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Boyne made the long trip to Yeats territory to make their historic debut in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League. This game saw the respective champions of Junior rugby in Leinster and Connacht the previous season pitted against each other in their opening match in this league. Whilst Boyne were entering new ground, the home side were returning to senior rugby having lost that status back in 1998. The Sligo grounds are situated in the shadow of Knocknarea on one side where legend has it, on its peak, is the burial place of Queen Maebh. However, John Kinsella and his team did not come to admire the scenery nor, indulge in the myths and legends that surround the area. They came on a mission to, first of all, dispel the notion that the north western side would have beaten them should there have been a play off the previous season and secondly, to post their intentions of being a strong force in this division.
The pre match hype in Sligo was much the same and the recruitment of several new players to boost their squad, signalled their intention to also perform well at this level. The opening minutes of this game suggested that the home sides boast would prevail. Whether it was the long journey or debut nerves, Boyne were disjointed and insipid during the first half of this game. Sligo were in exhuberent form and delighted their large home support with good rugby that saw them put the visitors under severe pressure for long periods. The big Sligo pack had Boyne floundering in the early stages and it was obvious that they did their homework on the visitors by repeatedly putting kicks into the corners and keeping Boyne on the back foot. They also tested the Boyne defence with these kicks and full back McQuillan, found himself in difficulty on a few occasions. When they didn’t use this ploy, they put the ball through the hands and used their big centre, Fifita, to split the Boyne defence. These plays were having a distinct effect on the game and with Boyne failing to win good platform ball from scrum and lineout they struggled.
Surprisingly, it took a full 13 minutes before the home side registered a score and this came by way of a penalty when Boyne, under pressure, handled in a ruck giving Sligo full back, Butler the chance to knock over the opening score for his side to go 3pts ahead. They had an earlier penalty attempt on 5 mins that went wide. The variety of Sligo tactics was shown 5 mins later when they sent a long kick into the Boyne 22’. Full Back McQuillan fielded well but failed to find touch with his clearance attempt. The Sligo winger gathered and ran back at the Boyne defence. The ball was moved infield and it was Fifita who made the telling burst through the middle to open up the opportunity for his sides first try. They made it a seven pointer with the simple conversion. This pushed the score out to 10pts to no reply from the visitors. The home side were full value for their lead at this stage and an out of sorts Boyne looked like they were in for a drubbing. Their woes were further compounded on the 21st minute when their outstanding Number 8, Eoin Collins, was left writhing in pain following a tackle with a knee injury. He had to leave the action and was replaced by Richard Shuttleworth who moved into the 2nd row with the Conor Walsh moving to blindside W/F and Ciaran Smith taking over the No.8 position. Boyne started to put some patters together and an attack yielded a penalty when Sligo were penalised for obstruction 30 mts out on the left. Kerbey nailed the kick to open his teams account and give them some confidence. This was short lived however, with Sligo increasing their lead with a delightful piece of play from their out half. He spotted space down the left and put in a deft diagonal kick for his winger who collected and sprinted for the line. The Boyne defence did manage to tackle him but he was able to offload his pass inside and Sligo crossed for their second try. They failed with the conversion. Both sides were having an indifferent day with their place kicks. Yet again just before half time, Kerbey gave his side hope with another penalty. Out half Croke, showed his class with a superb chip over the opposition collecting and setting up an attacking move which saw centre Bevan Duffy sprint over the line. However, a forward pass was called and the chance evaporated. Sligo were worth their 15pts to 6pts half time lead in an excellent game of rugby.
If there was drama and thrills and spills in the first half to entertain the crowd, it was nothing to compare to the excitement and drama that was to unfold during the second period. Boyne made some changes at half time bringing in Harry Kennedy to centre and restoring Niall Kerbey to his more accustomed role at full back. The Boyne performance improved immeasurably in the second half with the pack, largely through the outstanding performance of Ciaran Smith at No. 8, starting to gain good possession for their backs. McGrath’s experience at scrum half was also evident and this was his toughest encounter in the Boyne shirt. Bevan Duffy in the centre was always a threat and winger Sherrard proved that he has lost none of his tenacity and speed. Along with the boot of Kerbey and the guile of out half Croke, these were the players who brought Boyne right back into this game. Sligo’s threat in midfield evaporated and their forwards lost their earlier dominance. They lost their impressive No. 7 Rory Kerins for 10 minutes when the touch Judge spotted an indiscretion off the ball. Boyne’s comeback started with a superb try that saw exquisite handling before Bevan Duffy received the scoring pass. It was Sherrard who started off the move down the right with a powerful run into midfield before straightening the line with a series of passes ensuing that led to the try. Kerbey converted to bring his side to within striking distance of the home team. This score came on the 56th minute and was followed up 15 minutes later with another fine try, this time Sherrard being the scorer rather than the provider. It was another fine piece of superb running and handling that preceded the score. Kerbey inexplicably missed the conversion from virtually under the posts. With time ticking down in an enthralling encounter, Sligo proved they were made from stern stuff and took play into the Boyne 22’ following a period of Boyne pressure on their own line. Boyne forced a scrum and McGrath in attempting to intercept was adjudged to have knocked down deliberately. From the resultant penalty, Sligo ran out of defence and took the ball into midfield before lobbing a kick into the Boyne 22’. The Boyne defence were scurrying back in desperate defence and Croke attempted to gather but a penalty was conceded for not releasing. Sligo took a quick penalty and released their outside backs to score in the corner. This score sent their supporters wild with delight and the large contingent of Boyne supporters were disconsolate. Before the drop out, Referee Butler advised both sides that two minutes remained on the clock. Somehow, Boyne managed to win possession and in a controlled sequence of play, went through several phases before snatching the match with the last kick of the game. They ran the Sligo defence ragged and created enough space for full back Kerbey to send over a field goal with the last kick of the match. Delerium and dejection was witnessed when this kick sailed through the posts. The home side were devastated and the visitors have rarely expressed such elation following a victory.
Boyne XV & Replacements: John Kinsella, (Capt), George Cooney, James McKevitt, (Paddy Cooney 50mins); Paddy Muldowney, Conor Walsh; Ciaran Smith, Ian O’Reilly, Eoin Collins (Richard Shuttleworth 21st min Inj); Craig McGrath, Bryan Croke; Eoghan Duffy, Niall Kerbey, Bevan Duffy, Adam Sherrard; Graeme McQuillan (Harry Kennedy H/T). Rpls: Hugh Carolan (10mins, Blood Substitution) Sean Rooney, Michael Hennessy.