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"St Saran's have had the tougher games and their last second eclipse of Garbally may just provide that element of self-belief that could be vital in a tight contest." says Des Berry previewing this afternoon's Statoil Connacht Schools Senior Cup Final.

St Saran's College Ferbane, located in County Offaly, have had a growing influence on the Statoil Connacht Schools Senior Cup without ever winning the title.

Could this be their year? It certainly could be.

Will it be their year? We will find out this afternoon at The Sportsground.

St Saran's finished their impressive pre-Cup campaign as runners-up in the Connacht League, winning four out of five matches, losing out 5-0 to the eventual winners Clifden Community School.

There have an even mixture of six Connacht Schools inter-provincials divided equally between their backs and forwards. Irish Schools Trialist and Offaly minor footballer Trevor Phelan is the spark to their attack along with Aidan Keenaghan and goal-kicking half-back Aidan Wynne.

Their set piece should be solid given the presence of Connacht props Colin Malone and Julian Walsh and second row Stephen Rourke in the tight five. We have a balanced team this year, an experienced front row and good lineout, even though it didn't function that well in the semi-final. The back row is our most inexperienced line. It is filled with recent GAA converts to the game, said coach Ray O'Loughlin.

We will try to secure enough quick ball for our attacking backs. I suppose you could say that Trevor Phelan and Aidan Keenaghan are our two diamonds. Aidan is a mercurial talent. He is hard to put down and has incredible pace. Trevor has dancing feet and blistering speed.

St Saran's have already fallen to Garbally College (1998) and Sligo (2000) on two previous appearances in the final. They took their revenge on Garbally College in a super-charged climax to their semi-final. Trailing 8-3 five minutes into injury-time, Phelan, moved forward from full-back to scrum-half, picked the ball from the base of a scrum and accelerated around the Garbally on an arcing run to the corner and Wynne nonchalantly knocked over the conversion.

They have had the more challenging route to the final. St Muredach's Ballina gave them something to think about in the first round. St Saran's have a disciplined defence that has conceded a miserly eight points in three games.

Now, Sligo are standing in the way of their dreams. The Grammar School spent most of their friendly season dealing with Ulster opposition and possessed an element of mystery coming into the competition.

That was soon dispelled when they effortlessly hammered Presentation Headford 64-3 in the first round and followed that opening salvo with further victories over St Mary's Ballygar 33-3 and Colaiste Iognaid 23-10. Coach Joe Walsh said: We were on the soft side of the draw. We have a very young side. There will be two-thirds of the side back next year. They (St Saran's) will have an edge in experience.

Traditionally, Sligo have produced good attacking play out wide, but this side is a more functional unit. The have three Connacht Schools forwards in Barry Carson, Kim Willams and Ross O'Boyle.

A lot of our tries have come from forward domination. Barry Carson and Kim Williams are the two outstanding players in that area. The backline is all about Paul Gillespie. The rest of them are all very young, said Walsh.

Sligo will look to their big men to give out-half Gillespie, and his brother Simon at scrum-half, enough ball to keep St Saran's on the backfoot.

In the final analysis, St Saran's have had the tougher games and their last second eclipse of Garbally may just provide that element of self-belief that could be vital in a tight contest.

St Saran's College: Trevor Phelan; Gerry Grehan, Aidan Keenaghan, Tom Gilligan (capt), Paul Heavin; Aidan Wynne, Padraig Shrahan; Julian Walsh, Gavin Kelly, Colin Malone, Joe Guinan, Stephen Rourke, Kevin Lally, Liam Browne, Ciaran Coughlan.Coaches: Ray O'Loughlin, Charlie Couper.Captain: Tom Gilligan.

Path To The Final: First Round - bt St Muredach's Ballina 16-0; Quarter-Final - bt Gort CS 40-0; Semi-final - bt Garbally College 10-8.Connacht Senior Cup Wins: None.

Sligo GS: Ross Butler; John Quinn, Clive Goulden, Stuart Dorran, Brian Mullen; Paul Gillespie, Simon Gillespie; Ross O'Boyle, Barry Carson, Andrew Quinn, Kim Williams, Daire Quinn, Keith Richardson, Jeffrey Draper, John Bell. Coach: Joe Walsh.Captain: Paul Gillespie. Path To The Final: First Round - bt Presentation College Headford 64-3; Quarter-Final - bt St Mary's Ballygar 33-3; Semi-Final - bt Colaiste Iognaid 23-10. Connacht Senior Cup Wins: 8 - 2003, 2000, 1999, 1980, 1969, 1963, 1962, 1961.

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19 June 2018
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