner takes all final day showdown.
In front of the biggest crowd Hamilton park has hosted all season, Sligo kicked off playing towards the Knocknarea end.
The early exchanges were shaded by the visitors who looked set to open the scoring with a penalty chance after 5 minutes from in front of the posts, but centre Conor Dunne's effort drifted wide of the target.
Sligo were stung into action and began to move the ball wide to find space in the well organised Tullamore defence.
A sweeping right to left move from the Sligo 22 gave Callum Goddard the opportunity to pin his ears back and sprint into the Tullamore 22.
The winger looked odds on to finish the move with a try but was illegally halted by a high tackle which earned the Tullamore full back Karl Dunne a yellow card.
Sligo went to the corner to try to gain the maximum reward but having secured the lineout the ball was turned over in the maul and the chance was lost.
With the game being played mostly in the Tullamore half, Sligo continued to press and their pressure earned a penalty on the 10 metre line with 15 minutes gone.
Fullback Jack Keegan opted to go for the posts but his well struck effort was held up in the breeze and dropped just short. The Sligo chasers forced a hurried clearance which Conor Kerins used all his footballing skills to control on the halfway line before counter attacking back into the heart of the Tullamore defence.
Kuba Wojtkowicz took on the drive and made a super burst forward before being stopped on the 5 metre line. Scrum half Ryan Feehily quickly moved the play to Mike Wells whose well timed pass gave Mark Rooney the space to go over in the corner.
Sligo doubled the lead on the half hour in almost identical circumstances.
Another excellent Wojtkowicz drive was carried on by team captain Shane Boyle before the ball was moved wide to Jack Keegan and the full back finished the move in the corner. Tullamore responded and looked to their centre combination of Dylan Kelso and Conor Dunne to make inroads into the Sligo defence. The pressure reaped rewards with Dunne slotting over penalty kicks on the 34th and 38th minutes to put the half time score delicately poised at 10-6.
The opening period of the second half proved attritional with both sides desperately trying to find space but defences were on top and openings were scarce.
Another Dunne penalty on 45 minutes put the smallest margin between the teams but Keegan restored the four point lead midway through the half with a well struck effort from the 10 metre line.
The time was ticking on and the Sligo faithful were growing nervous as word filtered back that table topping Navan had secured the 4 try bonus in their game against Bangor which meant that Sligo also needed a bonus point to keep their title hopes alive. A big finish was needed and to a man the Sligo players delivered.
A massive turning point came with 7 minutes remaining. Tullamore were on the attack in the Sligo 22 but a brilliant choke tackle from replacement Matt Davey halted the attack and forced the turnover.
From the resulting scrum the ball was moved left to right quickly across the Sligo 22. Powerhouse centre Daire Byrne made the defence splitting break and brilliantly carried to the half way line before linking up with Wells.
Wells fed the supporting Shane O'Hehir who moved the ball left to Graham Kerr and the young replacement winger touched down in the left corner.
Sligo were now sensing blood and were hunting for the vital bonus point try. With the clock heading into injury time Sligo were awarded a penalty in the Tullamore 22. Feehily tapped quickly and Sligo drove for the line.
Conor Mitchell was stopped inches short but a Tullamore hand pulled the ball over to the defending side of the ruck.
Diarmuid O'Dowd-Hill was quickest to react and pounced on the ball to claim the bonus point try to the delight of the home support.
With the game now deep in injury time the Tullamore kick off did not go the required 10 metres and Sligo opted for the scrum on the halfway line. Wells called for the play to go left and Rooney's well timed run opened up the defence before linking with O'Dowd-Hill.
The flanker's pass gave Davey the space to race through and dot down left of the posts.
Keegan's successful conversion proved the last action of an excellent encounter. Sligo now travel to Navan next Saturday knowing that an eight point win will guarantee the league title and automatic promotion.
A supporters' bus will be travelling, for details contact Michael Storey at 086 8198540. The match kicks off at 2.30pm at Balreask Old.
Sligo: Jack Keegan, Callum Goddard, Mark Rooney, Daire Byrne, Conor Kerins, Mike Wells, Ryan Feehily, Kuba Wojtkowicz, Shane O'Hehir, Conor Mitchell, Jamie Bowes, Ciaran Cassidy, Simon Coulter, Diarmuid O'Dowd-Hill, Shane Boyle (Capt) reps Mark Keegan, Thomas Gormalley, Matt Davey, Graham Kerr, Enda Gavin.