After eight straight losses, Galwegians managed their first win of the season at home to Nenagh Ormond on Saturday, claiming the points by 20-12.
It was hard earned as they were made to fight every inch of the way, but it is a real Christmas boost for Brian McClearn’s side as they head into the Chrismas break.
Marooned at the bottom of the table before kick-off, this was a must-win game against the team immediately above them in the table - albeit with an 11-point difference. But on Saturday the young Wegians delivered in impressive fashion with a defiant and dogged display.
Playing against a strong swirling first-half breeze, Wegians were edging the opening salvos, and they were rewarded for their dominance when they scored the opening try in the seventh minute. It was the best score of the game, and it followed some patient probing play by both forwards and backs.
When centre Brian Murphy sent winger Sean O’Sullivan clear into space, he found the supporting prop Ryan Lomas, who cleverly drew the covering tackle before finding scrumhalf Barry Lee on his inside shoulder. The Headford man marked his recent return to first-team action by grounding the ball near the left corner. Although Ewan Strang was wide with the difficult conversion, this was the perfect tonic for Wegians side who needed an early confidence boost.
When Wegians failed to secure the restart, this allowed the visitors settle into their stride and set up a platform for their big forward pack to rumble forwards. Centre Alex Ropeti had a chance to open their account with a straightforward penalty, only to push his effort wide. However when Wegians failed to clear their lines, Nenagh regained the initiative shortly afterwards and prop Fergal Brislane barrelled his way over following a succession of pick and drives. Ropeti was wide with the conversion to leave it 5-5 coming up at the end of the first quarter.
On 28 minutes the Blues hit the front again. When Nenagh were penalised for off-side, winger Ewan Strang landed the kick to put his side 8-5 to the good. Wegians, with the upper hand, set up another attacking platform when outhalf Dave Clarke found a great touchfinder on 35 minutes, and sub prop Conor Kyne appeared to score their second try, but it was unsighted by referee Owen Watson. However, when Nenagh flanker Evan Murphy was binned for a deliberate knock-on from the resulting play, Wegians grabbed a second bite at the cherry. From a quickly taken penalty five metres out, the big Moycullen man charged through the Nenagh pack like a rampaging bull, and Watson had no hesitation in awarding the try, which was unconverted for a 13-5 lead.
Galwegians held onto their eight-point lead at the break despite tense moments when the visitors were camped on their line. However a superb defensive effort saw them thwart a late flurry of scrums to hold onto their lead.
With the swirling wind now behind their backs and the rain beginning to intensify, the Blues looked well placed to kick on. However the visitors refused to read that script. With some key impact subs, including prop Johnny Hayes, their forward-based game saw them dominating the early exchanges. On 52 minutes they were awarded a penalty try when the Blues were unable to deal with a 5m scrum shove, and at 13-12 it was very much game on.
The visitors kept up the pressure and had their hosts pinned deep in their half for a lengthy period before Clarke eventually cleared his lines with an excellent kick to take play up to halfway. When Nenagh were unable to secure their lineout, the Blues took full advantage on 71 minutes. After a series of forward surges and some excellent handling brought play into the visitors' 22, flanker Ronan Moore finished well to score a vital third try. Strang’s conversion started well before drifting towards the left-hand post, and although the touch-judges initially signalled it wide, referee Watson signalled it good, giving the hosts a crucial eight-point cushion.
Cue the inevitable Nenagh onslaught forcing Wegians to dig deep, and they needed to with 14 men in the final minutes after debutant centre Tommy Downes was binned.
As at the end of the opening half, Galwegians were forced to produce a determined defence to resist another Nenagh 5m scrum before referee Watson blew for full-time, signalling jubilation from the home team and supporters.
The win reduces the margin at the bottom from 11 points to seven, opening up a chink of light in the club's fight against the drop.
This marks the end of the first-half of the season, and next up for the Blues is the return fixture when they make the trip to Tipperary on January 19, in what will be another must-win game for both sides.
Galwegians XV: Rory Gaffney, Ewan Strang, Brian Murphy, Tommy Downes, Sean O’Sullivan, Dave Clarke, Barry Lee, Fiachra Finnegan, Andrew Paton, Ryan Lomas, Michael O’Donnell, Anthony Ryan (capt ), Ronan Moore, Paul Hackett, Matt Towey. Subs: Ibrahim Afolob, Conor Kyne,James Kennedy, Daniel Faulkner, Eamon Dowling.