It was the changes made by Belvedere and Blackrock that formed the central reason for the repeat of last year’s final.

Champions Belvo’ will seek their first three-in-a-row to take them beyond their previous doubles of 1923-1924, 1971-1972 and the last two years.

With twenty minutes left on the clock of their semi-final, coach Phil Werahiko made one last roll of the dice. A rampant St Michael’s has just moved three scores clear (19-3) from Jay Barron’s beautifully conceived try, converted by David Ryan. The experienced Werahiko made the decision to introduce five players all at once.

The eventual match-winner Mateusz Galinski, a loose-head prop, tight-head Jonathan Bell, second row Cian Scott, scrum-half Ted Walsh and three-quarter Sam Barry were thrown in. Usually, these numbers can cause a breakdown in synchronisation and lead to greater damage. But, Werahiko has been in the game a long time and his prayers were answered.

Leinster Schools Senior Cup

It would be remiss of anyone to forget to mention how the victories of 2016 and 2017 have built up a level of confidence that cannot be taken for granted. They climbed the ladder from down and out to one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the competition through sheer force of will and character.

They did this without one of their best players, David Hawkshaw, who has been missing from action through injury since the first round. In the quarter-final, Belvedere lost hard-working second-row Aleksiey Soroka to injury, leaving a hole in the heart of their pack.

They could withstand the loss of two important players before the semi-final, for which they were already rated as underdogs, survive dropping into a 16-point hole in the 48th minute, make five changes in the last chance gamble and have what it takes to make a near miracle happen.

As it stands, the fact is Belvedere have just one player, number eight Ruadhan Byron, back from the 10-3 win over Blackrock in last year’s final. It remains to be seen whether Hawkshaw can recover in time for the final to make it two.

Leinster Schools Senior Cup

In fairness, Blackrock have just two starters returning in captain Liam Turner, at outside centre, and Tom Maher, moving forward from full-back to inside centre. They have three others who saw action from the bench in hooker Sean Molony, tight-head Thomas Clarkson and loose-forward Michael McGagh.

In truth, Blackrock struggled to put their best foot forward in their first two rounds, looking leaky in defence against Castleknock (46-20) and just about surviving valiant St Gerard’s by two points in the quarter-final.

Coach Justin Vanstone decided to make four changes for the semi-final against St Mary’s with number eight Ed Brennan, loose-head prop Donnacha Mescal and wing Liam McMahon all returning from injury as well as Louis O’Reilly coming in at scrum-half. It is difficult to make any confident argument about how much difference it made.

What is certain is that ‘Rock looked far more accurate at the ruck and in the execution of their basic skills which led to a more clinical edge in attack. The gap back to their last Senior Cup in 2014 must feel like a drought for the 68-time winners.

Leinster Schools Senior Cup

They will be secretly delighted that they get to have a crack at taking revenge on Belvedere for what happened in the rain last year. ‘Rock have power all over the park and have racked up 107 points in their three matches compared to Belvedere’s 54.

This is explained by the holders more difficult route in having to topple Gonzaga, Newbridge and St Michael’s. However, the wide-to-wide game favoured by St Michael’s looked tailor-made to cause their big boys more problems.

It will be a case of which school can stamp their authority on the other with Blackrock looking to take revenge and Belvedere looking to make history.

Paths to the Final

First round: Belvedere 11 Gonzaga 10; Blackrock 46 Castleknock 20.

Quarter-Finals: Belvedere 23 Newbridge 7; Blackrock 19 St Gerard’s 17.

Semi-Finals: Belvedere 20 St Michael’s 19; Blackrock 42 St Mary’s 15.

Tickets for the final can be purchased from Ticketmaster. For the best value, buy online by Saturday, 17th March, to get the Early Bird rate. 

How much are tickets?

Early Bird ticket prices (online only – available until 17th March)

Anglesea Stand

Adult – €20
Junior – €10
Family – €50

North & South Stand

Adult – €15
Junior – €10
Family – €40

Match Day Price

Anglesea Stand

Adult – €25
Junior – €15
Family – €55

North & South Stand

Adult – €20
Junior – €15
Family – €45

Click here for more information on Senior Cup Final tickets.

Click here to see the full list of Bank of Ireland Schools Cup fixtures.