Castlebar retained the Cawley Cup at Crowley Park, Glenina, where they defeated Sligo in a thrilling final on Sunday. Castlebar were looking to achieve a historic two-in-a-row in this competition, although the holders were very much the underdogs with Sligo coming off a fine league run and having played in the final of the Connacht Cup. The Mayo side, on the other hand, had an indifferent year, some good wins mixed with quite a few losses. This was a great chance for both clubs to claim honours.
The game started at a ferocious pace, a sign of what was to come all afternoon. Sligo immediately put Castlebar under pressure with kicks into the corner using the tricky wind. However, they lost their out half, Paddy Pearson, very early, which unsettled them somewhat.
Jordan Farrington took over kicking duties and it was he who opened the scoring with a well-struck penalty in the third minute. The early pressure brought another penalty to Sligo but this one was taken by the wind to the left of the upright.
Castlebar had done well to only concede one score and their play improved immensely as the half wore on. They might have felt the game was not going their way as three penalty attempts were taken by the wind from poor enough positions, but that was not the case.
They had kept Sligo in their own half for all of 20 minutes when a fine team move brought the first try of the game. Phase after phase was played from left to right and back again, stretching the Sligo defence, and then Paul Coady offloaded to man of the match Robbie Cusack who slipped through the Sligo defence to touch down near the posts. Ronan Conway converted to give the Mayo team a four-point lead going into the final minutes of the half.
Sligo responded vigorously from the restart and pushed Castlebar right back into their 22 where a penalty by Farrington brought them to within a point.
Further pressure from the restart opened the Castlebar defence for scrum half Frank Feeney to go over. Farrington was on hand to convert. This all happened in a few minutes and things now looked ominous for the Castlebar men with leaving the half time score at Castlebar 7, Sligo 13.
The second half was just as intense and tough as the first. Both teams threatened but it was not until Tadhg Kirby made a great break that a score looked likely. He probably had enough pace to make the line but elected for safety and passed infield from 10 metres, but the pass was knocked on.
Castlebar were magnificent in the ensuing scrum, winning it against the head. Then, when Sligo were caught offside, Cusack converted a difficult penalty to bring Castlebar back into the game. They were now regaining their confidence and pressurised the Sligo defence with good kicking and chipping.
Sligo were caught in possession behind their own line and conceded another penalty for not releasing, which Robbie Cusack again converted to draw level at 13 points each.
The Yeats men still had plenty of rugby left to play and a fine individual run from midfield by Farrington yielded their second try, which went unconverted.
Once again it looked ominous for Castlebar but they kept on playing and when Sligo failed to gather a chip ahead on their own 22-metre line, winger Nigel Byrne sprang to go over for a marvellous try in the corner. The swirling wind again came into play as the conversion was missed.
But Castlebar kept Sligo in their own half for the remainder of the game and Cusack was unlucky not to snatch victory when he was set up for a drop goal attempt. The half ended with Castlebar and Sligo locked on 18 points each and extra time beckoned.
Castlebar seemed to find something extra in the first half of extra time. Time and again they prodded and pressurised their opponents. They had Sligo on the back foot while rucking on the 22 when Christy Cusack spotted a gap on the blind side. He fed Nigel Byrne who once again went over to give Castlebar a vital edge.
The conversion was missed but Castlebar had the upper hand now. They continued to press and once again in the last play of the half Cusack was set up for a drop goal which gave Castlebar an eight-point lead at the end of the first period of extra time.
Sligo couldn't find a way back into the game as Castlebar held out bravely. Tom McAuliffe, Paddy Flannelly, Sean Wooton, Nigel Byrne and Enda Murphy were all excellent throughout but for his superb all-round play and his ability to get scores when they were needed, Robbie Cusack must emerge as the man of the match.
Castlebar: R. Conway, F. Casey, P. Coady, T. Kirby, N. Byrne, R. Cusack, C. Cusack, T. McAuliffe, E. Murphy, P. Flannelly, R. Hughes, S. Wooton, K. Cox, N. Coyle, L. Molloy.
Subs used: D. Staunton, C. Rogan, P. O'Malley, L. Staunton, D. Casey.
Sligo: N. O'Hara, A. Feeney, J. Farrington, G. Foley, J. Rippon, P. Pearson, F. Feeney, M. Fafita, S. Coulter, A. Spring, J. Bowes, J. Wilson, M. Feeney, G. Conneely, A. McHale.
Subs used: R. Mannion, D. Cox, T. Sweeney, P. Mullan, B. Leahy.