2023 Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final Preview
March 16, 2023 11:45 am Des Berry
You can read the Digital Match Programme HERE
Heartbreak can make or break you.
Gonzaga College have been waiting to exorcise the demons that have been dancing in their heads for exactly one year.
Since then, the deep despair of giving up 50 points to Blackrock in the 2022 final has to have driven them through a tremendous pre-Cup campaign, to the Leinster League title before Christmas and for the three previous rounds of the Senior Cup.
Backs Hugo McLaughlin (pictured below), Jody Browne and Stephen McMahon and forwards Paul Wilson and Gavin O’Donnell all started on that afternoon, while centre Aidan O’Flanagan, hooker Luke McLaughlin, tight-head Adam McVerry, lock Tom Wyley and Morgan Tyrrell all made an appearance when the game was gone.
That makes a total of ten players who have been there, seen it and played in it, albeit from the wrong end of the scoreboard for a school that has never won the Senior Cup.
In fact, ‘Zaga reached the final for the first time in 2019 where they were stumped by St Michael’s, making it back last year for that 50-21 defeat to ‘Rock.
Now, they are into their third final in four years of competition, excluding the Covid cancelled competition in 2021, quite the feat.
This band of brothers has been through enough low and high days to see them through tight tussles against St Mary’s (34-28) in the quarter-final and Newbridge (33-31) in the semi-final.
At the other end of the spectrum, Blackrock expect nothing less than an appearance at The RDS on St Patrick’s Day.
Last March marked the capture of a remarkable 70th Leinster Senior Cup and coach Justin Vanstone has plenty of players looking to go back-to-back.
Centre Luke Kritzinger (pictured below), wing Eoghan Walsh, scrum-half Oliver Coffey, the captain, flanker Conor Tonge and number eight Tom Brigg all started on the day.
Out-half Conor O’Shaughnessy, prop Tom O’Riordan, hooker Mikey Yarr and flanker Jack Angulo were introduced to a game that was already won. They will want to put their own stamp on the final, right from the beginning.
St Michael’s showed in the semi-final that the holders can be opened up if Gonzaga are committed to countering from deep.
As it happens, last year’s Ireland Schools full-back/wing McLaughlin is the best in the country when it comes to turning defence into attack.
The tactical awareness of the out-halfs McMahon and O’Shaughnessy and their execution of the game plans by all concerned will go a long way towards crowning a first-time champion or the most familiar one.