As featured in Leinster Rugby v Newport Gwent Dragons match programme (15/02/15)
For some, the excitement has been and gone – for others there is more to come. For now, the rest of us can take a quick breather and reflect on what has been an enthralling few weeks of competitive action for Leinster schools’ rugby.
On Sunday last, Donnybrook played host to one of the finest schoolboy games in recent memory as Clongowes Wood College stood firm to edge out St. Michael’s College. Billed as the pre-tournament favourites, St. Michael’s threw everything in their armory at last year’s finalists (going through 35 phases at the finish) but failed to eek out the victory. Clongowes now progress to their 7th semi-final in 10 years. There will probably be no better advertisement for the schools game as both teams sweat blood and tears to the bitter end in what was a tribute to the perpetual honour in contesting the holy grail of what is now a vast and well-oiled schools’ rugby machine..
While the Clane school have flown the Kildare flag in the latter stages of the schools’ competitions for several consecutive seasons now, this year they were joined by two lesser known sides as Maynooth Post Primary and Naas CBS contested the Duff Cup final on January 20th – the Duff Cup operates as the third-tier for Junior rugby in the province. On a brisk day at Cill Dara RFC, Maynooth got off to a scorching start before going on to claim their first ever title with a comprehensive 27-0 victory.
By virtue of their qualification to that final, both schools were invited to participate in the Fr. Godfrey Cup in the days leading up to their bout. However with their sights firmly set on silverware, Maynooth failed to contain CUS while Naas CBS bowed out at the hands of St. Pat’s of Navan in a tight 5-3 defeat. St. Pat’s would subsequently fall to Scoil Chonglais of Baltinglass – an up and coming team who have been firmly established as a front-runner in the lower tier competitions. Over the past few seasons. However, their cup nous failed to stand in the way of Wesley College who racked up 100points en route to the Fr. Godfrey Cup final. There they have been joined by CBC Monkstown who have seen off Skerries Community College, the High School and St. Andrew’s College to take up their place in the decisive stage.
Despite their fondness for the try-line, Wesley College were given a taste of their own medicine in their 50-0 first round defeat to St. Michael’s in the Junior Cup. It was business as usual elsewhere in the competition with the standout performances coming from Gonzaga (who prevailed over Newbridge College) and Blackrock who managed to withstand a second-half Clongowes onslaught to win 23-15. Both Dublin sides will meet in the quarter-final following the mid-term break on February 26th. While another titanic Dublin clash will feature Belvedere College and St. Michael’s on February 23rd. Meanwhile, a heavily fancied Terenure side will face Castleknock College (February 24th) with one of Roscrea and Pres. Bray completing the semi-final shake-up on February 25th .
In the senior ranks, Sean O’Brien’s alma mater Tullow CBS can look forward to the McMullen Cup final on March 5th where they will line out against St. Mary’s CBS of Enniscorthy. However, despite the influence of the Leinster and Ireland star, the Carlow school failed to carry their form into the Vinnie Murray Cup where they met Castleknock College and lost 25-7. The 8–times Senior Cup champions were later involved in one of the games of the year when they met St. Gerard’s of Bray in the semi-final at Donnybrook. In what was a remarkable showing of endurance, Castleknock ultimately prevailed in a replay just three days following a 20-20 draw. They will now meet the King’s Hospital in the Vinnie Murray Cup final (date TBC).
Returning to Donnybrook for a third time in just nine days, Castleknock might have hoped that their familiarity with the newly revamped home of Leinster schools’ rugby would stand them in good stead for their first round clash with Clongowes on January 29th. However, following their commendable exploits in the Vinnie Murray Cup, the neutral would have been disappointed to find that the contest quickly became an exercise in damage limitation for the North Dublin school who struggled to live with the intensity of a rampant Clongowes side eager to take advantage of some tired legs. Clongowes have continued to move through the competition – but nobody knows what lies around the corner…
The people of Dublin 4 have now become accustomed to the buzz and energy that permeates through Donnybrook on match day. They have come to recognise the jerseys, the songs, the faces and the schools. They cannot avoid it. As the competition grows, so does the intrigue and passers-by will find a carnival of highly-skilled rugby played at a frenetic pace in a cauldron of noise. Thankfully, there are still a few weeks to go yet…