Connacht show staying power

 

THE weather held out. Just as well, the Railway Cup has to cope with every problem except popularity these days. The curious, the bored and precious few of the passionate turned out in Ennis yesterday in a ratio of about 10 to one to the players. They saw Connacht proceed in relatively heroic fashion after a game with a convoluted plot line, half an hour of extra time and a cliffhanger finish. Twice Connacht seemed to have lost this game, twice they came back from the dead.

It's a pity no cure has been found for the malaise afflicting this competition. The fare yesterday was neither bone crunching nor beautiful, but it was relatively honest and committed.

The Cork contingent gave most to the Munster cause. Niall Cahalane looks five years younger again, while Ciaran O'Sullivan and Martin Cronin were the cream of the forwards on view.

It was an early free from Ciaran O'Sullivan which helped hand Munster the initiative. In the first minute, his long hoisted kick was flapped down by goalie Pat Comer right into the path of Brian Corcoran who swept it to the net. There after the Munster forwards ran in five points with a Nigel Dineen score the only reply from Connacht. Munster got to the break leading by 1-7 to 0-3.

Connacht made a couple of changes at half time. Colm McMenamon moved into the middle, with Tom Ryan taking up duty on the right wing. A brief revival in Connacht's fortunes followed. Declan Darcy had a shot blocked by Mark O'Connor, but the freakish deflection took the ball to the net, putting an unlikely statistical gloss on a hitherto generally poor afternoon for the Leitrim man. A minute later he added a point from a free and momentarily Connacht were within striking distance.

Munster were having none of it, however. Seamus Moynihan, who had a tremendous game, led the Munster retaliation with a fine point and O'Sullivan and Quane tagged on the scores which seemed to put the match beyond reach for once and for all. Not so. The plot suddenly went haywire.

Darcy's fortunes seemed tied to Connacht's. Both experienced a sudden upswing. Seamus De Paor and Donnellan combined to feed him in an unpromising scramble and Darcy somehow managed to squeeze the ball home. Darcy, McMenamon and Darcy again secured a succession of quick points and suddenly Munster, who had won the game twice over, were facing into extra time.

At 2-10 to 1-13, the whistle went. Paidi O Se's features darkened over like thunder clouds. Connacht were suddenly threatening their first Railway Cup win of any sort since 1986.

Connacht took advantage of the momentum in the first period of extra time. Darcy had two points from frees, and Donnellan a fine score from play, while Liam McHale reminded us of his presence with a superb point. Munster replied with (inevitably) a Ciaran O'Sullivan point, but changed ends trailing by three points.

O'Sullivan, acting now as a one man forward line, scored two points from frees after the switch to put Munster breathing down Connacht's collar once more, but Declan Darcy restored the lead to a couple of points with just two minutes remaining.

Munster went in search of a goal. All they got was a point from Frankie Griffin. The final whistle marked another step in the Connacht revival.