DRIVING ON Westport’s Tom ‘Mossy’ Prendergast is held up by the Tuam defence during Sunday’s Connacht Junior Cup semi-final. Pic: Conor McKeown
Try: S Loftus
Conv: S Walsh
Pens: S Walsh (3)
Tries: R Fahy (2)
EIGHTEEN-STONE men leapt like spring lambs when the full-time whistle heralded Westport’s first Connacht Junior Cup final appearance since 2016.
To do so, they had to withstand a Tuam side that nearly had the field to themselves in the second half.
The homeside came very close to landing a game-winning try, but they were unable to best a Westport side that withstood nearly everything that was thrown at them.
Decent in the scrum, dodgy in the line-out and prone to penetration on defence, the Bulls bent but never buckled in pursuit of victory.
Their opponents had the winning of it, but their undoing was in three poorly-placed kicks that cost them seven points — and ultimately cost them the game.
Starting the game on the backfoot proved equally as costly for Tuam.
Early on, it was clear that Westport were more into kicking and switching the play rather than a war of attrition.
That’s not to say they didn’t get physical; the bone-crunchers flew in thick and fast as soon as the enemy gathered possession.
In truth, Tuam were slow to start, and this cost them.
The pre-match favourites had scarce innings against a Westport team that crossed the whitewash in the 17th minute. Inside-centre Ryan Convey did the honours here when he caught a chip-pass before grounding it under the posts.
Sam Walsh’s boot (more on that anon) saw them go seven points in front before he kicked a neat penalty to put the Bulls 10-0 with 20 minutes gone.
The tackling exchanges became so frayed at one point that young Walsh lost a boot and kept playing on. (He found it later when the herd of mammoths had moved pasture).
Westport’s forwards threw the hits in hard and fair, but a lack of pace made them vulnerable to being stretched on the extremes.
That is exactly what happened when Ross Fahy halved Tuam’s deficit when he touched down on the left after a move that came together quicker than Westport’s defensive line.
Luke Cronin then missed the conversion – a tricky one, but my no means difficult.
Both sides continued their adventurous ways right until the end of a half that ran for 48 minutes due to injury stoppages.
Stephen Browne became the second kicker to fluff his lines when he sent astray a routine penalty deep into the first half.
The second half was played entirely on Tuam’s terms.
For the next 40 minutes, the North Galway men were kings of territory and possession but would only have five points to show for it.
The home crowd gave their loudest roar of the day when Ian Murphy gave a neat short pass to Ross Fahy, who bulldozed a few Westport men on his way to his second try.
The chance to take the lead went abegging when out-half Carl Ward butchered the place kick, becoming the third Tuam player to do so.
The locals couldn’t buy a penalty or a conversion, but that would be the last such opportunity that they would see.
A Sam Walsh penalty put Westport three ahead in the 59th minute before the Clew Bay men mounted siege against the red and blue army.
Tuam ‘shams’ smashed into Westport ‘Covies’ like waves crashing into Clew Bay on a stormy night, all in search of a try that was needed to overturn a stubborn three-point deficit.
It was all in vain for Brian Dempsey’s men, who were kicked to touch by a third Sam Walsh penalty right at the death.
C Lyons; R Spellman, A Spellman, A Sheridan, R Covey, A Masterson; S Loftus, S Walsh; T Geraghty, R Bourke, B McLoughlin; L Scahill, L Coady, T Prendergast, C Hastings; K Corcoran.
Replacements: C Ryan; A Walsh; C Dyra; D Hedley, J Gibbons.
S O’Sullivan; R Cosgrove, R Fahy, I Murphy, L Cronin; C Ward, S Browne; C Dempsey, S Maughan, D Noone; A Finnerty, J Fahy, O Morrin, B Ruane; E Sweeney.
Replacements: D McWalter; D Gleeson, S Leo; O Swan.
Referee: G Ormiston