Sligo Grammar School 8 :: Marist College, Athlone 5
There were scenes of jubilation and unrestrained joy at the Galway Sportsgrounds on Wednesday last, when after a fiercely contested Connacht Junior Schools final, Sligo Grammar School emerged victorious over Marist College, Athlone, in an absorbing game. After an encounter marked by admirable commitment and sportsmanship from both sides, the vociferous Sligo supporters were ecstatic when Connacht Branch Vice-President, Mick Grealish, presented the Connacht Tribune Cup to the winning captain, John Healy.
The game was played in extremely windy conditions,and the gale blew directly down the field.Grammar School faced the elements in the first half,and they started tentatively. A few missed first up tackles put them in some difficulty, as Marist spun the ball wide at every opportunity. It certainly did look ominous for the Sligo school, when wing forward, Conor Fitzgibbon, scored in the corner after 3 minutes, to put his side 5-0 ahead, although out-half, Jack Carty, failed with the difficult conversion.
This set-back certainly roused Grammar School, and for the remainder of the first half, they took on Marist up front with tremendous success. There is a well worn rugby cliche that forwards win games, and that backs embellish games, and the veracity of that was certainly borne out in this final.
As a unit, the Grammar School pack were immense, as facing the gale they picked and drove at their opponents, and gained huge tracts of territory. Their ball retention was exemplary,as they continually took the game to Marist. All eight forwards were heroic, but in No.7, Thomas Ferrari, the winners certainly had the ‘man of the match’. A doubtful starter, because of an ankle injury until just before kick-off, he understandably tired in the last quarter, but his performance overall could be described as awesome. In terms of tackling, ball carrying and causing mayhem at the breakdown, this was a tour de force performance from a player who looks destined to have a great future in the game.
Ferrari was not the only hero in the pack. Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill made an enormous contribution also, with some outstanding line-out work, as well as some great ball carrying which constantly tested the Marist defence. Tight head prop, Blyth McCormack was another to shine, as his work in the set pieces, and his straight running were very impressive. In the back row both David Heath and Jack Roberts also played impressively, and their tackling was excellent. Indeed a brilliant last ditch tackle by Roberts on out-half, Jack Carty, midway through the second half, probably prevented a try, which could have changed the course of the game.
Elsewhere in the pack, loose-head, Guillo Schinaia, and hooker, Donal Rooney, performed very well in a dominant front row, while Colin Goulden worked hard in the second row.
The Grammar backs defended very well, and put together some penetrating attacking moves, but could not effect a breakthrough against the tightly marshalled Marist defence. Team captain, John Healy, made some incisive breaks, but the cover defence held him out. The McGoldrick brothers, Keith at inside centre, and Jason at full-back, were excellent, while left winger, Jonathan Beirne showed great pace and always threatened danger. On the right wing, Charlie Barrett defended well. Grammar School had an accomplished half back pairing in Enda Gavin and Eoin Doherty. Gavin’s service was very crisp and his decision taking was excellent. Doherty again demonstrated his innate footballing skills, highlighted by his winning drop goal, which would have done justice to Ronan O’Gara, and his positional kicking was also very good. After his penalty exhibition in the semi-final his gilt edged penalty miss in the second half was uncharacteristic, which happily did not prove to be costly to his team.
As stated, the Athlone school got a dream start with a try after only 3 minutes. After 9 minutes, following some inspirational play by the pack, Grammar were back on level terms. The pack made inroads with a series of ‘pick and drives’, close to the Marist line, hooker, and Donal Rooney used his power to crash over near the left corner for a deserved equaliser. Grammar continued to dominate, although Marist had an opportunity to lead at the break, but Carty’s 33rd minute penalty from 45 metres was short.
With the wind at their back, Grammar opened confidently in the second half. After two minutes, out-half, Doherty dropped a peach of a goal to put them ahead, 8-5. Although they dominated territorially, Grammar could not add to their tally, and this certainly put their large band of supporters on tenterhooks, as Marist always looked to counter attack. The final whistle, after four minutes of added time, co-incided with a kickable penalty to Sligo, which was dispatched to touch, and cue the pitch invasion and the celebrations.
This victory had its genesis in the excellent game plan devised by coach, Jimmy Staunton and his assistant, Simon Galvan. By taking on and subduing the Marist pack, and denying space to out-half, Jack Carty, who scored 16 points in a superb semi-final display, they certainly adopted the correct strategy. To complete the league/cup double in their first year at the helm is a magnificent achievement, which augurs well for rugby in Sligo Grammar School and in Sligo RFC in the future.
Sligo Grammar School: Jason McGoldrick, Charlie Barrett, John Healy [c.], Keith McGoldrick, Jonathan Beirne, Eoin Doherty, Enda Gavin, Guillo Schinaia, Donal Rooney, Blyth McCormack, Colin Goulden, Diarmuid O’Dowd-Hill, Jack Roberts, David Heath, Thomas Ferrari. Subs: Ivan Donoghoe, Eoin Kilroy, Robert Smith, Simon Mullaney, Michael Martin, Enda Cawley, Nathan Cafolla, Jonathan Draper.
Marist College: Robert Henshaw, Emmet Heavin, Anthony Cassidy, David Fagan, Brian Gill, Jack Carty [c.], Barry Digby, James Donoghue, Steven Dowling, Glen Carey, Tadgh Hennessy, Christie Haughian, Eunan McBrearty, Aidan Connaughton, Conor Fitzgibbon. Subs: Dylan Lynch, Michael Duddy, Sebastian Ryan, Tony Deehan, Ryan Sheridan, Cian O’Murchadha-Flynn, Conor Seery.