Connacht Schools Senior Cup semi-final

Marist College                  6                           

(Ethan Friel, two pens)

Sligo Grammar School   18

(Arann Platt, try; Adam Hunter, try; Earl Norris, one con, two pens)

Kevin Egan at Marist College, Athlone.

Sligo Grammar School became the first team to secure their place in the 2022 Connacht Schools Senior Cup decider when a controlled and balanced performance, built on a platform of dominance up front, secured an 18-6 win over Marist College in this afternoon’s semi-final contest at the Athlone school’s home field.

All the Sligo school’s scoring was done in the second half of the game when they played with the aid of a deceptively strong breeze that blew right down the pitch, but even when they were playing against the elements in the first half, they still enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and played most of the game in the Marist half of the field.

It was only some incredible goal-line defence from the Marist, allied to some superb clearing kicks from Páidí Ó Leochain and Thomas O’Brien, that prevented Sligo Grammar School from scoring. However covering 60 or 70 metres with a single kick became impossible in the second half, and the away side took full advantage as they dialled up the pressure and crossed the whitewash twice, with Arann Platt and team captain Adam Hunter putting their name on the decisive tries.

From the kick off, Sligo Grammar made no secret of how they planned to attack the game. Ambrose Bamber leapt to claim Bobby Foxe’s kick off and rumbled through two tackles to put his team on the front foot. The back three of Alex Harte, Jonjo Devine and Seán Gilvarry had to be wary of long clearances over the top so the Grammar side kept it tight, letting their backs take conservative, defensive positions and trusted the handling and the power of their forwards to make the hard yards and dictate the game.

Platt, Hunter, Paddy Wright, Max Hunter and Orlando Ven der Grijn all crossed the gain line with some powerful runs, forcing the Marist into the concession of a series of penalties. The trust that this group had in their ability to go through the phases and retain the ball was proven when they elected to either tap and go or else opt for a scrum from several penalties in the middle third of the field rather than kicking for touch, and they also drove for the Marist line rather than kicking for the posts, albeit without ever getting the try they craved.

A rare Marist foray forward ended with a powerful Dylan Bolger tackle behind the gain line, forcing a holding penalty which Ethan Friel converted after 15 minutes, but Sligo Grammar went right back on the attack, increasing the pressure after Fionn McDonnell was yellow-carded for hands in the ruck right on the goal line.

Marist held out to get to half-time still 3-0 up, getting through McDonnell’s sin-bin and another for Páidí Ó Leochain without conceding, but six minutes into the second half Sligo Grammar finally broke through after around ten phases of continuous attack on the Marist line, with Adam Hunter the one who touched down in the corner.

Marist’s competitive instincts kept them in the game, and they survived a few more scores, most notably when Ambrose Bamber blocked down a clearing kick and couldn’t quite gather the ball before it crept out over the dead ball line, but a third yellow card, this time for Dylan Bolger, left gaps that Sligo Grammar were able to exploit. They eventually piled over for a second try that saw Arann Platt emerge from a pile of bodies after getting the vital yard over the whitewash.

When Marist were able to get the ball out to their runners in the backs, they had the pace and the craft to break the line and make yards, with Thomas O’Brien their main threat from inside centre, and one such break saw them earn a penalty that Friel converted with six minutes to play, making it 12-6 and opening the door for the very slight possibility of a smash and grab raid.

With just one score between the sides, there was hope for the home side – but for the remainder of the contest, Sligo Grammar completely controlled the play and didn’t give Marist any possession outside of their own half.

Good front up tackling yielded further penalties that Earl Norris comfortably struck between the posts to stretch the gap, and rounded off a wonderfully controlled display that augurs well for their hopes of going one step further than in the last Connacht Schools final played in 2020, when they lost out narrowly to Garbally College.

Marist: Rian Dully; Fergal Lennon, Leon Cassidy, Thomas O’Brien, Bobby Foxe; Páidí Ó Leochain, Ethan Friel; Dylan Bolger, Aaron Burke, Charlie Byrne; Luca Giles, Fionn McDonnell; Patrick Egan, Donagh Claffey, Niall Tallon.

Subs: Joe Sweeney for Giles (44-48 mins), Eanna McDonnell for Foxe (55 mins), Joe Sweeney for Giles (55 mins).

Sligo Grammar School: Alex Harte; Jonjo Devine, Gerard Murtagh, Conor Creaven, Seán Gilvarry; Earl Norris, Gareth McGinty; Arann Platt, Max Hunter, Tynan Maxwell; Paddy Wright, Alistair Hill; Orlando Ven der Grijn, Adam Hunter, Ambrose Bamber.

Subs: Oisín Lawley for Wright (half-time), Matthew Ryan for Van der Grijn (55 mins), Paddy Wright for Lawley (65 mins).

Referee: Joe O’Donnell

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