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Bulls come up short

KNOCK ON Rob Murphy's weekly Connacht rugby column

Bulls come up short yet again

ONCE again the Connacht Junior League champions Westport failed to spark at the weekend and the writing was on the wall long before a powerful maul led to David Boyle’s second half try which stretched Monivea’s lead to six.
The fixture computer wasn’t kind to the Bulls this season, throwing up a number of difficult ties in the first month but, at the end of the day, if you’re good enough to win the league you should be able to perform from week one of the season.
OLBC’s easy victory in Loughrea emphasised how bad the week one loss was for Westport and it has clearly affected confidence. Yet they still only lost by five on Sunday and if Eamonn Molloy hadn’t injured his hand early on who is to say where they would be.
Nonetheless this Bulls side have problems. Their fitness, especially up front, is not matching that of their opponents. Just before the line-out that led to Boyle’s try you could see three or four Westport players walking back looking physically wrecked. Monivea saw this and capitalised.
Also too much ball was kicked into the hands of the Monivea back three (the best trio in the league).  This is crazy stuff as it gives a counter-attacking side like Monivea a huge advantage.  Finally, the failure to take three points on offer late in the first half was another costly error. Westport should plug some holes with a win over Buccaneers.
The Monivea backline looks impressive and although they misfired on occasions on Sunday there is a lot of potential there. Kevin Higgins is not far off his best form at the moment, and was excellent on Sunday.  Having Mike Concarr back in the backline is another added bonus while Seamus Fahey at out-half gives them an edge because of his adventurous style.
Player-coach Dan McFarland sat out Sunday’s encounter through injury but he clearly has done some good work with the forward unit. The back row of Boyle, Eoin Rooney and Liam Mitchell is mobile and hard working, the line-out is impressive, and Eamonn McLoughlin and Paddy Durcan are the liveliest front row pair you’ll see this season.
SLIGO are the new leaders of the Connacht Junior League after their second successive bonus point victory this time away to Creggs. The 26-3 victory will have surprised some as the Roscommon club had toppled OLBC at the same venue two weeks earlier.  However, Creggs never looked like reaching such heights this time around and last year’s runners-up are off to a flyer.
Behind Sligo in the table lie Monivea and Corrib on nine points. Corrib followed up their opening day win over Ballinasloe with a narrow 10-8 victory at home to Tuam and next week will travel to UCG (who lost 51-5 to Corinthians) in confident mood.
The other unbeaten side in the league is Castlebar who have eight points after victories over Tuam and now Ballina. One wonders whether this is another false dawn from the side from Cloondeash. They have secured two good wins but at the moment Ballina are not strong, especially when they are without David Newman.
Castlebar will travel to Ballinrobe next weekend with confidence but that is a dangerous situation for them. The ‘Robe blew a great chance to beat Ballina in round one and Newman was in action that week for the North Mayo club.  They also performed well in Buccaneers at the weekend, and if they sort out their dicipline they have a real chance.
Monivea’s victory over Westport was the most significant result of the round. The reigning champions have now lost two on the bounce and already are eight points adrift of Sligo.
OLBC bounced back from the shock of losing to Creggs on day one with a five try hammering of Loughrea away from home. This was a real sign that the Galway city side are on the way back and the result will have sent out a major warning sign to Monivea who visit on Sunday.
For Loughrea the result will have been a humbling experience considering they defeated Westport in dramatic fashion at the same venue two weeks earlier.  They will be looking to regroup with a win in Ballinasloe on Sunday.
Remember five teams will slip down to the second tier next year which has been renamed as Division 1B.  It will be a while before that battle takes shape but, for now, Tuam and Creggs have the advantage over many of the other sides having secured early season victories.

Knock On
TAKING HIM DOWN Connacht’s Tom Tierney wraps up Edinburgh’s Scott Murray during last Friday night’s Magners Celtic League game at the Sportsground, Galway.Pic: Sportsfile
Leinster’s lions wander into Connacht's path

CONNACHT are back on track in the Magners League after Mark McHugh’s last-gasp long range penalty secured a thoroughly deserved draw against Edinburgh on Friday night. 
Having performed so poorly at home to Llanelli the previous week, Michael Bradley’s men responded with a much more committed display this week against a side that have beaten Leinster and Ulster already this season.
Daniel Riordan started at full-back and performed brilliantly as part of a back three including Keith Matthews and Matt Mostyn that caused the Scottish side all sorts of problems.
Up front Michael Diffley was an early replacement for the injured Brett Sturgess and helped steady the scrum despite having to pack down at tighthead for the first time ever at this level. The back row were excellent throughout while replacement Ray Ofisa impressed the crowd with some strong work in the loose.
A full strength Leinster – who will include Irish skipper Brian O’Driscoll – travel to the Sportsground this Friday night for a mouth-watering tussle with the westerners. Connacht are five points ahead of their eastern rivals in the table and can open up a significant early season gap in the race for Heineken Cup rugby with a victory.
Connacht officials will be hoping for their highest gate of the season for this encounter and it will be the first true test of whether Friday night rugby can be a long-term success. Crowds so far have averaged just under 1,500 which is no worse than Saturday games last season. They’ll hope to exceed that by some distance at the weekend.

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