Rugby may have spread into hitherto untouched corners of the country over the past few decades, but there are certain competitions where tradition and history still cast a long shadow. The Connacht Schools’ Senior Cup is one such competition, where one school — Garbally College of Ballinasloe — has won exactly half (46 out of 92) of the cups that were played for, with three others — Sligo Grammar School, St. Joseph’s College and Coláiste Iognáid (both Galway) — winning 24 of the rest.
Seven other schools have their name on the roll of honour, and four of those schools no longer exist, so trying to escape from the weight of past history was a key goal for Roscommon CBS teacher Eimhin Griffith when he set about preparing his team for this year’s competition.
“These lads, I saw them in a couple of training sessions and I knew this was a really good bunch. The confidence was certainly an issue and there were a couple of games and I could tell that they were thinking that they were outside of their depth. But once they got stuck in and they realised that it’s just another 15 lads, they’re just as good as what’s out there. They know it now, but it took me a while to convince them that they were good enough,” he said last week.
“We didn’t put a huge amount of emphasis on the league. We had some decent results and good performances, but we started to play a couple of challenge matches as well, I brought them to a few places outside of their comfort zone.
“We started mixing it up with some good sides in Munster and in Leinster, then they realised things were starting to go right — small little things like falling off tackles, we started doing those things better and suddenly we were at a new level.
“It’s not that we’re doing anything wonderful or revolutionary in terms of the coaching, I’ve got a really good partner in Pat O’Farrell, he certainly gives a huge amount to the team. Between the two of us we’re covering all the bases but the belief that they’re able to go to the next stage is probably the main thing for them,” explained Griffith.
One of those traditional powers, Coláiste Iognáid, otherwise known as “The Jez” are set to travel to Creggs for this Thursday’s Connacht Senior Cup semi-final clash at 12.30 p.m., and while the league clash between the two schools in October ended in a comfortable win for 2016 and 2017 winners, Griffith is unconcerned about that game and feels that the CBS are in a very different place right now.
“The league wasn’t a focus for us at all. We had a couple of injuries as well and we were minding the players, making sure that they were right come cup time. I knew that if they played to the best of their ability, they’d be a match for anybody. Once they got the first win under their belt, then the real belief came”.
Griffith is also confident that getting to play on the new astroturf facility in Creggs will suit his players, who scored 56 points in their two cup games in January against Marist College and Sligo Grammar School.
“The lads are good ball players. Our forwards are a big strong pack, but our backs are well able to throw the ball around and if they get good ball, they can cut teams apart. We’re looking forward to getting out there now, and I think the lads are ready to go out and show that they’re well able to compete in this company, and hopefully make another piece of history in doing so,” he concluded.