2011/12 Development League champions Sligo beat NUIG Women on neutral territory last Thursday, but it was a far cry from the 55-nil drubbing of last winter.
Buoyed by a pre-season victory over Castlebar and a narrow two-point loss to reigning Connacht Cup champions Buccaneers in the first round, it was a confident NUIG which tore into Sligo in Tuam under lights.
Sligo, denied two rounds of competitive rugby thus far through tragedy, had lost little of the flair on show throughout last winter, freeing the ball in the tackle rather than building phases on the ground.
NUIG struggled to get hands on the ball, but responded to the dearth in possession by getting hold of as much opposition as possible. Despite a veritable wealth of ball, Sligo had managed no score 14 minutes in.
Hannah Davey, Grainne Blount and Ruth Goodwin (10,12 and 13) masterminded much of Sligo’s play thereafter and worked an overlap on the quarter-hour mark for post first points. Elusive fullback Leona Moran proved a handful carving off large tracts of territory with ball-in-hand but found college defenders equal to the challenge for the most part.
For college, Eliza Kelly and Lizzie McKeever were immense. Kelly threw her hulking four-foot frame at the Blount/Goodwin twin tower combo opposite her in the midfield and proved stoic throughout. McKeever, covering a front row absence on Thursday evening, plied her midfield back and loose forward skills well in broken play. Her 80-minute performance testified to a hardy resolve which should echo throughout the Dangan camp.
Second-rowers Rita Breen and Grainne Donnellan toiled well throughout, Breen playing a fourth loose forward’s role everywhere but the set piece. She found reward for her efforts 15m from the lefthand touch on the end of a short ball from skipper Lou Fitzgerald.
Outhalf Shauna O’Brien registered the students’ only other score and while her educated right boot failed to post any extras, time and again it forced Sligo to scramble on defence when tactically employed. She raked off 40 and 50m throughout both halves to alleviate pressure when pressed.
The 24-10 scoreline fairly reflected the fixture in the finish, but for sustained periods NUIG looked every bit a championship-winning side. But for three or four costly errors, NUIG could well have held Sligo tryless. Against such a slick northern unit however, those mistakes seldom go unpunished.
NUIG meets Carlow IT in Dangan on Wednesday in its first CUSAI-competition fixture this winter.
By Luke O’Donnell.