Gonzaga College win Senior Cup for the first time
March 17, 2023 3:15 pm Des Berry
Gonzaga College 35 Blackrock College 31
Surely, there can be no better way to shed the tag of ‘nearly men’ than to outplay the kingpins in a classic Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools final at The RDS on Friday afternoon.
Captain Paul Wilson walked forward to cradle Gonzaga’s first Senior Cup after a journey that started long before the players were born.
From the moment Conor O’Shaughnessy fielded Hugo McLaughlin’s garryowen, Blackrock powered through a series of phases from their own 22, using the inside ball from out-half O’Shaughnessy to a barrage of runners.
It exposed vulnerability on the fringes, the inevitable try coming from number eight Tom Brigg for Oliver Coffey to convert in the third minute.
The sense of deja vu from last year was quickly dispelled when Stephen McMahon pierced the cover to have ‘Rock on their heels, a penalty coming their way.
It wasn’t a day to play the percentages. The ball was angled to touch where the maul was stalled.
No matter, a flat ball to McLaughlin was all that was needed for the full-back to bounce a tackle, McMahon’s conversion tying it up.
It was a million miles an hour as Blackrock tracked McLaughlin’s glorious lines, leaving room for hooker Luke McLaughlin to make a burst.
Twice Gonzaga was given penalties for educated pressure. Twice, they came to nothing. Even so, they were taking the fight to the champions.
Once the wheels of ‘Rock’s carrying game were put in motion, the undeniable power through contact made it easier to generate metres.
A maul made in heaven surged to the line where Mikey Wall miraculously did enough to force a fumble from Mikey Yarr, soon followed by Charlie Molony being held up over the line by Wilson.
This desperate defence couldn’t go on, Luke Kritzinger blowing through Finn O’Neill and captain Coffey taking a high hit before turning it into the lead points for 10-7 in the 25th minute.
Jody Browne’s refusal to go to ground bought time for Gonzaga to make their play, Tom Wyley’s footwork expiring a soft shoulder.
The pressure produced a penalty and, quick as a flash, McMahon tapped and took the ball in between Brigg and Tom O’Riordan for the fly-half to also add the extras for the lead in the 27th minute.
McMahon was at it again, seeing the space in behind, to trouble O’Shaughnessy with a glorious grubber.
The chase from JP Breslin was Olympian, Luke McLaughlin popping the ball up for McMahon to have the presence of mind to veer inwards, making his conversion a formality for 21-10 at the break.
Blackrock had first shot at making an impact, Tom Wyley coraling Kritzinger for the concession of a penalty which was used to put Gonzaga in a bind.
Again, the momentum from phase play was just too much for a soaking defence, Tom O’Riordan grounding the ball for Coffey to convert.
And then. A thing of beauty. A rehearsed move from a scrum, involving McMahon and McLaughlin, culminated in the final pass for Breslin to do the honours, McMahon striking the conversion in the 43rd minute.
Blackrock were on the ropes. They needed a reaction. They got it. Full-back Molony smuggled the restart and the big boys did their duty, tight-head Alex Mullan having the leg drive to claim the try, Coffey converting for 28-24 in the 45th minute.
The ball was flying around, every pass greeted with the anticipation of something wonderful or wicked happening, the frenzied crowd rising and reseating accordingly.
The brutal carrying of the forwards, led by Brigg, opened the door for Coffey to put Mullan in for his second seven-pointer to grab the lead in the 55th minute.
It was Gonzaga ‘s turn to chase. James O’Dwyer came into the game. Centres Aidan O’Flanagan and Browne cut lines. Eoghan Walsh stole the ball on the floor. Wilson was held up over the whitewash.
They kept their nerve, however, McMahon marshalling an attack to put Patrick Masterson through a hole and O’Dwyer slipped the ball to Tom Wyley for a try, converted by McMahon, that will live long in the memory.
Scorers – Gonzaga – S McMahon 2 tries, 5 cons; T Wyley, H McLaughlin. JP Breslin try each. Blackrock – A Mullan 2 tries; T Brigg, T O’Riordan, try each; O Coffey pen, 4 cons.
Gonzaga: Hugo McLaughlin; JP Breslin, Aidan O’Flanagan (Samuel Inglis 68), Jody Browne, Mikey Wall (Patrick Masterson 58); Stephen McMahon, Tom Brophy (James O’Dwyer 57); Finn O’Neill (Patrick O’Brien 66), Luke McLaughlin, Adam McVerry (Jamie Shiel 58), Jamie Kennedy, Tom Wyley, Charlie Kennedy (Morgan Tyrrell 57), Gavin O’Grady, Paul Wilson (Capt).
Blackrock College: Charlie Molony; James O’Sullivan, Luke Kritzinger, Mark Walsh (Andrew Quinn 47), Eoghan Walsh; Conor O’Shaughnessy (Harry Whelan 68), Oliver Coffey (Capt), Tom O’Riordan, Mikey Yarr, Alex Mullan, Michael Colreavy, Tommy Butler, Conor Tonge (Conall Hodges 49), Jack Angulo Tom Brigg (Donnacha McGuire 65).
Referee: P Reidy, Leinster Branch.