Senior Cup preview: Blackrock v Newbridge
March 2, 2014 12:00 am client
It will come as no surprise to hear Blackrock were handed the tag of favouritism once they had overcome St Michael’s in the quarter-final…
The tournament’s joint-favourites entered into the round of eight from contrasting first round experiences. ‘Rock rolled right over the top of CBC Monkstown 31-3 with ease, number eight David O’Connor striking for a try in each half.
St Michael’s endured a torrid test against Terenure where the texture of their defence was sorely examined before they emerged 17-13 from a bruising battle at Templeville Road.
It was all set up for a classic contest. The most worrying aspect for all-comers to ‘Rock’s throne is the systematic way they outplayed a St Michael’s edition strewn with talent and potential.
Perhaps, ‘Rock held the hoodoo over their near rivals’ heads from last year’s final when current Ireland U20 centre Gary Ringrose snaffled a ball right out of the clutches of a St Michael’s carrier to wheel around and make good the distance from him to the line, fully 70 metres away.
That was one St Michael’s could have and should have won. However, the history books are littered with examples when Blackrock overcame the twin tides of less possession and less territory to deliver victory.
They have in former Leinster hooker Peter Smyth, who is every inch the professional now that he was as a player, a top-class coach.
Their main concern is over the fitness of second row Jack Dwan. Smyth was able to make do without the Leinster U19 lock against St Michael’s, forcing O’Connor into the row beside Cian O’Dwyer and Nick Timoney back to eight from flank forward.
It didn’t seem to have a significant impact on how they went about their business with former Ireland Clubs internationals Joey Carbery, at full-back, and Conor Oliver, on the openside, adapting well.
The smooth running backline is not the biggest physically. But, there is footballing ability from fly-half Sean Kearns – he was superb as a decision maker in the quarter-final – and the game-breaking know-how of Jack Power in the centre, all adding up to a potent cocktail of power and precision.
All of this leads one to the conclusion that your average Newbridge SCT should not even bother boarding the bus to Dublin. But, this is no ordinary Newbridge.
What they are is unpredictable and that makes them the most dangerous school left in the competition – maybe not the best, but the most dangerous. On their day they can live with legends.
One of those days arrived last year when they came within a whisker of shocking St Michael’s in the semi-final, leading for large parts until they succumbed 21-17 to another glorious defeat, still looking for a third title to put alongside those of 1941 and 1970 when former Ireland out-half Mick Quinn was their mainstay.
They have been able to bring back a cluster of players from that semi-final to give The ‘Bridge enough experience to make it matter. They have only really opened up in the Leinster League final this year, destroying Cistercian Roscrea 43-10 on a cold night at Donnybrook.
Since then, they have struggled through 14-3 in a repeat against Roscrea in the Senior Cup first round, Leinster U18 Schools fly-half Jimmy O’Brien and second row Conor Doyle claiming the tries when their defence was as important as their attack.
From there, they were made to work every minute of the seventy to hold off St Mary’s 17-10 in the last round, prop Jonathan Phelan’s second-half try separating the schools.
There is still the lingering doubt about Newbridge, doubt that they have shown their hand and doubt that they can show it when it matters most.
They have two of the most skilled footballers in the competition at half-back where O’Brien and Mark Sutton can turn a game in an instant, a grease lightening wing in Joe D’Arcy and a gain-line centre Jake Howlett.
Their pack of forwards is athletic rather than powerful, at their best when moving the ball quickly in tandem with their three-quarters. They have their share of competitors too.
Back rowers Cormac Nugent and Tom Brady are never far from the ball, locks Doyle and Tom Treacy can shift and the front row is a solid unit, though they have lost their tight-head Hugh O’Donnell for the campaign.
Common sense dictates that this will go the same way as the 1996 Leinster Senior Cup final between the schools when Geordie Murphy’s ‘Bridge were trampled all over by the Blackrock Dream Team.
Then again, common sense is not all that common these days.