BUCCANEERS-CORINTHIANS were pipped 20-17 by Galwegians Seconds in a thoroughly engrossing Connacht Womens Cup final played at Galway Sportsground on Sunday. The ubiquitous breeze at the venue was blowing strongly upfield towards the graveyard end on a bright and dry afternoon and the Galwegians girls had first benefit of the wind. They enjoyed early territory but the combination team struck first with a length of pitch score. With the ‘Bluebelles’ inside their opponents 22, Rhiann Heery intercepted and made big yardage before linking with Hazel Kilduff who stormed forward. She sucked in the exposed cover and sent the supporting Aoibhe Kelly in for a 9th minute try at the posts with the scrumhalf converting her own touchdown. This was just the start that the new alliance needed to settle them into their joust with the fancied Wegians.

However, Galwegians hit back swiftly, the ‘Barbarians’ not dealing with the restart and Mollie Walsh got in for a try wide on the left to open their account. Then sluggish covering back by Buccs/Cors to a long kick saw Aoife Williams turn over possession to the Tribeswomen and their big No.8 Lea Turner could not be stopped getting their second try to put them 10-7 ahead. The Barbarians defended resolutely as the half progressed but a handling error just before the break led to the light blues third try scored by Jordan Hopkins that gave Galwegians a 15-7 lead at the interval.

Buccaneers-Corinthians, who wore the Corinthians colours in the first half, reappeared for the second in Buccaneers jerseys and went on the offensive from the restart. Their higher tempo saw Heery make another super break up the left wing but she unfortunately put a foot in touch just before grounding the ball. Four minutes into this half, Kilduff made a smashing fetch but a knock-on denied another good try opportunity. Then Orla Fenton won good lineout ball shortly afterwards and, following an excellent maul, Mele Kiripati got over for a 47th minute unconverted try.

Restarts remained problematic for the ‘Barbarians’ and after 51 minutes flying Wegians winger Sinead O’Brien raced away to set up her side’s fourth try. But the combination team were now forcing the pace and really putting it up to the favourites. Heery set off on another superb mazy run that looked like it would yield a try, only to be stopped by a high tackle. Despite a chat with a touch-judge, the match officials deemed a penalty as the appropriate punishment although it looked a clearcut yellow card to many. That decision was then quickly compounded when the Buccs-Cors forwards’ pick-and-goes brought them to the Galwegians line where Hopkins somehow snaffled possession. However, the big centre was driven back over her own tryline where she had no option but to ground the ball. Incredibly, referee Kevin Bolger awarded a goalline dropout to the ‘Bluebelles’ instead of a five-metre scrum to the attacking team! In hindsight, this was to prove the pivotal episode of a rousing contest.

Nevertheless, the Buccaneers-Corinthians girls maintained their momentum in the face of stiff resistance and a determined break by pocket dynamo Aoibhe Kelly brought the ball to the Galwegians line where she had Sharon Hynds in support to score an unconverted try wide on the right. This set up a thrilling finale but try as they might the ‘Barbarians’ just could not get another score and so Galwegians prevailed on a narrow 20-17 margin. The victors had a decided size advantage with powerhouses in centre Hopkins, flyhalf Ann Marie Herward and back rower Turner all capably marshalled by scrumhalf and captain Williams.

But the Buccaneers-Corinthians girls can take considerable pride in not only reaching the final but their contribution to making it such an exciting and finely balanced battle right to the final whistle. First half mistakes made it an uphill battle for them not helped by some officiating decisions at a crucial stage but they can take great pride from their commendable endeavours, particularly as they have not had a huge amount of preparation time. No.8 Mollie Starr was dynamic in the pack where the real star was hooker Kiripati. The skipper (a rarity that an Executive Committee member features on a team!) rolled back the years in the forwards trenches, making numerous carries as she led her younger less experienced teammates of whom Fenton caught the eye. Centres Justine Walsh and especially Heery were constantly endeavouring to go forward while the hardy Kilduff and the pint-sized Kelly were an exciting and courageous half-back combination.

BUCCANEERS-CORINTHIANS:- S.Glenane; A.Earley, J.Walsh, R.Heery, A.Coyle; H.Kilduff, Aoibhe Kelly; X.North, M.Kiripati (captain), L.Egan; N.Byrne, O.Fenton; A.Ni Mhaille, O.Forde and M.Starr. Replacements:- D.Moran (for Egan), Aoife Kelly (for Byrne), S.Hynds (for Glenane), S.Glenane (for Kilduff, inj.), C.Collins, J.Daly, M.Jessop-McLaughlin and G.Mandal.

GALWEGIANS:- M.Walsh; S.O’Brien, I.Delgado, J.Hopkins, C.McCrann; A.M.Herward, A.Williams (captain); R.Dunne, R.Lynch, K.Irwin; C.Killilea, M.Deegan; M.Oung, E.Greally and L.Turner. Replacements:- M.Manon, E.Howard, M.Leli, K.Mannion, H.Vaughan and C.Shally.

Referee:- Kevin Bolger (Connacht).