Gaelic skills may pay for St Saran's

 

Few can resist the temptation to instal Sligo Grammar as favourites as they enter their 11th Connacht Schools' Cup final since 1980 today at the Sportsground. Opponents St Saran's are better known for their excellence at Gaelic games and will enter their second cup final, having introduced rugby to the school just eight years ago. Based in Ferbane, Co Offaly, St Saran's are closely allied with Buccaneers. Today's final is their second in three years; they lost to Garbally in 1998.

Given the school traditions and the personnel involved, Sligo may have the technical edge, but those who watched St Saran's lose to Garbally in 1998 testify to their excellent ball-handling ability, no doubt acquired from Gaelic football.

Sligo, who have won the cup five times, are the current holders. St Joseph's, Galway, were last year's vanquished and eight players who took part in that match are again available to Sligo.

Up front, the holders can call on Connacht players Mark Richardson, Wesley Maxwell, Niall Carson and William Tindall, who was also an Irish schools' trialist. In the backs, Niall O'Hara, Trevor Sweeney and Gary Boland also boast provincial caps in a well-balanced side.

But the athleticism of St Saran's may be difficult to curb. Having only seriously engaged in rugby for the last five weeks following the GAA season, they are former winners of the IRFU's schools' development award for rugby. They now have two players, front row David Kelly and scrumhalf Conor O'Loughlin, in the Connacht schools' squad. In outhalf Ronan Daly St Saran's also have a prolific goal kicker who landed five penalties and a conversion in the semi-final.

The teams haven't met at senior level, but Sligo can look to their victory over the powerful Garbally College in the quarter-final as well as a 24-7 win against Colaiste Iognaid in the semi-final as reasons to be confident. St Saran's beat Portumna College and St Joseph's to book their appearance at the Sportsground.

ST SARAN'S, FERBANE: S Butler; A Egan, O Geraghty, J Mannion (capt), N Kenny; R Daly, C O'Loughlin; C Scott, W Farrell, C Grogan, C Campbell, E Kelly, C Galvin, R Guinan, D Kelly.

SLIGO GRAMMAR SCHOOL: J McShane; P Feeney, T Sweeney, M Coulter, G Boland; N O'Hara, N Draper; M Richardson (capt), C Adamson, W Maxwell, A Macey, T Richardson, A Noble, N Carson, W Tindall.