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AIB Junior Cup: Corrib 11 Westport 14

AIB Junior Cup: Corrib 11 Westport 14

Converted tries from Kevin Corcoran and John Paul Walsh propelled Westport to an impressive AIB Junior Cup first round victory over their Connacht rivals Corrib in Headford on Saturday. Knockon.ie’s Rob Murphy reports.

AIB JUNIOR CUP – FIRST ROUND: Saturday, January 3

CORRIB 11 WESTPORT 14, Presentation College

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Scorers: Corrib: Try: Ronan Casey; Pens: Mike Monahan 2

Westport: Tries: Kevin Corcoran, John Paul Walsh; Cons: Lyndon Jones, Lee Keegan

It looks like Westport are about to make a return to the business end of Connacht junior rugby. In fairness rumours of their demise were few and far between but they had lost four league games and were uncharacteristically struggling for some consistent form since September. That could all be about to change.

The Bulls were not at their very best in Headford on Saturday but they were clinical and tenacious throughout and that combined with some wastefulness from the home side led to yet another victory over their old foes Corrib and a place in the last eight of the AIB Junior Cup.

A try in either half did the needful. Kevin Corcoran got the first while Corrib were down to 14 men while John Paul Walsh thundered over for the match-winning try midway through the second half.

His try beat Castlebar at the same stage last year. Cometh the hour.

Corrib were crestfallen at full-time. This was meant to be the game where the Westport hoodoo would be laid to rest and the huge progress made in the past 12 months would yield a place in the last eight.

Alas it was not to be despite their electric start and some impressive running rugby throughout the contest.

They led 8-0 after the first quarter and the script seemed so different compared with what had gone before.

Ronan Casey pounced on a Westport mistake in the second minute. Barry Lee’s high kick had not been dealt with and the ever alert Casey picked up the loose ball to score.

Westport responded with some blistering attacking phases. It was back to the type of play that epitomised their rugby in recent seasons. High tempo attacks packed with swift off-loading that kept the Corrib defence on their toes.

However it did not yield points as Corrib’s gutsy defence forced mistakes. Cathal Reddington’s thumping tackle on Lee Keegan was one highlight of many big hits.

Brian McDonnagh, Jonathan Newell and Darragh Higgins worked tirelessly on the ground to keep their line unbroken.

To compound the frustrations for the visitors, Corrib went further ahead through the accurate boot of Mike Monahan and all seemed to be well.

In fact as half-time approached they began to find the gaps. Thomas Lee rounded his man and sidestepped two tackles on the way to the line but he was stopped just short and perhaps missed an opportunity to pass a split second earlier.

Another Lee, but of no relation, Barry, was also in top form and he made a blistering break as Corrib hammered away at the Westport line for the score that would have turned a solid lead into a comfortable advantage.

Then things began to change with Paddy Kennedy, Liam Scahill and JP Walsh introducing some simple straight-running to the visitors’ attack.

The penalties followed and although Jones missed a straight forward penalty effort, Westport made amends minutes later.

Eugene Kenny’s sin-binning for hands in the ruck yielded a scrum eight metres out and a try on the blindside for the dangerous Kevin Corcoran, who had hassled the Corrib defence on a number of occasions. Jones struck the touchline conversion.

Just before half time Corrib, who led 8-7 at this stage, saw another chance slip away with a desperately unlucky knock on for Monahan after great work form Casey.

After the break, Westport started well but could have lost all the momentum when Higgins intercepted on his own 22 and made 60 metres before Corcoran saved the day by making it all the way across from the far wing to drag the flanker down eight metres from the line.

The tide had now turned as the experienced Bulls sensed a real chance, Eddie Walsh and Paul Jennings were now on the field and pairing at half-back for the first time this season.

Jennings whipped a brilliant pass out for the try but it was Liam Scahill’s barnstorming run that made the score for JP Walsh to finish off with a 15 metre burst, which full-back Keegan converted.

Corrib looked battered and bruised but they just were not beaten and with 14 minutes remaining Mike Monahan narrowed the gap to three with a penalty before Killian Bane’s crossfield run deep in his own half released Charlie Sullivan for a 30 metre break.

He found Thomas Lee who beat the first man kicked ahead but somehow Lee Keegan and Westport survived. The Bulls’ experience won out and they are now the last Connacht side standing on the national stage.