The rumours of a revived, rejuvenated St Mary’s College in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Schools Junior Cup have not been greatly exaggerated. In fact, they will be battle-hardened from three incredibly demanding rounds of rugby in which Newbridge, Terenure and Belvedere have all been elbowed aside.
The basic principles of St Mary’s have always been based on an attractive brand of rugby in which the back three stay alive to any opportunity from set plays, turnover ball or from counter-attack.
The last time St Mary’s made a big splash in the JCT was back in 1997 when ‘Nure were their obstacle to what was their sixth title. Since then, they have not been back to one final, while ‘Rock have won a remarkable twelve from 14 finals to stand on a total of 50 Junior Cups.
It is about time St Mary’s made their mark again and they come into this with a tremendously resilient pack of forwards. Tight-head prop Adam Mulvihill is a worthy captain in a front row completed by loose-head Collum Dillon and Matthew Black, who will look to maintain his special bond with Hugo Massey at the lineout.
The balance in the second row between Massey and no-nonsense Daniel Leane has set the standard for their work in the trenches. Then, the back row is well balanced with number eight Adam Sloan’s carrying, Will Sparrow’s hard edge and John Kennedy’s vigilant roaming of the breakdown essential to a unit in which all three know their roles.
The half-backs Sean Devereux and Darragh Gilbourne have been understated in their play as facilitators for those further out. The centre partnership between Barra O’Loughlin and Rob Nolan is crucial to their defence and attack where speedy wing Ross Moore has not seen enough of the ball. Sam Czerniek has been tidy in his work on the left wing and full-back Max Svejdar, forced off by injury in the semi-final, is key to their plans.
Blackrock College started out on this road as the pre-tournament favourites which can cause undue pressure. They took revenge on St Michael’s, who had beaten them in the friendly season, in emphatic fashion but have not been as convincing since.
The half-backs David Walsh and Thomas Quinn have weapons all around them with left-wing Jude O’Reilly a natural finisher in a back-three in which Cormac O’Brien and Michael Nealon were solid against Castleknock in the semi-final.
It is in the centre where they have prospered most with Ben Brownlee’s power and Tom Henderson’s breaking game providing a dual threat. Up front, the pack is led by captain James Culhane on the openside and tight-head Scott Barron.
Blindside Alex Simpson and number eight Sean Dempsey are industrious in behind an athletic lock combination in Naoise Golden and Rory McGuire. Hooker Milo Byrnes has popped up everywhere and loose-head David Walsh is not likely to take a backward step.
The general impression is that St Mary’s will have to be more clinical than in previous rounds where they had a tendency to make life more difficult than it had to be. They have failed to land a single kick in their last two matches, relying on two tries in each of the quarter and semi-finals. That won’t be good enough to topple Blackrock.
St Mary’s College will take on Blackrock College in the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Schools Junior Cup Final this Wednesday, 21st March, at Donnybrook Stadium (KO 3pm). Admission can be paid on the gate: €5 School Pupil/Student (must present valid student identification), €10 Adult Ground, €15 Adult Stand.
Paths to the Final
First round: Blackrock 36 St Michael’s 12; St Mary’s 20 Newbridge 12.
Quarter-finals: Blackrock 33 St Gerard’s 10; St Mary’s 10 Terenure 0.
Semi-finals: Blackrock 15 Castleknock 5; St Mary’s 10 Belvedere 7.