Connacht squad member Shane O’Leary made the most of his late inclusion in the Galwegians team as his 18-point haul helped them beat bottom side Ballynahinch 33-16 at Crowley Park in Ulster Bank League Division 1A.
Shane O'Leary was drafted in at inside centre, linking up with Brian Murphy, and he played a crucial role as his two tries and four conversions helped Galwegians put an end to their three-match losing streak.
This was a 'must win' game for both clubs, and the hosts had the advantage of a strong first half breeze. Both sides had early penalty opportunities to open their account, but O'Leary and Ballynahinch winger Chris Quinn misjudged the breeze with their first attempts at the posts.
Despite playing into the elements, it was Derek Suffern's men who made the brighter start and they took the lead in the ninth minute when Ulster's Peter Browne (pictured below) burst through the cover to saunter over for the game's opening try. Quinn had no problems with the swirling breeze this time to tag on the conversion.
The lead proved short-lived as 'Wegians responded well. Four minutes later a blindside break by scrum half Caolin Blade near halfway brought play right up to the try-line, and following a few pick and goes, centre Murphy dived over near the posts for his side’s first try.
O'Leary added the extras to level the game. However, 'Hinch took up where they left off and resumed on the attack. By the end of the first quarter they were back in front, with two penalties from Quinn putting them 13-7 to the good, as 'Wegians were falling foul of referee Eddie Hogan O'Connell.
The Blues needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over, and their potent back-line always looked the more likely to cause damage. They struck again on 25 minutes following an excellent penalty touchfinder. Quick lineout ball was sped wide for O'Leary to take a great line and crash through the centre to score under the posts. His simple conversion put Matt Brown's charges ahead for the first time.
Despite this setback, 'Hinch continued to dominate the remainder of the half with their pack in the ascendancy. However, the game swung on two key moments either side of half-time.
With 'Hinch pressing on the Wegians line, they were awarded a very kickable penalty in the 39th minute, but opted to go for the scrum where they fancied their chances of gaining a seven-pointer. And despite missing their influential lock Dave Nolan who was in the blood bin, a magnificent defensive scrum from the Blues saw them win a relieving penalty.
Better still for the hosts, following another excellent touchfinder, that man Blade once again went on a mazy sniping run to pierce the defensive rearguard, before finishing off good work from his supporting pack to dive over for try number three. O'Leary's conversion gave the Blues a morale-boosting 21-13 lead at the break.
'Hinch set about taking immediate advantage of the elements on the restart, and when they secured an attacking five-metre lineout after two minutes, a rolling maul try looked inevitable. However, they met some heroic 'Wegians defence, with the home side standing their ground and shoving their opponents 10 metres back, securing a penalty in the process. It was a significant statement of intent from the hosts.
Quinn did slot another penalty in the 45th minute to reduce the arrears to five points, but it proved a false dawn in terms of a comeback. Despite the torrid conditions, the Blues went on to wrestle the initiative away from the Mournemen and completely dominated the remainder of the game.
With nearly all the play in opposition territory, the clinching bonus point try came on the hour mark when a trademark break by veteran back John Cleary created an overlap and a sweet pass fed his full-back Ciaran Gaffney (pictured below), who dived over near the left corner for another excellent score. O'Leary judged his conversion perfectly into the wind to put daylight between the sides.
The visitors tried gallantly to get back in the hunt, and although 'Wegians saw two forwards binned late on, first hooker Juan Anaya and then replacement flanker Paul Hackett, 'Hinch were unable to make any further inroads on the scoreboard.
Instead it was the Galway outfit who had the final say, with their back-line yet again doing the damage. This time Gaffney turned provider when a deft little grubber put O'Leary over on the left for his second and his side's fifth try of the game. This may have put some gloss on the final scoreline, but there was no doubting the hosts' superiority and they were fully deserving of their victory.
Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)