Garbally struggle to subdue spirited Saran's


St Saran's odyssey finally culminated in defeat, albeit in the final of the Connacht Schools Senior Cup at Keane Park yesterday. The tiny co-educational school from Ferbane, boasting just 185 male pupils, were contesting their first final, a remarkable achievement given they only embraced the sport on a structured basis four years ago.

St Saran's were invited to contest the Connacht Schools Development Cup and two victories allowed them to earn a place in the quarter-finals of the senior cup. Successful twice more the Offaly school, noted for its strength in colleges GAA, surpassed all expectations with the oval ball.

Yesterday fledgling ambition was dwarfed by the shadow of Garbally College, Ballinasloe, aristocrats of the western province's schools rugby scene: victory brought them a 42nd title. Despite their tradition, Garbally struggled to subdue spirited opponents.

Unfortunately for St Saran's they discovered that honest endeavour and gallantry rarely suffice: a lack of control in contact situations undermined several excellent passages of play.

Players looked to off-load possession in the tackle which pre-empted countless knock-ons.

The losers displayed admirable control in the line-out where Colin Campbell and Gary O'Loughlin responded to William Farrell's largely accurate delivery and while under pressure in the scrums, managed to clear their own ball. They were ultimately undermined by a lack of structure and an appreciation of how to create and exploit space behind the scrum.

Nevertheless they boasted a couple of fine individual performances in Irish Youths panellist, Damien Hunt and centre Damien Flemming. Hunt's line kicking was superb and he proved what a dangerous runner he could be in possession: sadly the latter was at a premium.

Flemming was another who displayed good balance with an eye for a gap but on the few occasions that Garbally's defence was breached some flawed decision making costs two certain tries as players cut back in with a numerical advantage out wide. But St Saran's outstanding performer was flanker and captain Paul Dolan.

The diminutive open-side covered every blade of Keane Park, providing an option for the ball carrier and putting in some punishing tackles.

Garbally were guilty of over elaboration in the three quarter line, too often seeking the solace of the pack on diagonal cutbacks. It was this and some sloppy handling that contrived to keep their opponents in the game longer than territorial dominance might have indicated.

Captain, Alan King will also rue some missed opportunities with the placed ball that would have settled nerves but it was the big out-half who put his team ahead with a third penalty opportunity on 26 minutes. St Saran's number eight Roger Ryan was almost as profligate, missing two first half chances as the half petered out.

Garbally's better rucking technique and the hard work of flankers Mark Sheehan and Ivan Kelly allowed them to rumble forward. King missed another penalty chance as did Ryan before Fergus Lyons was denied a try by a last ditch tackle from fullback Diarmuid Carroll.

The pressure finally told on 54 minutes when Mark McDonnell crossed for a try close to the touchline after good continuity had taken play to within metres of the St Saran's line. King missed the conversion but it hardly mattered as on 66 minutes Kelly scored his side's second try, profiting from Niall Price's loose clearance.

King again failed to add the extra points, a fate that was to befall him again in injury time. The pack again created the opportunity and when the ball was moved wide, Garbally had a huge overlap only for Price to somehow initially prevent a try with a fine tackle.

When the ball was recycled scrum-half Colm Carey had the relatively facile task of diving over from a yard as Garbally finished with a flourish. Garbally's more structured approach had deservedly prevailed but not before the mavericks caused many a furrowed brow among the winners.

There was one glorious moment that encapsulated their free wheeling, off the cuff approach, a lovely reverse pass from fullback Carroll and some Harlem Globetrotteresque interchange of passing.

Irish rugby, Connacht rugby, schools rugby needs more teams like St Saran's. Long may they prosper.

Scoring sequence: 26 mins: King penalty, 3-0; 54: McDonnell try, 8-0; 66: I Kelly try, 13-0; 72: Carey try, 18-0.

Garbally College: B Kelly; R Gibbons, M McDonnell, R Kennedy, F Lyons; A King (capt), C Carey; C Glennon, B Glynn, R Gunning; W Ryan, M Cunnane; M Sheehan, P Fitzgerald, I Kelly. Replacement: S Brennan for Gibbons.

St Saran's, Ferbane: D Carroll; O Geraghty, S Butler, D Flemming, N Price; D Hunt, E Shrahan; C Scott, W Farrell, A Doolan; C Campbell, G O'Loughlin; D Kelly, R Ryan, P Dolan (capt). Replacement: J Mannion for Geraghty.

Referee: B Gillard (Connacht).

The Irish Universitities team to play the Welsh Universities in College Park tomorrow at 4.00 is:

C Healy (UCC); S Doggett (UCC), A O'Shea (UCC), R Wallace (Dublin Univeristy), D Holt (UCC); M McHugh (Dublin University), P Stringer (UCC); A MacWeeney (UCC, capt), G Flannery (UCC), R McCormack (UCD), J Fitzgerald (UCC), C Keane (UCD), J Shine (UCD), D Lane (UCC), D Murphy (UCC). Replacements: D Mescal (UCG), P Archbold (Queen's University), P Barry (UCC), C Joyce (Queen's University), N O'Driscoll (UCD), R Dunlop (Queen's University), W Robb (Dublin University).

The match will be followed by a reunion reception in Trinity Colege in aid of the Irish Universities Development Fund.