Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup: Update

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Newport Gwent Dragons match programme (15/02/15)

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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…

 

 

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Clongowes hold on in Cracker

For three heart-stopping minutes and forty nail-biting seconds yesterday, the spellbound crowd in Donnybrook watched as wave after wave of St Michael’s players broke on the Clongowes line, only to be repulsed time after time by the the defence. The Kildare school was leading by six points at the time and many of their supporters hoped that the seemingly inevitable try would be scored far enough wide to make the ensuing conversion attempt difficult if not impossible.

When the referee finally blew the whistle and raised his hand many in the ground (including this editor) were unclear if he had awarded a try or defensive penalty. It was only when Clongowes took possession and the ball was booted exultantly out of play to finish the match that we realised what had happened and that we could breathe again. Here’s how Richard McElwee saw the game unfold…

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The sound of a thousand hearts beating

In the past few weeks a mobile heart screening service has been offered to the boys and staff in the infirmary. Had they known, an army of surgeons might have chosen to set up base at Donnybrook on Sunday instead. As the contest crept into the final stages one began to feel sorry for David Dudeney as he sought to lead the Clongowes cheering from the stand. Try as he might, the sound of the his drum was drowned out by that of several thousand beating hearts as St. Michael’s laid siege to the Clongowes line.

In advance of the draw for the Senior Cup quarterfinal, some of us chose to fly to Rome to watch some rugby; in truth, all the rugby was to be seen in Dublin 4. Sitting in Flumicino airport inhaling one last pizza slice, word came through that Clongowes fans were dancing on the streets; I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Fr. Moloney was dancing on water.

Nobody seemed to have a pen on them in Donnybrook but in all the frenetic excitement there was little time for analysis anyway. On the face of it, as St. Michael’s took to the 4G surface and stared down their Clongowes opponents, many onlookers felt that this could only go one way. Indeed, after a few minutes the St. Michael’s players were celebrating big tackles and turnovers as vigorously as any score. They were up for it.

Having scraped through a first round clash with St. Mary’s, Michael’s were already a battle-hardened group with their ‘bad game’ out of their system. Blessed with specimens of proportions not before seen in this competition, the Ailesbury Road school could also back up their bulk with quality through the likes of the impressive Max Deegan and their captain James Ryan, who had lifted the Bi-Centenary trophy in Clane a few months ago. Clongowes on the other hand had excelled in manouveres against Castleknock but few could tell how they might fare in war.

The little generals

A temporary Napoleonic complex was taking root in those in purple however. Confronted by such giants, the likes of John Molony, Donal Mongey and Rowan Osborne rose above their perceived shortcomings to help determine the outcome of this contest. Molony and Mongey were at their burrowing best while Osborne had St. Michael’s problem solving at every breakdown, with his own muscle men providing options at every play. It was the busy tempo that he injected into the tie which ultimately led to the breakthrough score as Mongey, Conor Murray, the irrepressible Will Connors and Nick Rinklin all battered away at the St. Michael’s line before Colm Mulcahy provided us with his best BOD impersonation to crash over for his 5th try in two games after 12 minutes. Jonny Glynn added the extras (7-0).

Inevitably, St. Michael’s were bound to respond and they did so over the ensuing ten minutes with Deegan to the fore. Brazenly stealing a lineout in front of the gasping Clongowes faithful, the big No. 8 thundered through the defence only to be hauled to the ground with inches to spare. The Dublin side recycled through several plays and eventually loose head Rory Mulvihill bundled over in the right corner. Clearly in the ascendancy, it was only a matter of minutes before they were back again. Upon the awarding of a penalty three minutes later, James Ryan sought to capitalise on the St. Michael’s momentum and pointed to the corner from where a rolling maul saw Barry Fitzpatrick fall over the line with his entire pack (7-10). With Mulcahy now evidently struggling with injury, one began to wonder whether his contribution had merely served to be the catalyst for a St. Michael’s domination…

Stinging like a bee

Last week Ali celebrated his 73rd birthday. In his infamous Rumble in the Jungle bout, Muhammad Ali withstood several blows from the much-feared George Foreman before staging an extraordinary revival to reclaim the world heavyweight title. In what was an unwitting tribute, there was a lot of ‘rope-a-doping’ for Clongowes on Sunday and while several sore bodies bore the marks of a beating that evening, nothing was painful enough to wipe the smiles from their scratched faces.

For all their supremacy, it was actually St. Michael’s who invited Clongowes back into the contest when Robin Cosgrave kicked into the waiting hands of Michael Silvester. The young full-back who is proving to be quite the find in that position, brilliantly danced by the first-up tacklers to alarm the blue defence which was now scurrying to cover. As Silvester was floored, Michael McDermott instinctively picked up the placed ball, drew another couple of defenders before releasing Osborne who dashed to the try-line (12-10). Half time shortly followed but with the game so delicately poised, the loss of Mulcahy, who had finally succumbed to a niggling knee injury, left an anxious chill in the air.

With Mulcahy consigned to a watching brief, winger James Lappin moved into the 13 channel. Remarkably, despite missing two tackles from the right wing, Lappin shifted inside with great ease and, in so doing, also grew several inches taller. Hitting anything that moved whilst also probing invisible holes in the opposition resistance, Lappin, in tandem with the complete game of Michael McDermott, brought an energy to the midfield that St. Michael’s struggled to contain. Although the Dublin school had edged in front again thanks to a Harry Byrne penalty (12-13), it was probably most appropriate that Lappin was at hand to touch down near the posts following several minutes of sustained Clongowes pressure. The try was converted by Glynn and the gap stood at six points (19-13).

Last-ditch defence

The remainder of the game was not for the faint hearted. One simple error could be decisive and everyone knew it. Family, friends and alumni dined on their fingernails as they watched their loved ones throw themselves at ball and blue. For many past-pupils gathered, the sight of Fionnan Madden bowling two opponents over as he rose highest for a ball brought them back to 2000 when Paddy Berkery (OC’01) raised the roof with a similar leap against Blackrock. Then there was the ‘Connors Chop,’ Lappin’s last-ditch tackling and the fear in the eyes of St. Michael’s biggest men as little John Molony bore down upon them like a rampant bull with one boot on.

As the referee brought the contest to a close five minutes into injury time, following 35 consecutive St. Michael’s phases on the Clongowes line, two things were certain: Clongowes had qualified for their seventh semi-final in 10 years, but – more importantly to the Clongowes community – the Jesuit school had once again unleashed a side that would send any heart testing off the charts.

Clongowes: M Silvester, J Lappin, C Mulcahy, M McDermott, C Murray, J Glynn, R Osborne, N Rinklin, J Molony (c), C Carroll, T Burke, D O’Mahony, W Connors, D Mongey, S McCrohan. Replacements – F Madden for Mulcahy 28 mins; J Moore for Burke 56 mins, E Carroll for C Carroll 66 mins.