Galwegians have young replacement Ciaran Gaffney to thank for their dramatic late 13-10 win over UL Bohemians in Ulster Bank League Division 1B on Saturday.
Following two bonus point victories in the previous rounds, table toppers Galwegians needed an 82nd minute drop goal from Ciaran Gaffney to extend their winning start to the season at Crowley Park.
UL Bohemians had looked the more likely winners in the closing stages, dominating possession and forcing a series of penalties but their out-half Shane Airey missed a 67th minute effort from the kicking tee.
Both sides came into the game on the back of two wins each, so there were high hopes of an entertaining spectacle in Glenina. 'Wegians started with aplomb when they took the lead as early as the second minute.
Playing with a stiff first half breeze, they went on the offensive right from the kick-off. A deft offload by centre Brian Murphy released full-back John Cleary (pictured below) down the left. Although the veteran was held up just short, he found Matt Dever on his shoulder and the winger continued his rich vein of form to score by the posts, with Dave Clarke converting.
The visitors did not panic and they soon managed to work their way into a good attacking position. 'Wegians were ominously getting on the wrong side of referee Eddie Hogan O'Connell, coughing up four penalties in the opening ten minutes alone.
Airey was wide with a seventh minute penalty attempt, but it worked to UL's advantage as they charged down the 22-metre drop out. And from a resulting lineout penalty, captain Ed Kelly got on the end of a rolling maul to cross for a 10th minute try which Airey converted for 7-7.
This round 3 tie became a very scrappy stop-start affair with the referee's whistle the only consistent element – each side was pinged at least ten times in the opening half and a plethora of lineouts were pulled up for crooked-in throws.
With the wind at their backs, the Blues were dominating territory but failed to find any end-product. Clarke was wide of the posts with two very kickable penalties, and on one occasion in particular 'Wegians were laying siege to the Bohs line, only to see a vital five-m scrum wheeled with the visitors relieving the pressure.
Yet for all that, Bohemians had their chances and were playing an effective game against the elements, but the final pass was eluding them whenever scoring chances came their way.
It remained 7-7 up to half-time, and Bohs would have been well pleased with this scoreline with the wind at their backs in the second period.
But they did themselves no favours when a late 43rd minute tackle on winger Jerome Harimate led to the sin-binning of experienced full-back Mossy Lawler.
This boosted the Galway men and they soon regained the lead after a quickly taken lineout from deep inside their half caught the visitors napping, with a trademark counter attack from Cleary setting up an attack. They were award a penalty 25 metres out and Clarke found his range from the right to put the Blues 10-7 in front.
However, the pendulum swung again, as Matt Brown's charges were once again coughing up a succession of penalties at ruck time, leading to the sin-binning of hooker Jack Dinneen just before the hour mark.
Shortly afterwards Bohs levelled when Airey kicked a penalty from close range, and the momentum seemed very much with the Limerick outfit. Despite being a man down, 'Wegians responded well and a good attack from deep set up another penalty out left, but Clarke was off target from a difficult angle into the wind.
The stop-start nature of the match continued and Bohs made the most of their penalties, with Airey putting boot to ball to set up territory, making them the likelier side to steal a win.
They had their chance to take the lead with 13 minutes remaining when yet another ruck penalty gave Airey the opportunity to go for goal, only to guide his 30-metre effort just to the right of the posts.
With neither side playing to their potential, this tense encounter was coming down to who had the greater will to win, and for this reason alone the Blues, who defended like tigers, deserved to come out on top.
With time running out, the winning score came when Caolin Blade robbed the visitors of possession from a maul out of nowhere. His counter attack stretched the Bohs defence, allowing replacement scrum half Barry Lee to feed Gaffney who was in the pocket in front of the posts.
Gaffney's drop goal may not have been the cleanest strike, but somehow it hobbled its way over the bar to seal a dramatic victory for 'Wegians.
Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)