New back-line recruits Cormac Brennan and Ed O’Keeffe both touched down as Galwegians enjoyed a winning return to Ulster Bank League Division 1A at the expense of Cork Constitution.
Cormac Brennan stormed through midfield for a third-minute converted try at Crowley Park. 'Wegians indiscipline allowed Cork Con out-half Tomas Quinlan to make it a one-point game by half-time.
A quick turnover from a lineout and slick hands then put winger Ed O'Keeffe over in the corner in the 58th minute. After 'Wegians lost replacement hooker Juan Anaya to the sin-bin, Constitution responded with a late unconverted effort from winger Rob Jermyn but the home side deservedly held on.
With a host of retirements and some new players settling in, it was very much unknown territory for the Blues, but they dealt adequately with the threat posed by the opposition.
Played in bright sunny conditions, the visitors had the aid of a stiff first-half breeze and started with intent. However they were stunned by their hosts who took an early lead with their very first attack. Following swift hands through the backs, it was a club underage product, centre Cormac Brennan who burst through a gap and showed pace, strength and determination to evade the covering defence and score the game’s opening try inside three minutes. Out-half Aidan Moynihan struck what ultimately proved to be a crucial conversion to give the Blues a 7-0 lead.
Con responded by dominating territory, but they rarely threatened the Wegians line and made scant use of their possession. The Wegians defence was dealing comfortably with the threat, and indeed had the best scoring opportunities of the half when Con full-back Dara Lyons was binned for a dangerous high tackle on the impressive debutant winger Ed
O’Keeffe. Despite playing into the strong elements, the Blues twice came close to scoring a second try only for the final pass to go astray.
However the hosts were getting on the wrong side of the penalty count, with referee Stuart Gaffikin punishing them at the breakdown. Eventually the chances came for Con, and out- half Tomas Quinlan bagged two penalties in the second quarter to reduce arrears to 7-6. For all that, the Blues finished the stronger and were desperately unlucky not to add to their lead before half-time. A strong lineout maul seemed to pay dividends, only for the Blues to be penalised for a double movement. Then Moynihan misjudged the swirling breeze with a very kickable penalty on the stroke of half-time.
At the turnaround the Blues were looking strong, but as so often happens, it was the team playing against the elements who took the initiative. The visitors played a good possession game taking the game to their opponents. However the Blues were able to utilise the stiff breeze to relieve the pressure with one monster clearance by Moynihan bringing play deep into the Con 22.
In contrast to the visitors, the Blues finally made use of the elements and made their pressure tell. Just before the hour mark, an excellent turnover from a lineout maul saw the ball sped right to left. And more quick hands fed winger O’Keeffe who dived over in the left corner for an excellent try. Moynihan’s difficult conversion attempt came up short to leave the Blues with a precarious 6-point advantage.
The visitors never gave up the fight, and with the battle in the packs a very even affair, they were seeking to exploit their several strike runners to make inroads. However they met a staunch Wegians defence, led by captain Ja Naughton with the inspirational Aly Muldowney and another underage product, ex-Irish U-20 captain Sean O’Brien adding significant beef to their front unit.
With bodies tiring and the coaches ringing the changes, the game began to open up. Con saw a second yellow when winger Rob Jermyn deliberately knocked on following a blind side break by Barry Lee. However shortly afterwards the numbers were evened up when substitute Wegians hooker and AIL debutant Juan Anaya was binned after Gaffikin ffinally lost patience with the repeat offending by the hosts.
Now under the cosh somewhat, the Blues dug deep but when the visitors opted for a 5m scrum penalty on 75 minutes, the pressure finally told, and right-wing Kerry Desmond dived over near the right-hand corner to score their only try. Quinlan had a very difficult conversion into the wind to try gain the lead, but he never really caught it.
Wegians nearly sealed victory when centre Brian Murphy made a terrific block down straight from the restart, only to knock the ball on with the line at his mercy. With Con trying to run from deep, another penalty was forced by the tenacious Wegians defence, but sub Dave Clarke struck the post. However the smother defence by the Blues saw them run down the clock in what was a frantic and exciting finale. Thus newly-promoted Wegians have opened their campaign with a morale-boosting win, and their next assignment is an away trip to Terenure College this Saturday (4.30pm kick-off).
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)