Triple-header at Ballyhaunis boasts best of schools rugby
Ballyhaunis RFC played host to the first three Connacht Schools League Finals last Wednesday, with the Junior Emerging, Senior Emerging and Junior Development Leagues all decided in a unique triple-header of schools rugby.
The action got under way shortly after 11am when Athlone Community College took on Clarin College in the Junior Emerging decider.
Athlone were heavily fancied having won all four of their pool games including a comfortable win over Clarin in the opening round, and lived up to their billing despite an impressive showing from their opponents. In the end the Roscommon/Westmeath side won 17-7 to take home the first trophy of the day, but there was no doubt that a potential meeting between the sides in the Schools Cup would be equally competitive.
There was a 12pm kick-off for the Senior Emerging League final where St Paul's Oughterard took on St Raphael's Loughrea in a topsy-turvy encounter. Both sides went into the game with 100pc records and in the end it was a game that went right down to the wire.
Heading into the last 15 minutes St Paul's held a narrow 8-6 lead, but up stepped Raphael's fly-half Tomas Burns who nailed three brilliant penalties as the pressure on the St Paul's defence eventually told.
The Loughrea side ultimately came away with a 15-8 victory.
The Junior Development decider saw the meeting of St Gerald's Castlebar and Coláiste Éinde Salthill. Here the game arguably turned into the best of the lot.
The Salthill side led 15-3 at the break but their Castlebar opponents refused to give up, scoring two well-worked tries to bring it back to a two-point deficit.
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The closing stages were among the most exciting in schools rugby this term as Gerald's went through at least 20 phases five metres out but fell just short of the Salthill line and ultimately the victory, sparking wildly contrasting scenes of jubilation and dejection.
A sincere thanks must go to the referees and Ballyhaunis RFC for making the day possible.