In one of the great on-field rivalries of sport in the city, Galwegians took the honours over Corinthians by 18-10 in their Ulster Bank League under lights at Cloonacauneen on Friday.
Off the field the sporting camaraderie was led by Corinthians’ president, Ciaran Smyth, who led a tribute to his former friend and Galwegian clubman Billy Quinn who passed away last week. Quinn would have been delighted to see his Blues side return to the top of the division 1B table with Ballymena suffering their first defeat to their Ulster rivals Malone.
Given their standing in the league table, Galwegians might have been expected to romp home, but in local derbies that superiority was neutralised by the competitive edge that has always existed between these two fine stalwarts of Connacht rugby. And it showed in the opening half when Corinthians, albeit with the wind advantage, took a 10-0 lead, cutting open the Wegian defence with confident running, imbued by their recent victory over Buccaneers. However a one-side penalty count and three sinbinnings proved costly for the home side as Galwegians controlled the second half and made it count on the scoreboard.
The home side quickly found their stride, and although outhalf Dave Murphy missed an early touch-line penalty, he was on target minutes later when Wegians were pinged for offside.
Wegians, despite a superior scrum, found it difficult to establish territorial control, thanks in part to a well-organised defence from the home side, some errant kicking, and some unforced errors. A knock-on provided Corinthians with a great chance to set up camp inside their opponents’ half and they capitalised when Joey Merrigan secured possession from the restart. Fullback Darin Classen made ground before centre David Panter finished off with aplomb, cutting through the cover to post the game’s opening try, which Murphy converted for a 10-0 lead.
The visitors, however, responded, and through their dominant pack won several penalties, one of which led to flanker Mark Kelly’s yellow card. Although Wegian replacement outhalf Ross Shaughnessy missed two kickable penalties before the break, the visitors quickly regained the initiative after the restart, setting up camp on the Corinthians’ line.
After a yellow card for the home side’s prop Jamie Dever, Galwegians’ pressure was eventually rewarded when scrumhalf Barry Lee fed fullback John Cleary, and his offload in the tackle supplied winger Colin Conroy who dived over in the corner. Although Shaughnessy missed the touchline conversion, he added a penalty two minutes later, reducing the deficit to 10-8.
In the face of a mounting penalty count, Corinthians found it difficult to establish any territorial control, and worse followed when Classen was also sent to the line.
It enabled Galwegians to regain a foothold and, when Shaughnessy added another penalty, the visitors went in front for the first time. Dominating thereafter, they sealed the win on 69 minutes when centre Brian Murphy burst through at pace to evade the cover and touch down for a try. The straightforward conversion gave them a 18-10 cushion from which the hosts could not recover.
Corinthians now face Belfast Harleqins at Corinthian Park, while Galwegians host Malone, both on Saturday at (2.30pm ).
Corinthians: D Classen, D McDermott, D Corcoran, D Panter, D Griffin, C Murphy, M Murphy, A Bane, J Merrigan (capt ), J Dever, U Dillane, G Warde, P O'Toole, M Kelly, E Masterson. Replacements, C Hansbury, C Raftery, D Phelan, D Keogh, C Ryan.
Galwegians: J Cleary; J Harrimate, B Murphy, G O’Brien, C Conroy; D Clarke, B Lee; J Naughton, J Dinneen, D McHugh; M Cummins, B McClearn; M Towey, P Hackett, A Ryan. Replacements, R Shaughnessy, M Dever, R Moore, P O’Donnell, P McCreanor.