Conor Dowling scores a try for Marist College during the Connacht Schools Senior 'A' Cup final versus Sligo Grammar School on Wednesday. Photo: Bernie O'Farrell.

Youthful Marist worn down by powerful Sligo side

Rugby: Connacht Schools Senior 'A' Cup Final

Sligo Grammar School 28 Marist College 7

Kevin Egan

Marist College's dreams of completing a fairytale season and following up their shock win over Summerhill College with a repeat performance against Sligo Grammar School were dashed in the Sportsground in Galway yesterday afternoon (Wednesday).

Mick Loftus’ charges produced a heroic effort but ultimately were worn down by their powerful opponents, who have now completed back to back league and cup doubles.

A typically raucous crowd and typically wild Galway spring weather greeted the teams, and it was a robust and aggressive Marist College test that Sligo Grammar had to face, with all the play in the opening quarter hour taking place within 30 metres of the Sligo goal line.

Conor Sheehan’s block on an attempted clearance from Gerard Murtagh opened up a chance for Marist to draw first blood and they came agonisingly close to doing so, with Danny Reid ultimately held up by brilliant last ditch Grammar school defending as he attempted to touch down in the left corner.

Outstanding counter-rucking and poaching at the breakdown were key ingredient sfor Marist, for whom the front row of Leon Cassidy, Eoin Naughton and Bobbie Foxe was exceptional.

But their achilles heel was tackling, and they paid a heavy price for that failing when Sligo Grammar school opened the scoring in the 15th minute through a magnificent solo effort from George Barlow. There looked to be no threat when the winger took possession on the halfway line with three Marist defenders lurking and ready to crash him into touch, but he danced his way out of trouble and then exploded through the line to open up a straight run under the posts.

A youthful Marist side, with six transition years in the starting lineup, fell further behind to an Earl Norris penalty in front of the posts but they gave themselves a lifeline before half-time when out-half James Clarke’s skip pass put Tom Sheehan into space, and he duly sent Conor Dowling over in the corner.

Charlie O’Carroll’s touchline conversion made it 10-7 at half-time, but Sligo Grammar used their experience brilliantly in the second half and controlled possession and territory. Ambrose Bamber, Diarmaid O’Connell and Matthew Ryan were outstanding in controlling the play and consistently hitting rucks and giving Sligo front foot ball.

Two further Norris penalties made life that bit more comfortable for Sligo and as their maturity and physicality came to bear, they were able to set up late tries for Jacob Kilcoyne and Arann Platt, scores that emphasised their dominance but were more than a little hard to take for a Marist side who certainly weren’t as far adrift as the final winning margin suggested.

Scorers - Sligo GS: G Barlow, J Kilcoyne and A Platt 1 try each; Earl Norris 2 conversions, 3 penalties. Marist: C Dowling 1 try, C O’Carroll 1 conversion

Sligo Grammar School: Alex Harte; Dara Holmes, Gerard Murtagh, Conor Creaven, George Barlow; Earl Norris, Gareth McGinty; Arann Platt, Quentin Moughty, Jack Deegan; Matthew Ryan, Paddy Wright; Diarmaid O’Connell, Dylan McCloat, Ambrose Bamber. Replacements: Max Hunter for Wright (half-time), Jack Kilcoyne for McGinty (52 mins), Francis Ellison for Ryan (67), Milo Holmes for D Holmes (70).

Marist College, Athlone: Danny Reid; Conor Dowling, Thomas Cotton, Tom Sheehan, Tom Burke; James Clarke, Charlie O’Carroll; Leon Cassidy, Eoin Naughton, Bobbie Foxe; Conor Sheehan, Luca Giles; Paddy Egan, Callum Kelly, Niall Tallon. Replacements: Evan McMickan for Foxe (half-time), Foxe for Naughton (50 mins), Éanna McDonnell for Burke (54), Seán Doyle for Kelly (62), Vinnie Meyer for Sheehan (69).

Referee: Johnny Quinn.