Champion Team Upsets Team of Champions

Sun, snow and sub-Arctic temperatures under-ran the Supermac’s Connacht Schools senior league showdown but served only to chill the champagne…champagne football that is.IMG_6093_640x427

As scintillating and expansive a final as any, Tuesday afternoon’s latter Marist v Sligo senior schools fixture bucked the tight and uninventive trend which plagues so many open grade championship deciders. In the finish, Sligo’s more finely-tuned talent and individual flair managed only eight, not enough to offset the clinical, concerted and dogged determination (and 15 points) of Marist Athlone who secured first blood through a 33-minute penalty, and the all-important final score by way of a spectacular Thomas Seery corner flag try. 

IMG_5880_640x427While there was no shortage of individual spark from Athlone’s finest, Grammar showed more of it, and more often. Bizarrely, the disparity did not carry over to the scoreboard. The difference throughout the 80-minute highlight package was in defence.

Athlone, perhaps conceding their own inability to outscore the northerners, focused their energies on stopping Sligo rather than outscoring them, and at all times tackled in twos and threes, employing every available tactic to slow opposition continuity, and dictate the pace of the game. Sligo found no major issues securing first half possession stakes but simply couldn’t do what they wanted with it. Marist, by contrast, sought holes and arms among opposition tacklers where Sligo gunned for shoulders and chests. The result was a freer contact area within which Marist’s ball-carriers offloaded to close-in runners.IMG_5915_640x427

Marist skipper and midfield maestro Rob Henshaw, like colleagues inside and out of him, opted for textbook rugby safety ahead of any chancey money-balls. His patience paid off. While such a strategy risks stifling a game, perfect execution of those basics is a virtue difficult to contend with, and one which ultimately sunk Sligo. And near perfect Marist were.

Victorious coach Mick Loftus struggled to isolate individual standouts and said it was an occasion where everything worked in unison.

“They’ve been so good in patches for so long, and we knew we had strengths in all facets of a rugby game – we just hadn’t strung them all together in the same match. On Tuesday we did.

IMG_5945_640x427“We spent a weekend late in October over in Gloucester and the lads all responded very well to that. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in cohesion, they seem to know each other a lot better these days. Yesterday was our first senior title. It’s a very good week to be part of this College.”IMG_5949_640x427

Tuesday’s final, separated by seven very simple points, was a fitting tribute to the Supermac’s Connacht Schools senior league competition, a hotly-contested campaign throughout these past months. Connacht Rugby President John Carr and domestic rugby manager Lyndon Jones proffered special congratulations to both contingents for such an attractive spectacle: the rugby equivalent of a snow-filled silk purse from a frostbitten sow’s ear, Mr Carr said.

IMG_6073_640x427Supermac’s community support and brand manager Eilish Fleming said Supermac’s was proud to support underage rugby in Connacht, and congratulated both Sligo Grammar’s juniors and the Athlone Marist seniors on their hardfought victories in Ballyhaunis on Tuesday afternoon.

“Rugby is one of Connacht’s most high-profile pursuits at the moment and it’s only natural Supermac’s as one of the region’s most high-profile brands supports that growth at grassroots level. Congratulations to all who played in and supported this magnificent finals fixture,” she said.

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photos / editorial : Luke O’Donnell CBIRFU

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