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Connacht can still earn Challenge Cup knock-out place despite Exeter loss

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Two try scorer Matt Healy on the attack against Exeter Chiefs during Sunday's European Challenge Cup encounter at the Sportsground. photo Joe O'Shaughnessy.

CONNACHT are down but not out. The province’s season took another turn for the worse at the weekend as their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the European Challenge Cup were dented by a disappointing defeat to Exeter on Sunday.

The 24-33 result at home, coming nine days after Edinburgh put a halt to Connacht’s gallop in the Guinness Pro 12, heaps big pressure on the players to perform this coming weekend in France.

Despite suffering a second consecutive loss at the Sportsground, Pat Lam’s men can still qualify for the Cup quarter-final if they beat La Rochelle away on Saturday, and results elsewhere are favourable.

Any manner of win against La Rochelle will see Connacht advance to the play-offs as one of the three best placed runners-up of the five pools, provided Edinburgh can do them a favour and beat Begles-Bordeaux in a winner-takes-all top of the table clash in pool 4.

There will be much soul-searching in the camp ahead of their visit to Stade Marcel-Deflandre on Saturday (5.30pm) after they blew a winning hand against Exeter.

Leading by 17-10 at the break, Connacht had played most of the rugby, but they were completely steamrolled in the second half by a bruising English Premiership pack that bullied them into submission.

It is worrying that for the second week running, Connacht were beaten up up-front and while they sparkled in the back-line out-wide, matches are won and lost in the forwards battle.

Exeter’s front eight were beasts but the Westerners didn’t do themselves any favours: They finished on the wrong side of a 13-4 penalty count, which is criminal; they conceded countless turnovers, including gifting Exeter a break-away try with a loose pass, and they were second best in the scrum department.

What was noticeable once again is Connacht’s energy levels, the intensity of tackling and competing at the breakdown, was below what is required to win at this level.

They were simply awful in that crucial period of the match, 15 minutes after half-time, when Exeter strangled the hosts with devastating display of power.

Tries from Dean Mumm and Don Armand were converted by Henry Slade, who also landed two penalties, as Exeter turned the screw and went from being seven points down at the break to leading by 13.

Connacht never gave up but the damage was done and they were always chasing for a bonus rather than the win.

They got one bonus – having scored four tries – and they almost earned a second losing bonus only for Darragh Leader’s penalty late-on agonisingly sailed wind.

It was a different story earlier as Connacht started brightly – something they have been struggling to do – with intricate and incisive back play, in particular from winger Matt Healy, giving the crowd something to cheer about. Two-try Healy, who according to the match stats made 152 metres, would certainly have caught the eye of Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt who was in the crowd.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

CITY TRIBUNE

Young Mystics cast their spell over Limerick visitors

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The NUIG Mystics squad that defeated Limerick Sport Husklies in the Women's Divison 1 last Saturday. Back row, from left: Kyle Walsh (assistant coach), Courtney Cecere, Laoise Walsh, Ava McCleane, Olivia Sasse, Sara Messler, Maggie Byrne, and Paul O'Brien (head coach). Front: Meadhbh O'Brien, Hazel Finn, Kara McCleane, Laura Lopez Morera, Caoimhe O'Sullivan, and Aoife Ryan. Missing from photo: Aine McDonagh.

NUIG Mystics made it two wins from two with a five-point win over Limerick Sport Huskies on Saturday in the Women’s Division 1, but there was disappointment for Galway’s other three sides.

Moycullen ran Tralee Warriors close on Sunday in the Men’s Super League but suffered another narrow defeat, having lost on the opening day to NUIG Maree. Maree’s hopes of making it back-to-back wins were ended with a poor fourth-quarter performance away to Neptune on Saturday, the Cork side running out convincing winners; while Titans also suffered a second defeat, going down at home to Dublin Lions.

WOMEN’S DIVISION 1

 NUIG Mystics 65

 Limerick Sport

 Huskies 60

A strong final quarter which saw Irish underage international Hazel Finn rattle in nine points helped Mystics make it two wins from two against a visiting side that was overly reliant on Yuleska Ramirez Tejeda.

The US import returned a stunning 31-point haul for her side, to add to the 27 points she hit on the opening weekend’s 79-76 win over Portlaoise Panthers, but a better spread of a scoring threat for Mystics saw Paul O’Brien’s claim what was at time a scrappy win.

It is a very young Mystics squad this year – there were three 18-year-olds in their starting five on Saturday – but they are mature as players, none more so than Kara McCleane, who finished the game with 23 points.

She drained a three in the first quarter to help Mystics take a 16-11 lead, with McCleane hitting 10 of those points, but the visitors rallied in the second quarter, with Ramirez Tejeda (8) and Taylor Herd (6) helping them draw level at 29-apiece at the break.

Maggie Byrne began to dominate under the defensive boards for Mystics, and when she threw in a big 3-pointer, which was soon followed by one from Finn, Mystics moved into a 41-31 lead early in the third quarter, with the visitors’ first points of the quarter coming just before four of the 120 minutes had elapsed.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Shefflin named as surprise new Galway senior hurling manager for first intercounty role

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Henry Shefflin

Galway GAA are pinning their hopes on one of the greatest hurlers of all time proving that he’s fairly handy at management as well after unveiling Henry Shefflin as the new Galway senior hurling manager.

The shock appointment of Shefflin (42) was confirmed on Wednesday night, catching many people on the hop, including our sister paper, the Connacht Tribune, as it had been widely expected that Davy Fitzgerald was getting the job.

“Galway GAA is delighted to announce Henry Shefflin as the new Galway senior hurling manager,” read a statement posted on the Galway GAA website on Wednesday night.

“Henry’s achievements as a player are unrivalled. As a manager he has guided Ballyhale Shamrocks to All Ireland Club titles in 2019 and 2020. Henry will be joined by fellow Kilkenny man Richie O’Neill as a coach and his management team will be finalised in the coming weeks,” the statement read.

The appointment ends a seven-week period of speculation as to who would replace Limerick native Shane O’Neill who held the position for two years, before announcing at the start of September that he would not be seeking a third year in charge.

He had led Galway to the All-Ireland semi-final in 2020, only to lose to Limerick; before a nightmare 2021 in which Galway failed to win a game in the championship, losing lost to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, and Waterford in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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CITY TRIBUNE

Connacht need the win for two very different reasons

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Abraham Papali’i will be hoping to start against Ulster this Saturday, having come off the bench in last weekend's defeat to Munster. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

By JOHN FALLON

The switch of Connacht’s game against Ulster from the Sportsground to Aviva Stadium was, from the outset, met with not insignificant negativity by some fans and the business community, and with the anticipated attendance expected to be in the region of a disappointing 8,000 or so, some must be wondering if was worth moving the fixture at all.

Two things can alter that. There could still be a decent run on tickets which would make the venture financially worthwhile; and the other is a Connacht victory. A Connacht loss and the forfeiture of home advantage will come into the equation.

It could, equally, be argued that no matter where this game is a played, form so far in the URC suggests an Ulster victory. They are the only side with maximum points, four straight bonus point wins, and Connacht go into it with just one win in four.

Connacht coach Andy Friend says the players and management are not under any extra pressure to win Saturday’s clash.

“No, I don’t think so. I think we’ve got a lot of Connacht supporters who are going to be there. Family and friends are going to be there, so there’s always pressure to try and impress in front of them and to make sure you’re playing the best brand of rugby.

“But I don’t think moving the game to the Aviva has added pressure to us. Certainly, I don’t feel that, and I don’t think any of the players feel that.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

 

 

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