Sligo set up final day decider after Malahide triumph

Malahide RFC 32

Sligo RFC 34

Sligo moved back to the top of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League, Division 2C, going into the final game with a five tries to four, two-point margin victory over a powerful Malahide outfit in an enthralling encounter on Saturday. Sligo came out on top in an incredible game in which the lead changed hands seven times and will long be remembered in the minds of the large travelling Sligo support.

With the Malahide home ground at Estuary road declared unplayable, the match was moved to the excellent all-weather surface at Belvedere College, which was ideally suited for fast running rugby and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Malahide kicked off into the Sligo pack, with former Ireland International Mike Ross in the front row and ex-Guinness Pro 12 winner Danny Poolman lining out in the centre. Sligo gathered and immediately took the fight to their hosts. The early exchanges were intense with both sides testing their defensive opposites before Sligo made the initial breakthrough on the 7th minute.  Mata Fifita superbly stripped the ball on the Malahide 22, Ryan Feehily quickly moved the ball left and Mike Wells stepped inside, before being hauled down five meters short. The play was switched back to the right and Mark Butler threaded through a deft grubber kick for the alert Calum Goddard to race onto for the opening touch down in the corner.

Malahide immediately responded and opened their account with a well struck penalty before racing into the lead with a converted try and a second penalty.

The game continued at a breathless pace as Sligo worked to claw the lead back. With 5 minutes remaining before the interval Ryan Feehily produced a typical moment of magic. The scrum half picked the ball from the base of a ruck on the 22 before darting inside the cover and heading for the line. The Malahide full back looked to have the move covered but an audacious step saw Feehily wrong foot the defender and race in under the posts. Jack Keegan converted to put Sligo within a point.

Malahide restarted with a long kick and Sligo cleared with a kick to the 10metre line. The Malahide lineout throw was crooked and from the resulting scrum Sligo were off again. Feehily moved the ball left and Wells, Butler and Keegan all handled before winger Mark Rooney made a searing break down the left-hand side. Rooney was stopped by the cover but Wells picked up in support and finished the move wide on the left to put the half time score at 12-17 in favour of the visitors.

Following the resumption Malahide went through a purple patch and scored converted tries on the 50th and 68th minutes to open out a 10 point lead.

Sligo refused to buckle and stuck to their task gamely. Play was worked into the Malahide 22 and a big, Ciaran Cassidy carry put the defence on the back foot, allowing Mark Butler the chance to burst through the defence and dot down under the posts. With Keegan having to retire with a hamstring injury, Wells took over the kicking duties and added the extras to put Sligo within three, at 27-24. With 6 minutes remaining Sligo regained the lead. A penalty on the half way was deposited into touch by replacement Niall Gray. Matthew Cosgrove secured Shane O’Hehir’s well-placed throw and the Sligo maul rumbled forward. Malahide stopped the drive before Kuba Wojtkowicz made a huge drive down the touchline before being held 15 meters out. The ball was quickly recycled, and Wells brilliantly shrugged off three would-be tacklers to touch down under the posts. The conversion put Sligo ahead by four with 4 minutes remaining, but the drama wasn’t finished yet.

Malahide scored in the corner almost immediately from the kick to retake the lead by the slimmest of margins. Sligo didn’t panic and quickly restarted. The ball was turned over and Sligo made their way towards the line. Malahide rebuffed the attacks, but Wells coolly dropped back into the pocket and popped over a drop goal to send the Sligo fans into a frenzy.

With the clock well into overtime there was yet another twist, as Malahide were awarded a penalty on the 22, right in front of the Sligo posts. The tension was unbearable as the ball left the kickers foot, but the ball travelled wide to the left and the Sligo team and supporters were in ecstasy.

Sligo’s bonus point win puts them back on the top of the table going into next Saturdays final day showdown with joint leaders Thomond RFC. When the teams met in Limerick, in the first game of the season, Sligo came away with a single point victory, so another epic encounter is expected, with the winner taking the league title. The match kicks off at 2.30 in Strandhill.

Sligo: Jack Keegan, Calum Goddard, Mark Butler, Mata Fifita, Mike Wells, Mark Rooney, Ryan Feehily, Kuba Wojtkowicz, Shane O’Hehir, Conor Mitchell, James Wilson, Ciaran Cassidy, Shane Boyle (Capt), Manu Parkin, Matthew Cosgrove. Reps Mark Keegan, Ross O’Boyle, David Heath, Ross Hickey, Niall Gray


2B or not 2B – Winner Takes All

This Saturday, 14th April at 2.30pm. the final league game of the season goes down to the wire, with the top two teams, both on 51points after 17 games, scheduled to play each other, to decide who gets the one automatic qualifying spot to get into Division 2B of the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League.  This fixture is like something out of a Hollywood movie, complete with all the bad clichés and catchphrases.  It really is a case of winner takes all.  Sligo have home advantage and are hoping for a huge turnout from their supporters. Free entry for all under 18s, adults €5.  In the wake of the highly successful Strictly Sligo Rugby fundraiser, anyone who shows a Strictly Sligo Rugby programme will also get free admission. The final pre-match lunch of the season is at 1p.m. at a cost of €20p.p., which includes complimentary wine and entry to the match. Places are limited, so contact John on 087 6212414 to book your place.  There will be a cheese reception post-match, complete with prosecco bar, followed by live music with Dean Mahon.  This promises to be the clash of the titans and one match you do not want to miss.