Marist claim Junior Schools Cup crown

13 March 2024

Marist claim Junior Schools Cup crown

Marist College                                 22

(Alex Connor, John Finnan, Darragh Murray tries; Andrew Cotton one pen, two cons)

Sligo Grammar School                  14

(Sam Carnegie two tries, Ronan Mullan two cons)

Kevin Egan at the Dexcom Stadium.  

Marist College are Connacht Junior Cup champions for the 9th time in their history, after they used the experience and maturity they garnered in the last two finals to great effect in the closing stages of their final against Sligo Grammar School at the Dexcom Stadium this afternoon.

This contest doubled up as the league decider after the two sides finished level in the league final played last December and didn’t get to replay. For long stretches of today’s game, it looked like a similar outcome might be on the cards.

The game opened with 28 scoreless minutes, though the action was no less fascinating for that, as there was some intricate back play, good tight control, outstanding tackling and incredible footwork, particularly from the Sligo centre partnership of Kelvin Kalu and Jasper Gimena, and Marist full back Phillip Finan.

Finan, who was winning his second Junior Cup medal after playing a part in Marist’s win between these two sides in 2022, was very dangerous in open play but this afternoon he had to cede player of the match honours to his younger brother John, who was a constant force on and off the ball while operating from the back row.

John’s steal of a Sligo Grammar possession within ten metres of the Marist goal line was the first big play of the game, closely followed by an incredible hit by Gimena on Philip Finan, but in general the play was high tempo, hard hitting, and played between the 22s, awaiting that moment of magic to open things up.

When that moment arrived with half-time looming, it was somewhat out of the blue. Hard carries by Darragh Glennon, Peter Bourke and Evin Claffey allowed the ball to the thrown out to the Marist backs on the Sligo Grammar 22, from where a perfectly-measured skip pass by Darragh Murray opened up the right flank and allowed Alex Connor to gallop in for the opening score.

One magic moment immediately begat another. Ronan Mullan’s hanging restart invited Kelvin Kalu to soar up into the clouds out of traffic and claim possession, putting Sligo Grammar on the front foot immediately. Three phases later, Sam Carnegie crashed over the line, Mullan added the extra points and the contest was finely poised at 7-7 at the interval.

The prospect of another high scoring battle, following on from 53-27 and 36-27 results in the first two games on today’s bumper card at the Dexcom Stadium, looked to be on the cards when John Finan opened the scoring in the second half and Carnegie responded in kind to make it 14-14 early in the second half, but instead the two defences stepped up, with tension increasing accordingly as this final came closer and closer to the point where one score was likely to claim the silverware.  

Thomas Cotton’s penalty with a little over ten minutes to play looked like it might be that score, but Marist left the door open by passing up a similar opportunity from 30 metres out, instead kicking for the corner and failing to hold their lineout possession.

They didn’t add to their score, but the Athlone students did a superb job of pinning Sligo Grammar back in their own half. Kenneth and Kelvin Kalu had some good carries and Sam Carnegie kept up the pressure by hitting the gain line hard and often, but the space that they needed to really open up Marist never really materialised for Sligo Grammar, with their best spell of possession ending without score after Reuben Colleran poached a crucial turnover on the deck going into the last few minutes.

That was to be the last real opportunity for the Grammar School, as there was one more score, but it came to Marist outhalf Darragh Murray in the right corner, assisted by a well-timed Oisín O’Donoghue pass, with what turned out to be the last action of a memorable encounter.

MARIST COLLEGE: Phillip Finnan; Alex Connor, Darragh Glennon, Oisín O’Donoghue, Andrew Cotton; Darragh Murray, Owen Egan; Hugo Hannon, James Kelly, Ciarán West; Peter Bourke, Evin Claffey; Joseph McSharry, John Finnan, Reuben Colleran.

Replacements: Jimmy Walshe for West (59), Brian Rourke for McSharry (59), Senan Nugent for Connor (60+4), Jacob Bourke for Cotton (60+4).

SLIGO GRAMMAR SCHOOL: Kenneth Kalu; Seán Cashell, Kelvin Kalu, Jasper Gimena, Seán Duffy; Luke O’Connor, Matthew O’Grady; Reuben Galvan, Sam Carnegie, Cathal Moffatt; Jack Kells, Reece Hill; Ronan Mullan, Aaron Martin, Alastair Hewson.

Replacements: Ollie Isherwood for Duffy (3), Shane Murtagh for Isherwood (60+4).

Referee: Siobhán Daly