Corinthians retained the Connacht Senior Cup in dramatic fashion when they denied city rivals Galwegians in the dying minutes of extra time in a thrilling cup final.
In a game switched to Glenina after the Sportsground was unavailable, both sides were level 18 - 18 at the end of normal time after Galwegians had enjoyed a 15 - 10 half time lead. The home side then took a six-point lead in extra time, before Corinthians claimed the match-winning try. And although Galwegians had a last kickable opportunity in near darkness, young outhalf Tadhg Leader’s effort was narrowly wide.
The visitors made the more enterprising start. Despite missing an early penalty opportunity, Corinthians opened the scoring after eight minutes when lock forward Gary Ward claimed the touchdown from a forward drive and Shane Mullaly added the extras.
However Wegians responded and were rewarded with a Rob O’Beirn penalty after the visitors’ midfield were offside under pressure close to their line, and the home side continued to dominate, taking the lead with their opening try. Captain and winger John Cleary cut through the midfield at pace to score with O’Beirn converting for a 10-7 lead.
However it was short-lived as Corinthians levelled matters with a second Mullaly penalty soon after.
Wegians dominated the second quarter and deservedly went back in front on the half-hour. It resulted from a late tackle on Cleary following a chip ahead, and from the resulting five-metre penalty scrum, a powerful surge fromthe pack resulted in No 8 Eoin McKeon getting the touch down. O’Beirn was wide with the difficult conversion, but he missed a golden opportunity to extend the lead from another penalty attempt after Corinthian outhalf Mullally was sin-binned.
Trailing 15-10 at the break, the Cloonacauneen men also missed a great chance to reduce arrears in the opening minute of the second half, but a penalty in front of the posts sailed wide. However they dominated the third quarter, and eventually were rewarded when sub Mick O’Flynn landed a penalty from close-range after Wegians’ winger Brian Murphy was yellow carded.
With the game poised 15-13 in favour of the home side, Corinthians piled on the pressure, and Wegians substitute back-row Liam Casserly became the second to see yellow in the 75th minute. O’Flynn’s effort rebounded off the post, but the out-half was first to react, reclaimed the ball, and swiftly passed to Cian Begley who dived over in the corner.
O’Flynn’s conversion attempt fell short, leaving the margin 18-15 to the visitors, but a spirited response from Wegians saw them win a penalty near the halfway line deep in stoppage time. Youngster Tadhg Leader struck it perfectly to level the match, and they almost grabbed victory in the dying seconds of normal time when Brian McClearn intercepted a pass near halfway, but the lock forward ran out of gas and support just short of the try-line.
In a dramatic period of extra-time, with light fading fast and conditions increasingly difficult, Galwegians dominated the first extra 10-minute period. Leader was narrowly wide with a penalty effort before landing a close-range effort to put Wegians back in front, and five minutes into the second extra period, he added another to extend the lead to six.
Incredibly Corinthians summoned one last onslaught after Wegians failed to clear their lines and, having pummelled the Wegians try-line near the corner, they swung the ball out wide, and, with the defence stretched, Pat Cunningham crossed. O’Flynn landed the conversion to put the visitors in front by a solitary point.
Galwegians were awarded one last effort to win, but from a difficult angle and in near darkness, Leader’s penalty kick sailed just wide, ensuring Corinthians not only retained the cup but have advanced to the All-Ireland Cup semi-finals in the New Year.
Next up for Galwegians is their re-scheduled AIB League Division 1b game at home to UCC at Crowley Park on Saturday January 8 (2.30pm ).
Galwegians: R O’Beirn; BMurphy (Ross Shaughnessy 70 ), C Conroy, D Clarke, J Cleary (c ); T Leader, B Lee (Ronan Dillon 75 ); J Naughton, C Muldoon, J Stephens; Dave O’Hara (Liam Casserly 50 ), B McClearn; I Cullinane, I Muldoon, E McKeon.
Corinthians: R Kennedy; D Classens, C Begley, W Williams, FGormley; S Mullaly, M Roche; D Buckley, J Merrigan, T Tolan; G Ward, P Cunningham (c ); S Conneely, A Conneeley; L Carpenter. Replacements, M Dolan, B Famasuli, M O’Flynn, D Phelan; S Gerrity.
Referee: Dave Connolly.