This year's cup favourites Colaiste Iognaid celebrated their 12th Connacht Senior Schools crown to deny the holders Sligo Grammar at the Galway Sportsground yesterday.
In a repeat of last year's final, Sligo Grammar's spirited performance was not enough to stop the Jes grabbing their sixth senior cup title in the last 11 years.
Blessed with 15 of last year's squad, the Jes started as clear favourites, particularly after cruising through the semi-final with a 30 - 5 win over newcomers Athenry Vocational School. At the heart of their success was a well-drilled and more powerful front eight that did most of the damage, allied to the strong running of captain and centre Brian Dixon and right wing Robert Butler.
However Sligo Grammar, despite losing the majority of last year's cup-winning heroes, and wearing old Connacht youth jerseys for the first half, having left theirs behind, they were, as always, a difficult side to break down. In outhalf Colm Egan, brother of Westlife's Cian Egan, they had a playmaker whose passing and kicking game helped his side into a 13 - 3 midway through the opening half.
But it was a 10 minute period either side of the break that proved crucial. Sligo's lock Diarmuid O'Dowd Hill was sinbinned just before the break, and in that period the Jes made it count, scoring two tries to take a lead they preserved until the final whistle.
Although Grammar maintained a slender 13 - 10 lead at the break, the Jes would have been the happier. Not only had they faced into a stiff first-half breeze, but they had forced their way back into the game.
Sligo held the early impetus and were three points ahead after five minutes when the influential Egan potted a fifth minute effort from the 10m line after the Jes had infringed at the breakdown. However the Galway school demonstrated their forward prowess, trying to utilize their strength up front with some early driving mauls, and they were duly rewarded with an 11th minute penalty, which right wing Robert Butler converted.
However Sligo hit back within minutes to score the opening try. Scrumhalf Enda Gavin was the key figure with his darting run from the back of a ruck some 10 metres out, providing a super offload to No 8 David Heath who had the power to touch down despite the best efforts of the Jes three-quarters. Egan missed the difficult sideline conversion, but he made amends minutes later. With the Jes on the attack just yards from the Sligo line, Egan grabbed possession from a spilled pass, cutting through the scrambled Jes defence. Racing all the way to the opposite 22, he found a supporting centre John Healy who finished off in the right corner. Egan again missed the conversion, but it put his side in front by 13 - 3.
At that stage the holders were well worth their lead against a Jes outfit that looked clearly rattled. Despite carving out two clear scoring chances when they pack had Sligo under pressure on their own line, they could not make it count. However they stuck with their game plan, and winning the battle at the breakdown, they were eventually able to capitalise on the favourable 9-2 penalty count of the opening half just before the break. With Sligo a player down, it was flanker Michael Burke who claimed the try from another forward surge, with Butler adding the extras to cut the deficit to 10 - 13.
Within five minutes they had taken the lead with the forwards once again setting the stage. Quickly recycling possession, Dixon made the initial incision before outhalf David Cunnane supplied Butler from another quick ruck and the right wing crossed in the corner to give the Galway school a 17 - 13 lead.
Sligo did have their chances with O'Dowd-Hill setting up field position with a super break, but on each occasion the Jes' workrate at the breakdown paid dividends, and thereafter the Galway school gained in confidence. With their first attack in 15 minutes, the Jes looked more likely to score when another key forward, hooker Robert Murray, charged to the line, but isolated, the Sligo defence halted his progress. Instead Butler found his range with another penalty. As the game petered out, the right winger added a second just before the final whistle for deserving victory.
In the Connacht Schools Junior Cup semi-final, Calasanctius Oranmore overcame Marist 15 - 7, and will meet Rice College who overcame St Joseph's College, Galway, with the last score of the game by 17 - 14, in a repeat of last year's final. Connacht are also taking interest in the Leinster schools’ final when Roscrea, boasting 12 Connacht youngsters, take on favourites Clongowes.
Yellow cards: D O'Dowd Hill (Sligo ) 34m.
Colaiste Iognaid: N Murphy, R Butler, F Bourne, B Dixon, C Divilly, D Cunnane, P Power, R Brennan, R Murray, D Wilkinson, J Healy, J O'Donnell, M Burke, J Kennedy, C Murphy. Replacements, J Dooley for Burke, P Kelehan for Cunnane, S Fallon for Brennan and R Browne for Power (all 64m ).
Sligo Grammar: J McGoldrick, M Martin, J Healy, K McGoldrick, M Green, C Egan, E Gavin, T Ferrari (cpt ), D Rooney, B McCormack, S Boyle, D O'Dowd Hill, C Brady, C Goulden, D Heath. Replacements, C Cooper for K McGoldrick (58m ), P Deering for C Goulden (65m ).
Referee: Karol Collins (CBIRFU ).