Sligo bridged a gap of 103 years when captain Shane Boyle lifted the Connacht Senior Cup at Hamilton Park last Saturday for the club’s first trophy success in the competition since 1914.
Sligo snatched a 29-27 victory with the last play of a hugely-entertaining and intense match against an excellent Corinthians outfit, in an occasion that will live long in the memories of the sizable Sligo support.
With little or no breeze, conditions were ideal for running rugby as Sligo kicked off playing towards the airport end. It was the visitors, however, that were quickest out of the blocks with Sligo native Stephen Kerins pulling the strings at scrum half for Corinthians, bringing his potent back-line into play at every opportunity.
Things looked ominous for Sligo, the current Ulster Bank League Division 2C leaders, as the visitors raced into a 12-point lead with two tries inside the first 15 minutes before a Jack Keegan penalty opened Sligo’s account midway through the first half.
Sligo were growing into the game and the gap was further reduced on 25 minutes with Calum Goddard’s first try of the day. From his own 10-metre line, home out-half Mark Butler darted down the right side where he released Goddard with a well-timed pass. The Kiwi winger raced into the Corinthians half and exchanged passes with supporting hooker Shane O’Hehir before breaking clear for the try-line, with Keegan converting.
A Mark McDermott penalty pushed the visitors back into a five-point lead before Sligo struck again right on the stroke of half-time. Corinthians defended phase after phase as Sligo hammered the line, before scrum half Ryan Feehily moved the ball right to centre Mike Wells who used all his strength to squeeze over wide on the right.
Keegan’s conversion made it 17-15 to Ross Mannion’s men at half-time, but just as in the first half, Corinthians upped the tempo on the resumption and regained the lead with two tries in quick succession to push the scoreline out to 27-17 with 20 minutes remaining.
Sligo’s task was difficult and almost looked insurmountable when Corinthians centre Dave Panter intercepted a Sligo pass on halfway and darted towards the whitewash. However, Mark Rooney had other ideas and a fantastic defensive chase saw the Sligo centre hunt Panter down and force a relieving penalty for his team.
Sligo upped the intensity and worked their way back into scoring range. The forwards again pummelled the line, but again Corinthians held out, before Butler’s vision spotted space on Goddard’s wing and a perfectly-weighted chip was well taken by the New Zealander as he went over in the corner. Keegan’s conversion moved Sligo to within three points and set up a grandstand finish.
The tension was unbearable as the game moved into injury-time, as Sligo looked for the score that would bring home the cup. The Yeats men kept their heads and patiently worked their way back into the Corinthians 22. Pressure forced a penalty and the watching support were sure that another Keegan kick would bring the game into extra-time.
The players had a different script and incredibly decided to run the penalty. Once again, the Corinthians defence was battered by Sligo’s pick and drive, and another penalty and a yellow card were conceded. Sligo again decided to run the penalty, and almost 10 minutes into stoppage time, Matthew Cosgrove forced his way over, sparking scenes of unbridled joy from the Sligo faithful. The missed conversion attempt mattered little as the referee blew the final whistle and Sligo were kings of Connacht.
Michael Cunningham from the Connacht Branch of the IRFU praised both sides for a fantastic match played in excellent spirit before handing the trophy over for Boyle to hold aloft in a landmark moment in the long history of Sligo Rugby Club.