12 Dec, 11:30
The Ireland Under-19 team to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill this Saturday afternoon (kick-off 2.30pm) has been announced.
Finn Valley have only recently started fielding a senior side and the Tir Chonaill coaches decided it was time to seek a game for their players who have been training hard since the season kicked off.
It was a step into the unknown, as many of the Tir Chonaill players had never played a full-on game before. Finn Valley are at a similar stage of development, and so it was a great opportunity for both clubs to come together and test themselves.
As the game was to be held on a Saturday at 1pm, it was decided to make a real occasion and also invite the Finn Valley mini players for challenge matches against the Tir Chonaill minis.
The Under-10 and Under-12 teams played out two very entertaining matches, with some great skill on view from both clubs' young players.
The standard of passing and tackling was superb, and there were some fantastic runs and tries that Brian O'Driscoll would have been proud of!
Refreshments were available at pitchside for the kids, and thanks to Donegal Airport for the use of their facilities.
For the senior game, Tir Chonaill had a squad made up of young players mostly new to rugby and a few of the club coaches with a few more miles on the clock and some rugby experience, which helped to settle the younger players.
The squad also included two father and son combinations. The game began cautiously and it was quickly apparent that all those wet Wednesday nights of training had paid off.
The Tir Chonaill set piece, in particular, was working well and the scrum held firm and, at times, they got a shove on. Shaun Doogan secured all his own lineouts with some excellent throws from Luke Ryan. Tir Chonaill scored two tries in the first half and were well pleased at the break.
Finn Valley, to their credit, rallied at the beginning of the second half, and scored two tries following several Tir Chonaill substitutions which broke up the momentum of the home side. The score was close going into the final quarter.
Wholesale substitutions then once again handed Tir Chonaill the upper hand and they finished incredibly strongly with four unanswered tries to finish out as impressive 38-10 winners. To be fair to Finn Valley, Tir Chonaill had more replacements available to them than the visitors and were able to freshen up the team when required.
This was a magnificent effort from this fledgling squad. Adrian O'Colla and Shane McDyer were impressive in the front row, and the lineouts as mentioned worked like a dream with good lifting by Adam Croke and Joe McCann.
The fitness and speed of Tir Chonaill backs was a joy to behold, with great running by Paddy O'Donnell, Conor McDonald, Adam Lafferty, Calum Boyle, Paul Gallagher and Ciaran McCann who unfortunately went off injured early on.
Scrum half Aidan Bonner was also prominent and right there when needed, as were Conor Gallagher in the back row and James Doogan in the second row.
There were also some good performances from Tir Chonaill's veterans Dave Geoghegan, Joe McCann, Paul Bathgate, Joe McConnell, Paul McCann, Martin Bonner, Tommy Boyle, Eugene Doogan and Ben Colangelo.
Tries were scored by Paddy O'Donnell (2), Conor McDonald, Dave Geoghegan (2) and Adrian O'Colla. Four of the six tries were converted by kickers Paddy O'Donnell and Paul Gallagher.
The man-of-the-match honours went to Paddy O'Donnell from the young players and Dave Geoghegan from the veterans, with a special mention for Shaun Doogan.
Both squads and the Finn Valley kids then adjourned to Caislin Or Hotel in nearby Annagry for some much-needed food and refreshments.
The hosts and Finn Valley players mingled in the sporting way that rugby promotes and cherishes, and they all sat down to watch Ireland's impressive game against the All Blacks.
Great craic was had by all with Tir Chonaill head coach and team captain Joe McCann thanking the supporters who turned out in large numbers, and praising the enthusiasm of his young players.
Many thanks to Finn Valley for helping to make this such a memorable occasion, and a return match is already in the planning.
Thanks to Supervalu Dungloe for providing snacks and drinks for the kids, and Caislin Or for being such generous hosts after the game. Also thanks to Naomh Mhuire GAA club for the use of their changing rooms.
Special thanks to the Tir Chonaill coaches who have put in such excellent work to mould a squad from the raw but talented youth of the area.
Thanks also to Darren McGuigan from the Ulster Branch for refereeing the game and CRO Chris Slevin for refereeing the Under-12 match.
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