Coláiste Einde 23
(Ben Magee, Alexandre Burduli tries; Evan Jennings two pens, two cons, Bryan Casburn pen)
St. Paul’s Oughterard 20
(Eoghan Fahey, Brian McHugo tries; Ryan Roche two pens, two cons)
Kevin Egan at the Sportsground.
The magical ecstasy of victory and the heartbreaking pain of a last-minute defeat was etched onto the faces of the players of Coláiste Einde and St. Pauls of Oughterard this afternoon in the Sportsground, when Bryan Casburn’s penalty with the last play of the game settled a thrilling Connacht Schools Senior “B” Cup final in favour of the city side.
Coláiste Einde’s technical strengths, their superior handling and passing, and the devastating running of Bryan Walsh at the base of the scrum were their trump cards as they got the better of the small west Galway school in the first half, but the sheer athleticism and direct running of the St. Paul’s players set up a thrilling finish, and when a try from captain Brian McHugo was followed up by a fantastic conversion from Ryan Roche, his fourth kick from four attempts, that left the sides all squared up going into the last couple of minutes.
It looked like extra time was not just a possibility, but a likelihood, and given the quality of the fare that preceded the score, no-one would have minded one bit if there were 20 more minutes to be played.
If there was a winner, the smart money was on St. Paul’s, who now had all the momentum. Instead it fell to Bryan Walsh to crown a man of the match performance with one more decisive intervention as he rose up to claim a St. Paul’s lineout and put Coláiste Einde on the front foot. With the ball moving across the line some 15 or 20 metres out from the St. Paul’s line, the defending side gambled on trying to intercept a pass but were instead penalised for offside.
Substitute Casburn stood over his first kick of the day but he made it look like he was knocking them over throughout the 70 minutes, as he bisected the posts to give his side the win.
The early exchanges also belonged to Coláiste Einde, in no small part because of how Riccardo Romboli dictated the play from outhalf, kicking with precision and bringing his three quarter line into the game when the situation dictated. A first attack was repelled thanks to a wonderful tackle from Christopher McDonagh, but the second gave Evan Jennings the chance to strike at goal from 25 metres, and the full back made no mistake.
Right from the restart Romboli chased down his own kick and put Coláiste Einde on the offensive straight away, and after traversing the field twice while going through the phases, they stretched St. Paul’s to the point that Ben Magee had a simple touchdown in the corner, which again was followed by a sublime kick from Jennings.
A penalty after 21 minutes from Ryan Roche and another early in the second half cut the gap right back down to 10-6, and even though Jennings stretched the gap again nine minutes into the second half, by now St. Paul’s were punching holes in the Coláiste Einde back line, thanks in the main to some superb runs from James Lowry, Shane Finnerty and Eoghan Fahey in broken play.
A magnificent crossfield kick from Roche found Fahey for what turned out to be the equalising score once the extra points were added, but that man Walsh again came up trumps with a game changing run, and quick hands between Romboli and Niall O’Neill put the hooker over the line.
The pressure was squarely on the shoulders of St. Paul’s, who needed converted try to draw level, and they stepped up to the mark in fine style. Shane Finnerty’s run broke open the defense and set play up inside the 22, Donal Henderson brought play up to the goal line, and it fell to McHugo to crash over the line.
The conversion was a difficult one, but Roche nailed it, leading to rapturous celebrations among the St. Paul’s players and hands on heads from Coláiste Einde.
As both sets of players were about to learn, emotions can turn around very quickly in schools cup rugby.
Coláiste Einde: Evan Jennings; Bright Brodericks, Ciarán Park, Eoghan Harlowe, Ellis Muir; Riccardo Romboli, Hernando Calleja Besada; Colm Curran, Niall O’Neill, Nathan Duggan; Ben Magee, Alexandre Burduli; Shay Phillips, Kian Higgins, Bryan Walsh.
Replacements: Bryan Casburn for Romboli (63), Patrick Maughan for Muir (63), Romboli for Park (67).
St. Paul’s: James Lowry; Donal Henderson, Shane Finnerty, Cody Farrell, Eoghan Fahey; Ryan Roche, Cathal O’Hare; Darragh O’Toole, Noel Lydon, Daniel Walsh; Christopher McDonagh, Jack McHugh; Iarla O’Malley, Kai Heanue, Brian McHugo.
Replacements: Peter O’Malley for Farrell (12), Keegan Gilmore for Heanue (23), Farrell for O’Malley (26).
Referee: Gerry Geraghty.