For only the second time in the long history of club, Sligo Rugby are Connacht Senior League Champions, following a perfect 4 bonus point wins league campaign which was completed with an excellently crafted victory over Buccaneers at Hamilton Park on Saturday.
Sligo Senior Men's XV captain, Matthew Earley, lifted the trophy to the delight of a large supporting crowd on a day that will live long in the memories of all that attended.
Hamilton Park was in excellent condition as the teams took to the field. Sligo kicked off playing towards the airport end playing into the slight breeze. The opening exchanges belonged to the hosts with the maul attack looking particularly powerful. The early pressure paid off when Euan Brown opened his team's account with a well-struck penalty with 10 minutes on the clock.
The visitors responded with a Michael Hanley penalty but Sligo regained the lead with the opening try following an excellent run from athletic second row Garry Duffy.
Captain Earley stretched Sligo’s lead with a try on 35 mins following some more excellent maul work and Brown's conversion moved the score to 15-3. Buccaneers responded and a Frankie Hopkins break yielded a try which Hanley converted, but pressure on the restart earned a penalty for the locals. Brown slotted the kick to give Sligo an 8-point half-time lead.
Following the resumption, Sligo upped the ante and began to move the big opposition pack around the park. Archie Maclean was superbly marshalling the lineout and the back row trio of James O’Hehir, Brian West, and Ambrose Bamber were getting the edge at the breakdown.
Brendan Cunningham continued his recent super form at scrum half and Sligo wingers Darragh Feehily and Louis McVitty were razor sharp in attack and solid in defence.
5 minutes into the half, the Yeats county men struck again. A pre-planned move from a penalty 5 metres out saw Tom Gormley and Kuba Wojtkowicz combine for Sligo’s third try.
With 10 minutes remaining, Sligo put the game beyond doubt with a try from Full back Philip Carter before Ethan Faitaua dotted down with the last move of an excellent Sligo performance. Brown closed the account with a successful final kick.
Connacht branch President Michael O’Hehir performed the presentation duties and the roar from the Sligo faithful when Earley raised the trophy could probably have been heard at the top of Knocknarea.
As Connacht Senior League winners, Sligo will now be the Connacht representatives in the prestigious Bateman Cup. Sligo will host Terenure College RFC, winners of division 1A of the All Ireland League and current holders of the Bateman cup.
The highly anticipated encounter takes place on Saturday, September 30, at Hamilton Park and promises to be a great occasion at Strandhill.
Another bonus for Sligo’s league win is a guaranteed place straight into the final of the Connacht Senior Cup which will take place later in the season.
Sligo: Philip Carter, Darragh Feehily, Ethan Faitaua, Finn Bamber, Louis McVitty, Euan Brown, Brendan Cunningham, Kuba Wojtkowicz, Matthew Earley (Capt), Tom Gormely, Archie Maclean, Garry Duffy, Brian West, James O’Hehir, Ambrose Bamber.
Reps: Ben Hynes, Eoghan Lang, Ciaran Cummins, Michael McMorrow, Rob Tiernan, Ben Donald, Jacob Fleming, Conor Creaven.