Clongowes Bicentenary Festival Review

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Ospreys match programme (29/11/14)

As the trophy sat beside the newly-laid Oval Pitch, it seemed destined to ultimately find its long-term residency in the castle that lay behind it. Indeed, the vast archives of Clongowes Wood College would have been the ideal home for the spectacular piece by John Coll, one of Ireland’s most prominent figurative sculptors. Yet, following 77 matches, St. Michael’s College departed Clane with the Clongowes Bi-Centenary Rugby Festival trophy in tow following a narrow 3-0 victory over close rivals Blackrock College.

With the domestic season having barely kicked off, many of the cars that lined the avenue had arrived with spectators looking for answers: who would emerge as early frontrunners for the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup? Would a new star be found? How would the English and Welsh sides fare against their Irish counterparts? Would the heavily fancied sides from the north perform a smash and grab and race back up the M1? Would the Munster sides power their way to victory?

So many questions to answer, yet so little time to sit and ponder!

The first day presented little in terms of clarity. Teams would emerge with a comprehensive victory only to capitulate at the very next hurdle. With 10-minute halves separated by 3-minute intervals played at a near-Cup intensity, possibilities were endless. Furthermore, permutations of the competition dictated that where teams could not be separated, a head-to-head would resolve the outcome. Consequently, a frenetic pace was assured and the scene was duly set – rankings at the close of business would decide their respective paths on the following day.

Following an impressive first day, blemished only by injury to key back-rower Will Connors, Clongowes continued their business-like form on Saturday by dispatching Ivybridge Community College of England 12-0 in Cup Group A. Yet, before the magnitude of the day had taken hold, a clash that would settle the afternoon’s proceedings was already in the offing. With Blackrock having swept aside a capable Methody outfit (21-5) in a simultaneous fixture, Clongowes knew that victory over their powerhouse rivals would guarantee them a place in the Cup final.

Following a mediocre showing on the opening day, Blackrock never looked likely to ruffle too many feathers on Saturday. However, they returned to Clongowes determined to spoil the party. Playing with a determination befitting the Senior Cup, Blackrock stole a march on the Kildare side by going into an early two score lead. Clongowes knew that only a win would see them progress – first try scorers being crucial. Despite clawing themselves back into the game somewhat, the hosts could not force the issue under limited time constraints and lost 12-7.

On the other side of the draw meanwhile, a gigantic St. Michael’s were imposing themselves on the competition. An early draw against PBC Cork seemed to awaken the Dublin giants and they subsequently notched wins against CBC Cork and Crescent to secure their place in the final.

In the Shield Group, Newbridge College showed the type of form that could see them go far in the upcoming competitions. Leaving Gonzaga, Coleg y Cymeodd (Wales) and Terenure all in their wake, Clongowes’ neighbours duly claimed a well-deserved title against Rockwell College who had been similarly notable in the qualification stages.

The Plate Group proved to be the tightest of all, with Castleknock, St. Mary’s, Roscrea and Belvedere all tied on points going into the last round. Castleknock and St. Mary’s ultimately emerged from the pot, with Castleknock overcoming a 10-0 loss to the Rathmines sides in the earlier rounds to return home with silverware.

Despite their penchant for draws in the initial stages, Blackrock made it to the final without a loss. With a clinical undoing of Clongowes many felt that they were destined for the spoils. However, St. Michael’s, a side blessed with physicality from 1 to 15, had their own ideas and held out in the closest of victories thanks to a penalty from Barry Fitzpatrick.

As Fr. Leonard Moloney SJ, Headmaster of Clongowes, made the presentation to James Ryan, the St. Michael’s captain, it suddenly dawned on the gathered crowd that a spectacular rugby bonanza had come to an end. One could get used to daily match-ups. Yet the true value of the weekend lay in the fun that everyone enjoyed over the two days. From the food and music to the drama of games set in such beautiful surrounds, all agreed that Clongowes had celebrated their historic year fittingly and with pride.

On their journey home St. Michael’s graciously tweeted that it was a “true celebration of 200 years” – it’s just a pity that Clongowes will have to wait until their tercentenary to get that trophy back….

Many thanks to all those involved in what was a memorable weekend.

Cup: St. Michael’s College

Shield: Newbridge College

Plate: Castleknock College