Presentation Headford 19
(Ryan Smith, Ross Gibbons, John McCarthy tries; Ben Donnelly two cons)
Sancta Maria Louisburgh 0
Kevin Egan at the Sportsground.
Presentation Headford, winners of the Connacht Schools Senior Development Cup four years ago, are back on the winners podium after they produced a strong all-round performance to overcome Sancta Maria of Louisburgh in the first of three Senior Cup finals played at the Sportsground this afternoon, the ‘C’ Cup final.
They wasted no time in getting into this afternoon’s contest either, stealing an early march when Ben Donnelly pounced on an overshot Sancta Maria lineout and set up a good attacking platform inside the opposition 22.
After going through three phases, it looked like the West Mayo school had repelled the danger, in small part through a powerful stand-up tackle from Finlay Gibbons, but their reprieve was short lived as Presentation captain Ryan Smith was able to dart through a gap and touch down for the game’s first try, with Donnelly adding the extra points from the conversion.
The pressure kept coming throughout the first quarter, with huge questions asked of Sancta Maria as they tried to hold out in the face of continuous ownership of the ball from the Galway side.
On three separate occasions Sancta Maria’s superb goal-line defence earned relieving penalties to clear their lines, but they struggled to retain possession once they put boot to ball, save for a brilliant breakaway run from Gibbons on the left hand touchline, which might have led to a try had he got his pass away to Alex Diamond Keane. Instead an incredible last gasp tackle from Iarlaith Kelly saved the situation and secured the turnover by forcing Gibbons out over the line.
When the second try came just before the 25 minute mark, it was slightly self-inflicted from a Louisburgh point of view, as their attempt to run the ball out of their own 22 led to Danny Hedley getting isolated and conceding a holding-on penalty.
Turning down the option of easy points, Headford kicked for the corner, won their throw and set about working the ball through the hands. Once Emmanuel Oifoh took out extra defenders by straightening up and running hard at the Sancta Maria line, there were extra numbers out wide. A deft sidestep from Ross Gibbons was enough to give the centre a simple run in, with Donnelly again on target from the conversion.
That trend of Headford controlling the play continued up until half-time, when Sancta Maria launched a rare attack but couldn’t break through, instead getting pinged for an offence in a ruck in the last action of the half.
If anything, that brief foray forward served as a warning to Presentation Headford, who picked up where they left off early in the second half by dictating the play and controlling where on the field the contest was played. Patrick Derrig was a strong presence in the breakdown and in the lineout, Oifoh and Smith continued to carry the ball effectively in the loose, but they also got a huge impact from the bench in the shape of Nathan Reilly, whose first touch after coming on was to rob a Sancta Maria lineout and set up another key Headford possession inside the 22. Oifoh again put the defence on the backfoot with a strong run and it fell to Reilly to play a gorgeous flat pass that skipped two players and left John McCarthy with a simple finish.
To Sancta Maria’s immense credit their effort levels never dropped, inspired by a totemic showing from Hogan. The centre was the key man in attack and defence as well as the main kicker, and he came desperately close to crossing the whitewash with one pick and go penalty late in the game, only for Headford to again come up trumps when their defence was tested. Flanker Jack Reynolds came up with the big turnover to ensure the their clean sheet was preserved, and they would be able to savour the last few minutes before lifting the trophy.
Presentation Headford: Iarlaith Kelly; Conor McGaugh, Ross Gibbons, Adam Newell, Shane Reilly; John McCarthy, Ben Donnelly; Thomas Heneghan, Ryan Smith, Liam Hyland; Emmanuel Oifoh, Dara McDonagh; Jack Reynolds, Patrick Derrig, Morgan Lee.
Replacements: Thomas Smith for McDonagh (46), Joshue O’Neill for Reilly (58), Paddy Butler for Heneghan (70), Dara McNally for McGaugh (70).
Sancta Maria Louisburgh: Danny Hedley; Adam Diamond Keane, Matthew Hogan, Darren Scanlon, Cormac Lyons; Ben Cooper Ruane, Darragh Heneghan; Keelan Foy, Richard Mannion, Jack Munnelly; Kevin McCann, Noah Menton; Matt Forde, Leon Hadden, Finlay Gibbons.
Replacements: Nathan Reilly for Forde (59), Cillian White for Diamond Keane (59), Matt Forde for Hadden (66), Morahan O’Toole for Forde (69).
Referee: Mike Goode