Coláiste Bhaile Chláir 15
(Dara Noone, Eoin Higgins, Charlie Keane tries)
Coláiste Einde Salthill 12
(Miguel Rubio Tobar, Rory Shaughnessy tries, Seán Walsh con)
Kevin Egan at the Sportsground.
A strong and balanced team performance that featured power up front, good handling and defensive play in the back division and a clinical ability to convert try-scoring chances powered Coláiste Bhaile Chláir to Junior Cup glory, as they claimed the Schools Junior “B” Cup thanks to a narrow victory over Coláiste Einde at the Sportsground this afternoon.
A 15-12 final scoreline would suggest a typically tight and tense Cup tie, but these were two teams that looked to run the ball and attack at every available opportunity, and between them they produced a thoroughly enjoyable contest in which Coláiste Einde never had the lead, but never were out of touch either.
Attacking rugby was on the agenda right from the start, when Conor Dooley set the tone by bursting down the right wing under the shadow of the grandstand and setting the Claregalway school right on the attack, albeit one that ended with a misplaced penalty that was kicked dead, instead of into touch to set up what would have been a threatening Coláiste Bhaile Chláir lineout in the corner.
Arguably the strongest facet of the winners’ play however was their line speed and tackling, which made it very difficult for their city opponents to work their way out of their own half of the field. Connor Oliver, Jarel Tabi and Seán Walsh were all exceptionally strong and direct with ball in hand, but they struggled to break the Coláiste Bhaile Chláir line, and consequently found themselves pinned deeper and deeper back inside their own half.
Eventually that pressure told and a few phases after a turnover win, Dara Noone was able to break one tackle and gallop straight through for the opening score. Mark Cullinane’s conversion rebounded off the post, meaning the score was left at 5-0, but that was soon doubled when a wonderful try was finished in the left corner by Eoin Higgins.
A huge amount of credit for the score goes to Pádraig Ryan, who stepped up to join the line and with three defenders in front of him and just his winger in support, needed to produce an inch-perfect pass to set up Higgins. His delivery was whipped flat, and at incredible pace, inviting his winger to hit top speed and just about make the touchdown after being brought to ground.
In a game where the defensive play was strong on both sides, Coláiste Einde needed the boost of a score before half-time to keep their hopes alive, and they got it with three minutes to play.
Seán Walsh, as he was throughout much of the afternoon, created the opening by drawing in three tacklers before getting the ball away to Karl Bona Makongo at the last second. The winger still had a lot of work to do but a subtle little jink and incredible take-off got him right up the line, just two metres inside the sideline.
That two metres was all that Miguel Rubio Tobar as picked from the base and touched down just inside the flag, setting up an incredibly difficult conversion.
Walsh was equal to the challenge, shaping his right-footed kick up and inside the near post with precision, leaving just three points between the schools at the break, 10-7.
Coláiste Einde continued to play off the front foot after half time, taking the game to the maroon and white-clad opposition, but this was where the defensive strength of the winning side really came to the fore.
Conor Dooley’s enforced withdrawal due to injury robbed Coláiste Bhaile Chláir of their best strike runner through midfield, but every one of their backs justified their selection through a series of excellent tackles, most prominently Cian Heavey, who twice sucked the air of Coláiste Einde attacks with incredibly brave one-on-one stops.
Coláiste Bhaile Chláir soon found their attacking rhythm again and it looked like they had scored again when Higgins darted into the left corner, but the score was ruled out for a knock on in the build-up.
Their third and most crucial try wasn’t long in coming, as they crowned a ten-minute spell of pressure, mostly spent inside the Coláiste Einde 22, with a score from Charlie Keane.
It looked like they were set to cross the line when Euan Kavanagh stretched out for a score under the posts, but he didn’t quite get the ball grounded and the city side was briefly able to clear their lines. Claregalway didn’t take long to work their way back into scoring range, where Keane applied the finishing touch.
Coláiste Einde made sure to die with their boots on and with a Claregalway player in the sin bin, they set up a dramatic last five minutes.
Connor Oliver was again central to the move as his barnstorming run brought play within ten metres of the Coláiste Bhaile Chláir posts, and quick hands from Walsh put Rory Shaughnessy over in the corner.
Once they went back up to their full complement however, the Claregalway side were able to protect possession, use their forward power and work down the clock, ensuring that the last three points of their lead was kept intact up to the final whistle.
Coláiste Bhaile Chláir: Pádraig Ryan; Cian Heavey, Conor Dooley, Mark Cullinane, Eoin Higgins; Robbie Dolan, John Farragher; Donagh Kilcommins, Euan Kavanagh, Harry Akani; Aaron Walsh, Dara Noone; Charlie Keane, Seán O’Flynn, Mark Farragher.
Replacements: Joshua Craig for Akani (35 mins), Eanna Flaherty for Dooley (35 mins), Ronan Duggan for J Farragher (52 mins),
Coláiste Einde: Seán Walsh ; Rory Shaughnessy, Scott Dillon, Michael Brosnan, Karl Bona Makongo ; Lorcáin Sampietro Daly, Miguel Rubio Tobar; Troy Tabi, Seán Regan, Connor Oliver ; Cormac Keady, Cillian Onorato ; Killian Schouten, Matthew McNamara, Jarel Tabi.
Replacements: Pasha Thiem for Onorato (51 mins).
Referee: Brian McGrath