Galwegians' disputed penalty clinches cup

 

THERE MAY be a certain neatness about the notion of this, the centenary final of the Connacht Senior Cup, going to one of the pioneering clubs in the game West of the Shannon. But in capturing the Smithwick's sponsored trophy for a 24th time at the Sports Ground yesterday, Galwegians were acutely aware that the result could just as easily have gone the other way. winning, 68th-minute score which broke the wonderful resistance of junior side Connemara, was the source of considerable, post-match controversy. The crucial points came from the boot of Galwegians out-half Eamonn Molloy, with a 35-yard penalty goal.

Referee Eddie Walsh had no difficulty in identifying the ruck infringement which resulted in Molloy's kick. But seconds before that, he seemed to be unsighted for an apparent knock-on from the same player.

Galwegians just about deserved their win, if only on the basis of overall possession. For an extremely courageous Connemara side, however, it was a pity that the winning score wasn't more clear-cut. One could certainly feel for their skipper, Henry O'Toole, when, fighting back the tears, he said afterwards: "I'd love to have won it for them - a quare bunch of guys."

Yet in a way, a Connemara victory would have made nonsense of one of the game's most crucial sources of possession. The truth is that they were virtually wiped out in the line-out in which the Galwegians second-row Noel Murtagh was remarkably dominant. And when he failed to make contact, Pat Casserly was invariably on hand.

If Connemara's height had matched their hearts, they would have been unbeatable. As it was, they competed marvellously against the odds though, significantly, without ever taking the lead.

Galwegians, who were gaining their first Cup triumph in 10 years, were solid rather than skilful. This was reflected in the fact that they seriously threatened the Connemara line only once during the entire match. For the most part, they depended on the dominance of their pack, while defending competently.

It was a low-risk approach, particularly with such a fine place-kicker in their ranks as Molloy, whose only notable miss was in the opening minute, when he was short and wide from 40 yards. And their tactics were enhanced by the fine covering of a back row of Manus Higgins, Neil Taylor and number eight Graham Heaslip.

The match wasn't long in progress before the enormous influence of O'Toole became a parent in Connemara's efforts. They looked to the former Connacht full-back for most of their attacking ideas and he was rarely found wanting, joining the line at every given opportunity.

O'Toole was involved in a brilliant attack in the 20th minute when left-wing Tommy Burke was bundled into touch only yards from Galwegians' line. And the other wing, Pat O'Neill, was similarly close to scoring a try just on half-time when the ball bounced favourably inside, from a break down the right.

Meanwhile, the fact that Connemara succeeded in limiting their opponents to a 3-0 lead until early in the second half, gave promise of a possible upset - it would have been the first Senior Cup success for a junior side since Ballina's triumph in 1979.

They drew level at 3-3 in the 46th minute. The effort had been so great, however, that they made the classic error of a lapse in concentration, just when they desperately needed to consolidate. So it was that Galwegians regained the lead two minutes later.

Connemara's open-side flanker, Bernard Keaney, was the game's outstanding forward - quite an achievement given that Galwegians' best try-scoring chance came from their pack. It happened in the 72nd minute when a determined surge, spearheaded by Heaslip and loose-head prop Pat Leahy, brought them within feet of the Connemara line. But the junior side refused to yield.

Still, Galwegians held on to bridge the longest barren gap in their history.