Connacht Junior Cup Final
If Pat Cunningham’s post-match comments are anything to go by then the men of Creggs will relish the challenge of reaching the benchmark laid down by Connacht League and Cup champions Connemara this season.
Speaking in the wake of Sunday’s comprehensive 25-6 defeat to the Blacks in the Connacht Junior Cup Final, Cunningham was magnaminous in defeat while setting his sights on retribution.
“I’m not sure what their ambitions are, but I’d love to see Connemara in the league next year. Those are the type of games and occasions that we strive for, a lot of the other games this year haven’t been as competitive. Maybe some teams will step up next year but in my opinion, you want to win cup finals against the best teams. We’ll learn a lot from that today and already I’m looking forward to next year, to see can we improve and get better for when we play them.
“I don’t want to wish they don’t go up if that’s their goal, but I’d like another crack at them, I certainly wouldn’t like to get rid of them just to win a cup or a league”.
Creggs had started brightly in Sunday’s showpiece as they bid to win their first Junior Cup since 1993. An early Shane Dowd penalty was reward for their positivity in the opening five minutes. Playing with the breeze, you felt the Maroon and White required a healthy lead before the turnaround. Alas, Connemara were unperturbed by the elements and they gained a stranglehold on proceedings as the half wore on.
It was the impressive Ian Staunton who got them moving. He charged through the Creggs lines, shimmying past two tackles, and while he stumbled to the ground, the big man had the presence of mind to offload to Michael O’Toole who ran unmolested to the line. The extras were added by Shane Sweeney.
It was a sign of things to come as Connemara’s flowing rugby took them deep into Creggs’ territory again just four minutes later. The ball was worked wide to Henry O’Toole and he made no mistake to touch down in the corner. Even at this early stage Creggs were facing a mammoth task.
Creggs were game competitors though and a sweetly struck Shane Dowd penalty from half-way reduced the deficit before Sweeney restored the nine point lead with three points of his own on 36 minutes.
Dowd then had an opportunity to make it a six point game on the stroke of half-time but his penalty went just wide and Creggs returned to the dressing rooms trailing 15-6.
The second half proved an even bigger test of Pat Cunningham’s men as Connemara penned them inside their own 22”, Creggs struggling to maintain any meaningful attacks.
A superb Tom Callaghan ankle tap on Dylan Slator, a couple of big tackles from Elliot Jennings and Chris Duignan beating Peter O’Toole to a bouncing ball kept Connemara scoreless in the third quarter in what was a brave but ultimately futile defensive effort.
David McDonagh eventually broke the Creggs resistance as he powered home on 69 minutes, while Henry O’Toole’s extras all but ended this final as a contest.
There was still time for O’Toole to slot a penalty to put an extra gloss on the scoreboard from a Connemara point of view. In truth, they were formidable throughout and ran out comfortable winners in the end.
For Cunningham, it was unexpected particularly given the competitive nature of Creggs’ season which included lifting the Cawley Cup.
“Maybe because we’re a young team, we’ve come up through the ranks pretty quick, so maybe these are lessons we need to learn. But certainly it’s very difficult to beat a team like Connemara when you get your purple patch and you don’t capitalise, and that’s what happened today.
“I definitely was positive coming into it, we trained extremely well. We’ve a lot of 19 and 20 year-olds, we’ve a couple of lads and this is their first season of real senior rugby, a couple of lads that haven’t played in a few years – but the strides they’ve made have been huge. It wasn’t false positivity, I do think they’re great lads, but I suppose in hindsight, maybe our inexperience in key moments, compared to them, shone through today”.
Connemara: Henry O’Toole, Marty Conneely, Eoin Burke, David McDonagh, Peter O’Toole, Shane Sweeney, Michael O’Toole, TJ Berry, Paul Lee, Conor O’Malley, Niall Staunton, Eugene Conroy, Ian Staunton, Barry Gibbons, Emmet Ferron.
Replacements: Dylan Slator for Ian Staunton (36), David O’Reilly for Shane Sweeney (52 temporary), O’Reilly fo Sweeney (72), Ian Staunton for Eugene Conroy (74), Thomas Sicre for Ferron (76), Kevin Keogh for Gibbons (78), Kevin Barry for O’Malley (78).
Creggs: Ronan Dowd, Chris Duignan, Eoghan Coyle, Tom Callaghan, Kevin Gavin, Shane Dowd, Andrew Callaghan, Brian Diffley, James Brandon, Ronan Cahill, Brian Donoghue, Kevin Brandon, Aidan Leech, Maurice Buckley, Tom Fleming.
Replacements: Brian Coady for Cahill (17), Tom Oates for Kevin Brandon (17), Elliot Jennings for Gavin (32), Sean Óg Higgins for Tom Oates (50), Mark Brandon for Callaghan (68), Cahill for Higgins (71).
Referee: Daithi Flood