Belvo complete incredible late comeback to keep three-in-a-row bid alive
The holders overturned a 19-3 deficit to advance into the final at the expense of St Michael’s.

Belvedere College 20

St Michael’s College 19

Ryan Bailey reports from Donnybrook 

FILE THIS SCARCELY believable comeback under the dictionary definition of great champions. Against all odds, against all reason, Belvedere College’s three-in-a-row bid remains well and truly alive.

David Lacey celebrates with Ted Walsh at the final whistle Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Dead and buried with 10 minutes remaining, the holders — trailing 19-3 — found something from somewhere to mount a late surge which not only came out of the blue but blew a previously superb St Michael’s side away.

Replacement prop Mateusz Galinski will go down as the hero as his try, just as the clock had gone red, sent one side of Donnybrook into complete raptures before David Lacey held his nerve to complete a one-point victory.

Smash and grab comes to mind, but that would do Phil Werahiko’s side a great disservice.

Granted the 12-time winners were second best for large periods of this Leinster Senior Schools Cup semi-final, but just when it looked like their grip on the trophy was slipping, they dug deep, turned the tide and staged an almighty heist.

Lacey’s try on 60 minutes gave Belvo hope but, even still, they had nine points to overhaul against a resolute and tireless Michael’s defence, which had stood firm for so long only to wilt in the crucial moments.

The fullback, a minor footballer with Dublin, then knocked over a penalty from in front of the posts and although Michael’s had control of the ball in opposition territory, Belvo snatched it back to launch one last attack.

From a lineout on the far side, the pack surged towards the line — Michael’s were powerless to halt the momentum — and it was left to Galinski to crash over.

While there was delight on one side, you can’t help but feel for Michael’s, who were quite superb for 60 minutes here and had one foot in a first final since 2013 having streaked clear through Rob Gilsenan and a brace from Jay Barron.

But when Belvo threw everything at them, Michael’s were unable to see the game out and were left to rue another glorious missed opportunity, conceding 17 points during a frenzied finale.

Rob Gilsenan dejected after the game Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

The agonising wait on Ailesbury Road goes on, with Belvo marching into the final on 18 March to face Blackrock College in a repeat of last year’s decider.

Belvo will know they’ll need to make improvements across the board next week at the RDS if they are to win the title for a third straight year but as much as they were slow to get going, Michael’s deserve huge credit for their performance.

At times, they looked a class above and their attacking, free-flowing brand of rugby is like no other in this competition, with the imposing duo of Ryan Baird and Scott Penny standing out again.

Although captain David Ryan showed initial nerves from the tee, miscuing his first penalty attempt, Emmet MacMahon’s side assumed control of the contest as Gilsenan and then Barron sniped over from close range after industrious work from the forwards.

Out-half David Moran pinged the penalty deep into Belvo territory and although the wall of black and white shirts closed the door twice, scrum-half Gilsenan stepped to his right and darted over past the cover.

A penalty in front of the posts, conceded by Penny after Alistair Loughrey’s burst down the right, allowed Lacey to get Belvo on the board, but Michael’s were enjoying all the possession and territory.

With Baird to the fore, Moran found another good touch on this near side, providing the platform for the powerful maul to drive towards the line, and Gilsenan spotted the space to free Barron for a 14-3 half-time lead.

Ryan Baird tackled by David Lacey Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

And Michael’s appeared to have had the game won when another sweeping team move, with willing support runners coming from all angles, seeing Barron run it home down the left wing.

Crucially, Ryan — the younger brother of Ireland international James — was unable to add the touchline conversion to the Michael’s tally, but at that juncture it was of little consequence.

Michael’s were in cruise control and when Werahiko changed his front five with a quarter of the game remaining, Belvo had run out of ideas and were staring down the barrel. Or so we thought.

Sheer drama, and schools rugby at its best.

The final should be a cracker.

Belvedere scorers:
Tries: David Lacey, Mateusz Galinski
Penalties: David Lacey [2 from 2]
Conversions: David Lacey [2 from 2]
St Michael’s scorers:Tries: Rob Gilsenan, Jay Barron [2]
Penalties: David Ryan [0 from 1]
Conversions: David Ryan [2 from 2]

BELVEDERE COLLEGE: 15. David Lacey; 14. Alex O’Grady, 13. Matthew Grogan, 12. Cailean Mulvaney, 11. Alistair Loughrey; 10. John Meagher, 9. Patrick Lysaght; 1. James Gleeson, 2. Luke Harmon, 3. Conor Cagney, 4. Neil Howard, 5. James Murphy, 6. Gerard Hill, 7. Aaron Coleman, 8. Ruadhan Byron (captain).

Replacements: 16. Andrew Synnott, 17. Mateusz Galinski, 18. Jonathan Bell, 19. Mark Daly, 20. Cian Scott, 21. Ted Walsh, 22. Justin Leonard, 23. Sam Barry.

ST MICHAEL’S COLLEGE: 15. Chris Cosgrave; 14. Mark O’Brien, 13. David Ryan (captain), 12. Jay Barron, 11. Andrew Smith; 10. David Moran, 9. Rob Gilsenan; 1. Jack Boyle, 2. Lee Barron, 3. Chris Hennessy, 4. Matthew Healy, 5. Ryan Baird, 6. Jody Booth, 7. Scott Penny, 8. Dan O’Donovan.

Replacements: 16. Pierce Feeney, 17. Adam Peat, 18. Fionn Finlay, 19. John Fish, 20. Mark Hernan, 21. Des McCarthy, 22. Eddie Kealy, 23. Jeff O’Loughlin.

Referee: Paul Haycock.

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