Top Oil Connacht Schools Senior Cup Final

Garbally College v Summerhill Sligo, Sportsground, Wednesday 4pm.

After three months of pool games and a whole hosts of twists and turns, this year’s senior cup final is probably one of the most anticipated for years. Can Garbally make it third time lucky and end an eight year run without the title, or will Summerhill of Sligo, in their very first final, make history for rugby in the north west?

In 2007 Garbally College won their 44th title and last as a boarding school, the battle since has been to rebuild and rejuvenate the game with day pupils only. The tradition in the school had always been a balance between players from the surrounding townlands of Ballinasloe and those boarding so the pedigree was there but it has taken time to readjust.

TopOil SCFTwo seasons ago they came up against a Marist College Juggernaut, last year they pushed Sligo Grammar to a replay before falling short, this season they’re back and looking to put things right. Only out half Simon Keller remains from the 2013 final and he just so happens to be a pivotal figure this season after a pool run of ups and downs.

From the north west this season come Summerhill College after their final round pool victory over title holders and town rivals Sligo Grammar propelled them to this stage. Twice they came from behind in that dramatic one point win that will live long in the annals although Ross Mannion and co don’t want the tale to end there.

The Summerhill side is packed full of talent, Cillian Gallagher is involved with the Irish Schools squad, Jack Keegan and Darragh Cummins have played for the Irish under 19s. The majority of the squad are also part of a very strong Sligo under 19 club team that has had great success all the way up through the grades.

During the pool stages, Garbally started well, snatching a hard earned draw away to Sligo Grammar in round one before winning away to Summerhill. Then in round three they were stunned by Marist College with Luke Carty’s late kicking giving the Athlone school a 13-12 win and putting the pressure on the Ballinasloe side.

For Summerhill the journey was also a bumpy one, they started well with very impressive away win at Marist but then took a step back at home to Garbally. The bonus point win over the Jes set up a winner takes all showdown with Grammar and they booked their place in the final thanks to some tenacious and tireless forward play in the closing stages of that derby.

So all roads lead to Galway on Wednesday, two sporting powerhouses in schools sport meet in the rugby decider. For Garbally, a wait of eight years must feel like an eternity but for Summerhill the weight has literally been for an eternity.

Quotes from the competing teams

Gerry Kelly – Garbally College Manager

“The entire campaign has been very intense from the very first game. We got out a jail late on away to Sligo Grammar with Simon Keller’s penalty securing a 6 all draw. In round two we produced what was probably our best performance of the four in beating Summerhill 24-15 in Sligo and that set us up well. However, we were caught by a very good Marist College side and needed a strong performance against Colaiste Iognaid to get to the final.”

“It is a whole new world for Garbally College from the 2007 scenario when we won it last. That was the final year of boarding school and there is a different emphasis now but the great thing for us is we are allied well with Ballinasloe RFC. They are enjoying a resurgence as a club at all levels including underage and we are very fortunate to have Noel Mannion and Kevin Tierney on board as coaches.”

“The hard work at underage in the club has been replicated in the school, Ronan Flanagan the PE teacher has played a key role and ex teachers like Frank Fahey and Johnny Farrell have come in to help with the under 13s, 14s and Junior coaching. I watched Summerhill in their final pool game against Sligo Grammar and that was a great win, they are playing very well as a team and we face a huge challenge.”

Ross Mannion – Summerhill College Head Coach

“It certainly was a great feeling on the full time whistle after the Sligo Grammar game. Many of the lads have never beaten Grammar at any level having played them all the way up and they all know each other so well. It was summed up after TJ was unfortunate to miss that late kick, Shane O’Hehir was the first to go over to console him. They are friends off the field but of course it was mixed emotions on the field.”

“It was a great win for the school, there has been a buzz of excitement around the squad ever since. The commitment has been huge all year, early morning training has been the norm to allow for the fact that it is a very busy sporting school with lads involved in football as well. The rewards are clear now, the match with Grammar was the talk of the town and I think to have two schools competing at such a high level in the province is great for the sport in the north west.”

“We probably under performed in the pool game against Garbally, it took us 20 minutes to get into it and they were ahead at that stage. Both sides have very different strengths and weaknesses and we’ll have to see how that is managed. Our aim is to make sure the lads are focused and aware of the test ahead, we were determined to make sure the Grammar game wouldn’t be our final.”

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