Northern standard too high for Connacht
Try: K Hastings, S Faulkner
Con: S Sweeney
Try: J Johnson (2), C Stewart
Pen: C Cousens
Con: C Cousens
A GUST of wind could, it’s been said, can make a prince of one man and a pauper of another. Last Saturday in Carrowholly, it could have made mincemeat out of this reporter, who (perhaps unwisely) chased after a match programme which the breeze prised from his grip late in the first half of this junior inter-provincial game. With the ball gone dead – a lineout was due to happen deep in the Ulster ‘22’ – I followed the piece of paper onto the field, but with perfect comic timing, it repeatedly blew on another few yards every time I got close to it.
Eventually it came back into my hand, and if the video cameraman captured the sequence for posterity, perhaps I have a future in slapstick comedy. Of course, if play had restarted and a giant lock had trampled me in his efforts to gain possession, I might have had no future at all.
Ultimately, it was the power of the Ulster pack which proved decisive, as they ran in three second-half tries to win the opening game of the series. Full-back Chris Cousens had opened the visitors’ account with a 15th-minute penalty shortly after Mark Widdowson was denied a try by a great ankle-tap from Connemara’s Ian Heanue. But Connacht bounced back with a try from Kevin Hastings.
The Westport flanker, his side’s outstanding player despite a sin-binning, started and finished a move which saw Kevin Corcoran and Seán Connolly go close before captain Liam Scahill displayed quick hands. The distinctive Hastings a ‘shave or dye’ charity fund-raiser, competed heroically at the breakdown, but like his lookalike John The Baptist, he was sometimes a voice in the wilderness.
Croagh Patrick provided a splendid backdrop to this game hosted by Westport RFC, but there was to be no further first-half scoring. Connacht out-half Shane Sweeney was twice off target with kicks, while Mickey Murphy almost put Seamus Fahy in for a try after a decent break from Joe O’Connor. On the sideline, a dog made a lunge for a tracksuited Ulster official, while one visitor had a tongue-twisting question for his daughter. “Did you drink all the drink that you drank?” he wondered.
It was 5-3 in favour of JP Walsh’s side at the break, but the wind-assisted northerners restored their advantage four minutes after the restart, as back-row forward Curtis Stewart got over for their opening try. Cousens converted, and Jamie Johnson touched down for another pushover try 16 minutes into the second period as the Ulster pack put the home side under huge pressure.
Connacht finally managed to life the siege. David McDonagh kicked for the corner, Hastings caught the lineout at the back, and sub Shane Faulkner got a try after a great push. Sweeney added the extras, and suddenly it was a three-point game. Four minutes later, however, normal second-half service was restored, as Johnson landed his second try after the Ulster pack got on a roll.
The game was refereed by Helen O’Reilly, the former Ashbourne and St Mary’s player who made history last January when becoming the first woman to take charge of a men’s All-Ireland League game.
Flags flew at half-mast in memory of the late Peter Cosgrove (Ballinrobe RFC).
S Fahy (Monivea); K Corcoran (Westport), I Heanue (Connemara), D McDonagh (Connemara), C Maher (Monivea); S Sweeney (Connemara), M Murphy (Ballina); E Conroy (Connemara), J O’Connor (Westport), P McCreanor (OLBC); L Scahill (Westport), P Claffey (NUIG); S Connolly (OLBC), K Hastings (Westport), J Hayes (Ballinalsoe).
Replacements used: C Mason (Ballina), M Allen (Ballina), S Faulkner (NUIG), R Stanley (NUIG), R Kelly (Ballina), M O’Toole (Connemara).
C Cousens; A Hodgen, M Weir, D Clarke, M Widdowson; N Finlay, A Lockhart; C Nash, F Mulholland, P Whyte; J Carlton, D Sharkey; J Johnson, J Clegg, C Stewart.
Replacement used: J Blair, T Mannus, L Steenson, P Cartmill.
Referee: H O’Reilly (Leinster)