ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Saturday, May 14 -
CONNACHT 26 MUNSTER 9, the Sportsground
LEINSTER 21 ULSTER 3, Coolmine RFC
Connacht have come close before, particularly under the stewardship of Mick Grealish, but this was their maiden title win at this grade and a huge fillip for junior rugby in the province.
Wins over Ulster (36-12), defending champions Leinster (20-14) and Munster (26-9) saw the Seamus King and Eddie Walsh-coached westerners go unbeaten through the Championship.
Munster came to Galway looking for their first win of the year and backed by the wind, they took a second minute lead with a penalty from Cashel's Darragh O'Brien.
His opposite number, Connacht full-back and captain Kevin Higgins, replied with the opening try in the 12th minute.
Sligo's Paddy Pearson sparked a midfield break and after some good continuity and a penalty advantage, flanker Mike Ward carried forward and passed for the supporting Higgins to score.
The conversion was missed by Pearson and Munster were back in front by the 18th minute, O'Brien punishing Connacht for going off their feet at a ruck.
Munster's forwards, who included Crosshaven's All-Ireland Junior Cup final hero Paul Memery, were putting it up to the hosts and their hard work was rewarded with a third successful penalty from O'Brien.
With the wind continuing to be a factor, Connacht had to be patient and keep their discipline and a turnover from hooker Martin Lee and a terrific tackle from Sligo's Aaron Spring gave them encouragement.
After a previous warning, referee Dave O'Shea sin-binned Munster hooker Alan O'Donnell for a lineout infringement but the visitors still led 9-5 at the break.
They also made a promising start to the second period, lock Memery winning the restart and breaking forward. However, it took Connacht, now with the elements in their favour, just five minutes to conjure up their second try.
They used quick lineout ball near halfway to put powerful centre Mata Fifita charging through the middle and he rounded O'Brien, held off a despairing challenge and touched down for a crucial five points.
The tide was turning and Pearson followed up with a 52nd minute penalty, after Munster infringed at a ruck, to make it 13-9 to Connacht.
Three minutes later, the westerners again built from a solid lineout platform with Monivea flanker Eoin Rooney and OLBC's Doran McHugh invited to take the ball on.
From a ruck on the Munster 22, scrum half Michael Murphy's inside pass put Spring, who took a great line, charging past the first defender and away from the covering O'Brien for a converted try.
A scrum infringement from Munster allowed Pearson tag on a penalty for 23-9 and the scoring was completed by a late penalty from replacement Ger O'Connor from Monivea.
Munster, with winger Rory O'Connor posing a threat, had their moments in the second half but were let down by handling errors and Connacht showed great mental toughness to pick off their scores and absorb any pressure.
Pearson and Murphy performed well behind a durable pack, while Ireland underage international Spring, who lined out on the left wing, and his Sligo colleague Fifita were the pick of Connacht's outside backs.
Meanwhile, at Coolmine RFC, Leinster completed their campaign with a 21-3 victory over Ulster. The visitors made a strong start but converted tries from Boyne back rower Eoin Collins and Enniscorthy duo Richie Dunne and Ross Barbour did the damage for the men in blue.
Leinster finished second in the final table, with Ulster third and Munster fourth following their winless run.
CONNACHT Squad: Jamie Bowes (Sligo), Ronan Coughlan (Monivea), John Culkin (Monivea), Liam Curran (OLBC), Tom Ellard (Westport), Mata Fifita (Sligo), Seamus Fahy (Monivea), Dave Hansberry (OLBC), Kevin Higgins (Monivea) (capt), Martin Lee (Corrib), Wesley Maxwell (Sligo), Doran McHugh (OLBC), Aidan McNulty (Ballina), Conor Mulligan (OLBC), Brian Murphy (Corrib), Brian Murphy (Monivea), Michael Murphy (Ballina), Ger O'Connor (Monivea), Rory O'Connor (Monivea), Willie Parker (Monivea), Paddy Pearson (Sligo), Dave Prior (Monivea), Eoin Rooney (Monivea), Aaron Spring (Sligo), Tom Toolan (Ballina), Mike Ward (Tuam).
Head Coach: Seamus King
Assistant Coach: Eddie Walsh
Manager: Mick Turley
Assistant Managers: Adrian Leddy, Pat Curran, Jimmy Lawless
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