There will be at least one Mayo side in the final of the Connacht Junior Cup this season, after Castlebar, Ballina, and Westport all booked their places in the final four of the competition last Sunday.
In the all Mayo quarter-final, Castlebar were made to work hard for their win by a battling Ballinrobe side, who had put a disappointing league campaign behind them. They really got cup fever where they won two tough games against Creggs and Tuam on the previous two Sundays to set up last weekend’s clash in Cloondeash.
Castlebar were trailing Ballinrobe by eight points as the game entered its final 10 minutes, but a 17 point haul over the closing minutes, which included two converted tries from David Staunton, saw Castlebar run out 27-18 winners and into the hat for the semi-final.
Ballinrobe stormed into an eight point lead, thanks to an Anthony Coleman try and a Oisín Gill penalty. Castlebar responded with an Aaron Wooton try, while Stephen Rogan kicked a drop goal and a conversion to put Castlebar back into a two point lead. But Ballinrobe weren’t going to bend their knee that easily and a Gill penalty put them 11-10 up at the break. Neil Winters scored Ballinrobe’s second try after a mazy run and Gill converted to put Ballinrobe eight clear, and leave Castlebar looking like they were on the way out. But Peter Bracken’s side held their nerve, when it could have been easy for them to crumble, and the two tries from Staunton along with two conversions and a penalty from Rogan sealed the win and sent them into the last four.
Ballina held firm in Heffernan Park against a gritty Corinthians side to secure a seven point win and put themselves within 80 minutes of the final. Ballina were trailing by 7-3 at the break, but managed to outscore their opponents by 10 points to no score in the final 40 minutes, with Fergal Tully and Kieran Twomey both touching down to add to the penalty kicked by Kevin McCarron in the opening half. That’s four wins in a row for David Newman’s team and they’ll be licking their lips in anticipation of making it five on the bounce when the semi-final comes around.
Westport had a much tougher assignment in their last eight game against NUIG than it looked on paper. With the students in the third tier of junior rugby, and Westport riding high in the top division, the Bulls were the hot favourites for the win. But Westport’s greater experience saw them through in the end to record a nine point win. Conor Hastings touched down for Westport’s first try, which was converted by Seán Tobin. The Westport out-half went on to kick three conversions and a penalty during the 80 minutes. Eoin Joyce touched down for Westport’s second try to put Westport 14-0 up after the extras were added. The students did hit back with a Mark Comerford penalty. Kevin Corcoran added Westport’s third try midway through the second half, but the students responded well with Peter Claffey and Kevin Hearty crossing over for a try, and Comerford converting one of them, but it wasn’t to be for “the college” and Westport held on to book their semi-final spot.
After coming up short in the final last season, JP Walsh’s team will be hungry to get back there again this year and try to put that to rights. The draw for the semi-final is due to take place this coming Sunday evening, with Monivea and Connemara battling it out for the last remaining semi-final spot, after Monivea saw off Buccaneers 22-0 in Athlone last Sunday in a delayed round two game.