Cawley Cup final Ballinasloe put in a huge second-half performance to come from behind and beat Junior Cup holders Westport at Tuam RFC.
Originally fixed for Crowley Park, the late transfer to Tuam inconvenienced followers from both sides but those who made it to the well turned out north Galway venue were treated to a most entertaining and keenly contested game.
Westport would have entered the fray as the bookieswere favourites following their recent historic win in the fore mentioned Junior Cup.
A question mark hung over Ballinasloe due to a lack of game time in recent weeks but Noel Mannion and Kevin Tierney had their charges well primed for this contest.
Ballinasloe showed early eagerness and looked the more purposeful side in the opening exchanges, shading the territory and possession stakes.
No 8 Kevin Gavin was posing a threat, repeatedly breaking the gain-line before Westport would re-group to cut off any developing danger. T, and they had an opportunity to take the lead after 13 minutes but Ross Keller pulled his penalty kickto the left of the posts wide.
Minutes later Westport flanker Chris Ryan brought play deep into the Ballinasloe half for the first time and there followed some smart passing by the Bulls backs to create a try for Kevin Corcoran that was converted by Sean Tobin.
Keller was wide with a second kick at goal, but an improving Westport pack were begining to dominate in the scrum.
Iit was third time lucky for Keller when he landed a penalty in the 34th minute after Westport were penalised for coming in at the side of a ruck.
Mayo were beginning to dominate the sWestport, though, were beginning to get on top up front, and as the Mayo side drove forward with menace they could have extended their lead before the break but Tobin was off target with a kick at goal.
Leading 7-3 at half time, Westportlooked as if their improving play in the later stages of the first period would see them home had the momentum.
Both sides were prepared to play cagey rugby on the turnover with little adventure to excite the followers in the stand.
And then Ballinasloe began to take the Bulls by the horns (no pun intended of course!) and upped their intensity. Westport’s Conor Hastings carried the brunt for too many penalties conceded by his team and was yellow carded in the 54th minute.
Cue now for Ballinasloe to introduce their talisman John Hayes from the bench and the hoped-for impact was soon realised.
The winners were now playing with renewed spirit and brought grit and determination to their game that was not quite present earlier on. They drove forward like men possessed, playing much of the game inside the Westport 22.
Westport were in a real dogfight and the question was could they keep their try-line intact?
Ballinasloe were like wolves at the door, continuing to bark. First Keller and then JJ Carey came close to breaching the Bulls defence.
Conal Gormley made two searing bursts and still Liam Scahill and his colleagues held out.
But the winners’ persistence paid off in the 69th minute when Hayes, with assistance from his pack, eventually barged over for the all important try.
Keller, now with his dander up, landed the conversion and Ballinasloe had nudged 10-7 ahead.
One felt it was going to be the winning score as it never looked like being a high-scoring game on the evening.
Westport had one last bite at the cherry and put together a driving maul that started in their own half and made its way menacingly into Ballinasloe territory but the winners held their nerve and discipline and turned the ball over.
That was that and the Cawley Cup was on its way to Graigueawoneen. Hard earned but oh so thoroughly deserved.
BALLINASLOE – A Mannion, D Burke, C Gormley, R Cullinan, D Freeman, R Keller, M Tierney, JJ Carey, A O’Hara, T Dolan, M Harrigan, K Headd (capt), A Loughrey, K Gavin, R Wakefield. Reps: G Donnellan, N Staunton, H Reynolds, J Hayes, R Sheppard.
Congratulations to Ballinasloe’s U-14s on capturing the Connacht Cup for their age category. They put in a big second half performance to overcome a strong Buccaneers side 19-0. It was their second game in four days having won the semi final on Wednesday evening.
The U-13s beat Claremorris in their cup semi final on Tuesday evening.