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Tony Ward's guide to Connacht

(*Indicates those involved in last year's cup campaign)


From very humble beginnings, rugby in Calasanctius has developed into a major school sport.

Only a dozen or so years in existence at the school, rugby now occupies a serious presence in the hearts and minds of Oranmore pupils, staff and parents. Content initially just to participate in both schools competitions, the rate of progress has been exceptional.

Bear in mind there is no history or tradition in the sport and, most significantly, no club support. The majority of the squad comprises players who do not play club rugby, but instead are prominent in other sporting activities, not least Gaelic games.

The Senior squad includes three sets of brothers in Cormac and Lorcan Foley, Bobby and Tom Huxford, plus Ronan and Paul O'Donnell, who are sons of former Galway footballer and ex-Galwegians and Connacht rugby player Brian.

Prominent hurlers in the squad include Micheal Daly (brother of Galway senior panelist Barry), Eoin Grealish, Jonathan Kelliher and Simon Dunne.

Ronan Burke has represented Connacht U-19s and Connacht Schools, while Sean O'Brien has lined out for the Connacht U-18 Schools as well as the Connacht and Ireland Youths at that level. Fellow back-rower Paul Hackett has also played for the Connacht Schools and Connacht Youths.

Certainly if silverware represents a definitive barometer, then Calasanctius has arrived big time. The achievement of back-to-back Junior titles in 2009 and 2010 is phenomenal by any standard.

To that add runners-up in this season's Senior League (beaten in a replay by the Jes) and for sure the new kids on the block are here.

It may prove a season to early, but don't rule out a possible repeat of the League final

Coaches: Sean Grealish (head), Martin Breen and Gavin Duffy.

Last year: Did not qualify.

Squad: Ronan Burke (capt), Joe Caulfield, Daragh Comer, Simon Dunne, Eoin Grealish, Cian Considine, Eoin Breen, Cormac Folan, Donal Greene, Bobby Huxford, Bryan O'Connell, Ronan O'Donnell, Micheal Daly, Andy Kavanagh, Paul Hackett, Jonathan Kelliher, Tom Huxford, Lorcan Folan, Ciaran Whyte, Sean O'Brien, Mark Kavanagh, Kevin Finneran, Jonathan Lardner, Dan McArdle and Daithi Joyce.

Colaiste iognaid, galway (the jes)

Cup winners in four of the last six years and the one they've all got to beat again this time round.

Despite needing a replay to beat fast-developing Calasanctius, the first leg of a possible League and Cup double was achieved with conviction in the League final rematch. The horrendous weather conditions did little for a Jes backline primed to run in the original 5-5 draw.

That backline includes six of the seven backs from last year's final, including the entire three-quarter line.

To that, add four of the front-five, making it 10 from last year's starting XV in all and it's easy to understand why hopes are high for a fifth win in seven attempts for the Galway school -- four tries to one in kinder conditions in the replay made for an emphatic win in the end.

So, with confidence high, Steve Parkinson and Bernie Kelly oversee a highly experienced squad including 15 in total from last year's runners up.

While Sligo Grammar did not enter the League, the Jes dominated throughout beating the Bish, Clifden, Summerhill, Pres Athenry and Calasanctius on their march to the title.

They include representative players in Connacht U-19s Robert Butler, Jordan Dooley and Robert Murray at full-back, centre and hooker respectively, while centre Robert Browne was called up to the province's U-17s.

Other prominent members include Jordan Healy (son of former Galwegians and Connacht lynchpin Joe), Conor Murphy (brother of 2007 captain and current Connacht squad member Dermot) as well as former Irish basketball squad member Drew Wilkinson.

More than enough talent to suggest they go one step further than last year.

Coaches: Steve Parkinson and Bernie Kelly.

Last year: Beaten by Sligo (26-11) in final.

Squad: *Conor Murphy, *James O'Donnell, *Brendan Madden, Greg Hanley, James Kennedy, *Stephane Dunne, *Drew Wilkinson, *Jordan Healy, *Robert Murray, *Ross Brennan, Cian Darcy, Seosamh Fallon, Dara Byrne, *Fiachra Bourne, David Cunnane, Michael Burke, *Nils Murphy, *Brian Dixon (capt), *Colm Divilly, *Sam Knight, *Jordan Dooley, Paul Power, Andrew Butler, *Robert Butler, Robert Browne, Sam Hickey, Patrick Kelehan, Simon Fahy and Jamie Kelly.

Gallen Community School, ferbane

They may struggle in the numbers game when compared to many of their player-rich opponents, but the Ferbane school consistently boxes above its weight.

Before amalgamating with Ferbane Community College, they stood the rugby world on its head when as St Joseph and St Saran's Secondary School they lifted the Connacht Senior Cup for the first and so far only time in 2004.

Connacht senior player Aidan Wynne was the playmaker in that history-making side.

Diarmuid Higgins is the star turn this time round and just recently the talented forward established a very proud landmark for the Co Offaly school when becoming the 10th pupil to represent Ireland when coming on in the front-row for the U-19/20 Development side against the English Academies.

Higgins is one of two representative players (along with Connacht U-17 squad member Peadar Hennessy) in a strong squad that includes seven back from last year's side beaten by a freakishly powerful Sligo Grammar in the semi-final.

Darren Digan captains a side that will face the Development Cup runners-up in the opening round with the winner then fronting up to Colaiste Iognaid or Garbally in the semi-final.

Having already run Calasanctius and Garbally close in the League, hopes are high of another productive return in the coming weeks.

Coaches: Charlie Couper and Bernard Quigley (manager).

Last year: Beaten by Sligo (45-13) in semi-final.

Squad: *Gareth Dunne, *William Healy, *Niall Quinn, Leon Fox, Tom Dunican, *Ruairdhi Doolan, Kealon Connor, *David Egan, John Dooley, Gavin Maleney, Peadar Hennessy, Darren Kelly, *Diarmuid Higgins, Brian Gilligan, Liam Claffey, Owen Finn, Conor Healion, Louis Hofmyer, Wayne Keena, Darragh Corbett and *Darren Digan (captain).

marist college, athlone

If 2004 will forever remain etched in the minds of Ferbane folk, then 1977 will hold a similar fond place for anyone associated with Marist College.

That was the year the Athlone school ruled Connacht. Twice since -- in 2007 and '08 -- they have come mighty close again, losing out to Garbally and the Jes in successive finals.

This year's squad has 12 back from last year's squad well beaten by all-conquering Sligo in the opening round.

Tony Dolan has joined the coaching staff, bringing a wealth of experience, having led the province's U-18s to three successive inter-pro titles between 2007 and '09. He also served as assistant coach to Buccaneers from '01 to '06.

The season started well, receiving a timely boost when Mark Dolan (scrum-half on the '07 and '08 finalists) captained Connacht/Munster in the opening of the new Aviva Stadium.

Results have been encouraging too, with just one defeat so far (to Calasanctius).

Conor Fitzgibbon captains a squad that includes four -- Barry Digby, Bryan Teape, Robert Henshaw and the skipper himself -- involved with the Connacht Schools, while Ben Carty, Scott Flanagan, Cormac Langdon, Saba Meunargia and Eoghan Reilly are all part of the U-17 set up.

Fitzgibbon and cousin Henshaw were part of the Marist U-14 All-Ireland Schools soccer winners. Both are on the Irish U-18 rugby squad.

Meunargia is originally from Tbilisi in Georgia. He came to Ireland and to Marist four years ago. He is only in transition year and having moved from back-row to front is developing into a formidable prop (now there's a surprise) on either side of the scrum.

A tough opener against Calasanctius awaits, but with another recent addition in Waverly College, Sydney schoolboy Nick Scarpa, this squad is ready.

Coaches: Mick Loftus, Tony Dolan, Cian O'Brien and Donal Scannel.

Last year: Beaten by Sligo Grammar (55-3) in first round.

Squad: *Glen Carey, Niall Carr, Ben Carty, Kevin Cooper, *Robert Corcoran, Michael Curley, *Barry Digby, *Emmet Donnelly, Michael Duddy, Scott Flanagan, *Tony Deehan, *Conor Fitzgibbon (capt), *Tadhg Hennessy-Thornton, *Robert Henshaw, Cormac Langdon, Eoin Maher, Keith McKiernan, Saba Meunargia, Ray O'Reilly, Nick Scarpa, Eoghan O'Reilly, *Sebastian Ryan, *Conor Seery, Ryan Sheridan, *Bryan Teape, Luke Kelly, *Eoin Kelly, Simon Garvey, Dylan Lynch, John Naughton, Conor Flynn and Edward Campbell.

St joseph's college, garbally

Despite the massive readjustment from boarding school to day, signs are that the traditional superpower of Connacht Schools rugby is reorganising, albeit with more measured resources than in times past.

Having won four and lost only one of their pre-Christmas League games -- missing out on a place in the final on points difference -- this is a revitalised unit well set for the campaign.

The draw hasn't been kind, with the Jes first up for the second year running. Just six points separated these traditional rivals in a low-scoring encounter 12 months ago and all evidence suggests a similar level of intensity this time round.

David Freeman leads a squad that includes nine back from last year, spread nicely between backs and forwards.

Connacht U-19 Youth Freeman is one of three representative players along with out-half Ross Keller (Connacht U-18 Schools and Youths) and Thomas Murphy (U-18 Schools).

With 44 Senior titles in the locker, the Ballinasloe school boasts five more outright wins than all others put together. That is the level to which the squad of 2011 must ultimately aspire.

But for now it's one step at a time and the clock will be turned back when they go head to head with the Jes in the week beginning January 24. The winner of that will be well on the way.

Coaches: Michael Horan, Ronan Flanagan and Frank Fahy.

Last year: Beaten by Gallen (10-0) in first round.

Squad: *Thomas Murphy, Danny Walshe, *Kevin Gavin, Kieran Kelly, Danny Byrne, *Aidan Loughry, Ger Fahy, Patrick McCormack, Vincent Naughton, Shane Curtin, *Declan Goode, Cormac Dolphen, *Niall Gibbons, Daragh Curley, Jacob Walshe, David Murray, *Kealin Oneal, *Ross Keller, Cormac Clogher, *David Freeman (capt), *Conor Loughry, Matthew Tierney, Eoin O'Donnell, Brian Johnston and Paddy Connolly.

sligo grammar school

It may have slipped under the radar, but in the last 20 years Sligo Grammar have contested 12 Senior Cup finals.

That reflects a level of consistency beyond even Garbally and the Jes. So, while they are nowhere near as strong as last year, you never write off the defend-ing champions and nine-time winners.

In what is essentially a young and developing squad, James Gavin can still call on five back from last year's mighty unit, but has just one starter from that cup-winning XV.

Thomas Ferrari is the sole survivor, with the talented and versatile front-rower captain. Ferrari has also represented the Ireland Schools at U-18 and, along with promising lock David Heath, lined out for the Connacht U-18s in the inter-provincial championship.

Chris Brady, John Healy and Blygh McCormack are the others still available from last year.

Sligo Grammar are something of an unknown quantity, not having shown their hand in the league. That said, it would be quite a coup were they to emerge from a group containing Calasanctius, Marist and the Development Cup winners, who they will face in the first round.

That said they most certainly cannot be written off as they begin the march towards final appearance number 13 since 1990. You can take it as read they sure as hell ain't superstitious out The Mall way.

Coaches: James Gavin, Paddy Pearson and Tommy Cradock (conditioning).

Last year: Winners.

Squad: *Thomas Ferrari (capt), Rory Bourke, *Chris Brady, Shane Gray, Ivan Donoghue, Colin Goulden, John Healy, *David Heath, *Blygh McCormack, Keith McGoldrick, Jack Roberts, Jonathan Draper, Colm Egan, Enda Gavin, Ryan Hehir, Simon Mullaney, Charlie Cooper, Daire Higgins, Michael Martin, Diarmaid O'Dowd-Hill, Brian Simon, Paul Deering, Ben Hughes, Eoghan Kilroy, Martin Davey, Matthew Davey, Will Weaver, Jake Smith, Andrew Callaghan, Jason McGoldrick, Cathal Sammon, Shane Boyle, Michael Joyce and Derek Scully.

Irish Independent Supplement