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Westport Bulls outsmart students

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HITCHING A LIFT Westport’s Lorcan Coady claims line-out possession against University of Galway during the Connacht Junior Cup quarter-final last Sunday. Pic: Conor McKeown

QUARTER-FINAL
Westport 15
Tries: S Loftus, C Lyons
Conv: S Walsh
Pen: S Walsh

University of Galway 10
Tries: D Robb
Conv: C Cleary
Pen: C Cleary

Michael Gallagher
Carrowholly

THE prestigious Connacht Junior Cup competition has been running for more than a century but there have been few more exciting matches ever played than the one contested in the shadow of The Reek on Sunday afternoon.
For 34 long minutes Westport guarded a five-point lead in the teeth of savage ‘College’ pressure until the final play of the day ended with the ball in the stand and the Mayo men in the semi-finals. University of Galway, coached by Ballina native, former Irish international Gavin Duffy, arrived in Carrowholly in the middle of a very impressive season and faced a home team without a number of their more experienced forwards.
That left the Bulls vulnerable but a brave, passionate and hearty display sealed a special win for the men in blue.
“We’ve been struggling all year to find our form, but the lads stood up today and showed savage heart. We had four injuries in the pack this week, so a lot of young lads had to step in and they fought for every single inch of ground,” head coach Eddie Walsh told The Mayo News afterwards.
The disruption to the Westport pack was evident at times when the home side struggled in the line-out, but the pack made up for that by tackling like demons from first whistle ‘til last.
Westport were 8-3 up at the break thanks to a try from the impressive out-half Stephen Loftus and a well-hit penalty from the equally eye-catching Sam Wash.
University of Galway looked threatening every time they got ball in hand and when their backline got running they put Westport on the back foot. That said, Westport were disciplined around the ball and enticed the guests into conceding a stream of penalties.
The second half began brilliantly for the home side when full-back Cormac Lyons streaked over and Sam Walsh converted to leave the scoreline reading 15-3 as the large home crowd contemplated victory. However, there was a long distance yet to be travelled.
“Maybe, we felt we had won it at that stage, but that wasn’t the case at all,” said Eddie Walsh. “That was a very good College team with a serious backline. They hadn’t lost a game all year, so we knew exactly how good they were and they showed that in the second half.”
The Galway men responded explosively to the concession of the try after half-time. They poured forward and looked to continuously move the heavier home side around the pitch. However, gaps were hard to find with Ross Bourke, Diarmuid Glavey, Brendan McLoughlin and Thomas Geraghty among those putting body and bones in front of the attackers.
“Harry Sheridan, a young lad, came in today and he was buzzin! He took a bit of a rattle near the end, but nothing was going to stop him. That’s the way the lads approached it. They were going to give it everything and they did,” said the coach.
However, the chasers closed the gap significantly after 58 minutes when impressive backrow David Robb powered over and scrum-half Cian Cleary converted to leave just five between them, 15-10.
Westport were under severe pressure at that stage and College swung the ball from wing to wing at every opportunity. However, the homeside refused to yield, and this sense of purpose was perfectly illustrated after 64 minutes.
Galway’s out-half Sean O’Grady danced straight through the middle and was about to touch down between the sticks when Liam Scahill dived through the air to pull off a game-winning tap-tackle. That inspired the Bulls once again and with Kevin Corcoran, Conor Hastings and Lorcan Coady leading the charge, they survived and prospered.
In the backline, Aidan Walsh, Ruaidhri Spellman, Adam Sheridan and Con McNamara looked to attack whenever possible, and Lyons ran impressively from full-back whenever he got ball in hand. John Ryder, Christy Dyra, Michael Ryder, Harry Sheridan and Thomas Horscraft all contributed off the bench and Westport gradually worked their way towards the end.
Ten long minutes into injury-time, College launched another blistering attack down the left and looked like breaking through until Loftus and Sheridan got across and saved the day.
Two minutes later the final whistle sounded and Westport were in the last four.

WESTPORT
C Lyons, C McManamon, R Spellman, A Walsh, S Loftus, S Walsh; T Geraghty, R Bourke, B McLoughlin, L Scahill, L Coady, D Glavey, C Hastings, K Corcoran.
Replacements: J Gibbons, C Dyra, M Ryder, H Sheridan, T Horcraft.

UNIVERSITY OF GALWAY
C Briscoe, D Burke, M Brady, S Cullen, C MacCuarta, S O’Grady, C Cleary; P Smyth, O Soden, J Brennan, T McCabe, P Daly, F McCall, D Robb, O Halpin.
Replacements: O Duff, B Murphy, M Ó Gríofa, L Melia, F Ó Gríofa.

Referee: M Fitzgerald

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