Sligo Grammar School 28 Marist College, Athlone 7
Sligo Grammar School crowned an incredible and unbeaten season with an emphatic Connacht Senior Cup final win this afternoon at the Sportsground in Galway, as their superior power and experience eventually wore down a serious challenge from a very youthful Marist Athlone side, that fielded six players from last year’s successful Junior Cup team.
With a whole host of Connacht academy and schoolboy players in their ranks, the 2022 league and cup double winners were hotly fancied to make it two doubles in as many seasons against a Marist side whose win over Summerhill College in the semi-final was the biggest shock of the 2023 schools’ cup season in the province.
Yet it was the midlanders who took the initiative from the off, controlling possession and territory for the opening quarter of an hour and coming closest to opening the scoring when fullback Danny Reid crossed the Sligo Grammar line in the left corner, but knocked on in his attempt to touch down between two Sligo defenders.
Outstanding counter-rucking and poaching at the breakdown was the key ingredient for Marist, but their Achilles heel was tackling, and they paid a heavy price for that failing when Sligo Grammar school opened the scoring in the 15th minute through a magnificent solo effort from George Barlow.
There looked to be no threat when the winger took possession on the halfway line with three Marist defenders lurking and ready to crash him into touch, but he danced his way out of trouble and then exploded through the line to open up a straight run under the posts.
Marist fell further behind to an Earl Norris penalty in front of the posts but they gave themselves a lifeline before half-time when outhalf James Clarke’s skip pass put Tom Sheehan into space, and Sheehan duly sent Conor Dowling over in the corner.
Charlie O’Carroll’s touchline conversion made it 10-7 at half-time, but Sligo Grammar used their experience brilliantly after half-time and controlled possession and territory, without making another breakthrough until very late on. Ambrose Bamber, Diarmaid O’Connell and Matthew Ryan were outstanding in controlling the play, consistently hitting rucks and giving Sligo Grammar front foot ball.
Two further Earl Norris penalties made life that bit more comfortable for Sligo and as their maturity and physicality came to bear, they were able to set up late tries for Jacob Kilcoyne and Arann Platt, rubber stamping their status as the dominant side in Connacht Schools rugby.
SLIGO GRAMMAR SCHOOL: A Harte; D Holmes, G Murtagh, C Creaven, G Barlow; E Norris, G McGinty; A Platt, Q Moughty, J Deegan; M Ryan, P Wright; D O’Connell, D McCloat, A Bamber.
Replacements: J Kilcoyne for Norris (7-10 mins, blood), M Hunter for Wright (h-t), Kilcoyne for McGinty (52), F Ellison for Ryan (67), M Holmes for D Holmes (70).
MARIST COLLEGE: D Reid; C Dowling, T Cotton, T Sheehan, T Burke; J Clarke, C O’Carroll; L Cassidy, E Naughton, B Foxe; C Sheehan, L Giles; P Egan, C Kelly, N Tallon.
Replacements: E McMickan for Foxe (h-t), Foxe for Naughton (50 mins), É McDonnell for Burke (54), S Doyle for Kelly (62), V Meyer for Sheehan (69)
Referee: Johnny Quinn