News, Seniors - Firsts

Creggs come up short against resolute Connemara

27

Connacht J1 League

Creggs Rugby 8, Connemara RFC 16.

Last season, newly promoted Creggs Firsts and Connemara fought a battle royal for supremacy in the Connacht Junior ranks. Creggs pushed the Blacks all the way in the Connacht J1 League but an emphatic victory in the Cup Final which secured the double for Connemara left no-one in any doubt as who was No.1 in the province.

But what a journey that Creggs has travelled on the last couple of seasons and continues to move forward. Having just won promotion, they immediately set about challenging the major force that is Connemara last season, impressing those that came across them along the way. The rate of improvement at this level is proof positive of the very strong youth rugby work being done by coaches in this decade in particular. The conversion through the much improved Development squad structure and the work of head coach Pat Cunningham and his fellow coaches with the First team squad gives great optimism for the rest of this season and for many years ahead.

On last Saturday night in their opening joust of this season Creggs began in blistering fashion as if to demonstrate just how far they had managed to close the gap since the team’s previous encounter. Playing against the wind, Creggs launched a series of attacks but one of Connemara’s many strong points is their defence and this held, just about, aided by some Creggs mistakes with last passes going abegging when all the hard work had been done.

When Creggs did finally make a breakthrough in the 22nd minute it was a magnificent solo effort from scrum half Eoghan Coyle who broke through a lineout on his own 10 metre line and somehow evaded all efforts to bring him down before powering to the line to give his team a deserved lead as the game entered its second quarter.

Connemara however hit back almost instantly, Connacht player of the year last season, full back Henry O’Toole who was well marshalled in open play by the Creggs defence, landing a penalty almost immediately from the kick off. Creggs continued to grind their way out of defence with almost no recourse to the boot, a tactic which sapped their forwards in never-ending combat with a formidable opposition pack and the second half began with an invigorated Connemara, rolling their bench to good effect, pounding the Creggs line, however a resolute if clearly tiring defence held.

What was now one of the most absorbing encounters ever seen at The Green became a clear contrast in styles. Creggs continued with their strategy of grinding their way out of defence, Connemara upped the tempo, then slowed as it suited with their scrum half Michael O’Toole directing the pace of the game. It looked like the game would go right to the wire when Creggs finally broke out of defence, Tom Fleming wrestling a turnover on his own 22 and offloading to his front row colleague Aidan Leech. Leech who had an exceptional game by any standards battered his way up field with the ultimate outcome a Shane Purcell penalty to leave the home side 8-3 ahead with 15 minutes remaining.

Ominously for Creggs the penalty count was running very much in favour of the visitors and continuing to hold the ball in defence left them open to conceding kickable penalties. And that’s exactly what came to pass, two penalties in quick succession from Henry O’Toole, one of which Cregg’s fullback Shane Dowd got a yellow card for, saw the Blacks inch ahead by a point as the game ended its closing stages.

Creggs finding themselves a man down, and behind for the first time had to go for broke and a mistake allowed Connemara’s South African out-half Curtis Jones cross with 2 minutes remaining, the conversion from Shane Sweeney depriving Creggs of a losing bonus with the last kick of the game. And so notwithstanding a heroic effort in which all their players rose to the occasion, Creggs had nothing to show for their efforts other than the knowledge that they are closing the gap on Connemara.

The Blacks game management however is second to none, they know how to win tight games and that is the area this young Creggs team must work on if they are to reverse the pecking order over the coming seasons.

Creggs Rugby: Shane Dowd, Ronan Dowd, Elliot Jennings, Tom Callaghan, Kevin Gavin, Shane Purcell, Eoghan Coyle, Tom Fleming, Maurice Buckley, Aidan Leech, Ian Whittington, Brian Donoghue, James Brandon, Pete Lohan, Bri

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