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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Boyle's brace powers St Michael's to Leinster Senior Schools Cup victory

Gonzaga’s first appearance in the final ended in disappointment, as Michael’s landed a third title at the RDS.

Gonzaga College 5

St Michael’s College 28 

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

THIS COMPETITION CAN occasionally be kind to the underdog, and certainly this has been a fairytale campaign for a talented and spirited Gonzaga College outfit, but St Michael’s were in no mood to let the story be about anyone but them here. 

The final scoreline suggests a third Leinster Senior Schools Cup crown was more straightforward than it was for Emmet MacMahon’s side, although their power, precision and relentlessness came to the fore in front of a large St Patrick’s Day crowd at the RDS to make them convincing victors. 

St Michael's celebrate the try of Rob Gilsenan Michael's win their third Leinster Senior Cup title. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Michael’s, a side festooned with quality and led by their excellent captain Mark Hernan, saved their best performance of the season until the big occasion, fittingly staying true to the principles and style which had served them so well to this point.

Loosehead prop Jack Boyle set them on their way to victory with a brace of first-half tries and while ‘Zaga showed heart and character to stay in the contest, Michael’s moved through the gears to get over the line with plenty left to spare.

Lee Barron’s score early in the second half settled matters and the win was embellished with a stunning breakaway try finished by scrum-half Rob Gilsenan, while place-kicking centre Chris Cosgrave was faultless off the tee.

And so, after countless near misses and disappointments since their last Senior Cup triumph seven years ago, Michael’s lifted their third title, the class of 2019 emulating their predecessors in 2007 and 2012.

Declan Fassbender’s ‘Zaga will have no complaints about the outcome, the Ranelagh school simply overpowered by the better team on the day, but when the initial disappointment assuages, they will take great pride in their thrilling run to the final and achievements. 

As for Michael’s, they more than justified their favourites tag and there was to be no slip-up this year, as a young side completed the job in emphatic fashion after knocking holders Blackrock College and Belvedere College out in earlier rounds.

Boyle was outstanding, not only for his try-scoring exploits, but as a loosehead with so many strings to his bow, while the back row of Jack Guinane, Hernan and Will Hickey ensured there was never any let-up in intensity.

Worryingly for the rest of the province, this young Michael’s starting XV contains eight fifth years and a fourth year, marking them out as strong contenders to defend their crown next year. 

While the pack exerted dominance in the contact zone and set-piece, a lethal backline took full advantage of the platform to stretch the green shirts and ultimately wear a hard-working ‘Zaga outfit down. 

Ronan Shaw is tackled by Niall Carroll and Fionn Finlay Gonzaga's Ronan Shaw carries into contact at the RDS. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Michael’s started with purpose and intent, and with a strong gale blowing down the ground, set down an early marker through the relentlessness of their ball-carrying in close quarters.

A statement shove from their pack brought play up to halfway and when ‘Zaga infringed to bring the powerful maul to a halt, Cosgrave’s kick for the corner laid the platform for the game’s opening score.

Thirteen of this Michael’s starting team have played for Leinster schools, and while their run to the final was underpinned by the grunt of their mobile and dynamic forward unit, a free-running and athletic backline has been in devastating form. 

Off a solid scrum base, inside centre Simon O’Kelly made the initial linebreak and with Barron in support, Michael’s moved within striking distance for the rampaging Boyle to show strength and dexterity to get the ball down. 

The big challenge for ‘Zaga was to start well here, not only to stifle any early Michael’s momentum, but to foster the type of self-belief within their own ranks that played such a big part in edging tight games against Castleknock and Clongowes in the quarter and semi-finals.

Fassbender’s side displayed some of those qualities during a testing first period, showing obduracy in defence to repel blue wave-after-wave, while adopting a restrained and controlled approach into the teeth of the wind. 

It meant their big leaders — the like of captain Jack Barry, loosehead Henry Godson and second row Jack Coolican — were tasked with getting through mountains of work in the trenches to simply hold firm at one end.

But the pressure on their line eventually told in the 23rd minute, when the excellent Boyle started and finished a move for his second score of the game, before Cosgrave again added the extras for a 14-0 lead.

With a well-oiled Michael’s unit moving through the gears, it looked ominous for the Ranelagh school at that juncture but they again showed admirable resilience in adversity to conjure a big riposte before the break.

Despite spurning opportunities when Jack Connolly kicked a penalty dead and the ball being lost in contact under pressure from Michael’s 10 Niall Carroll, ‘Zaga pressed and persevered and got the reward their first-half endeavours merited on the whistle.

Tom Cullen is tackled by Niall Carroll Tom Cullen is tackled by Niall Carroll of St Michael's. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Scrum-half Connolly dictated and barked the orders, his forwards punching holes in the Michael’s rearguard with accuracy and patience, before Coolican applied the finishing touch with an outstretched right arm. 

The try came at a cost, though, as prop Godson — the hero of the semi-final win over Clongowes with a hat-trick — lay stricken on the turf under the shadow of the posts and despite efforts to carry on, was forced off with a knee injury upon the restart. 

And Michael’s wasted little time in forcefully shutting the door on any ‘Zaga comeback. A sweeping break from deep, involving O’Kelly, Eddie Kelly and scrum-half Gilsenan, had the green shirts scrambling and Boyle again made his impact felt with another meaty carry on the right.

From there, Michael’s moved it in field and mixing the incision of their backs with the capacity of the forwards to consistently make yards in the tackle, added a third try through hooker Barron for a 21-5 scoreboard advantage.

Now, it was about managing the final quarter for MacMahon’s side, and they did it in style to emphatically announce themselves as champions. After standing firm at one end, Michael’s broke down the right and Andrew Smith’s stunning offload set Eddie Kelly away.

The winger showed pace and power to glide past the covering defenders and then had the awareness to feed the supporting Gilsenan, who strode clear for the line to seal the deal and send the Senior Cup back to Ailesbury Road. 

Gonzaga scorers:

Tries: Jack Coolican.
Conversions: Jack Connolly [0 from 1].

St Michael’s scorers:

Tries: Jack Boyle [2], Lee Barron, Rob Gilsenan.  
Conversions: Chris Cosgrave [4 from 4].

GONZAGA COLLEGE: 15. Conor Hennessy, 14. Fergus Ó hOisín (Max Colgan 66′), 13. Frank O’Grady, 12. Karl Morgan, 11. Brian Barron (Simon Wilson 69′), 10. Harry Colbert (JJ Walsh 66′), 9. Jack Connolly; 1. Henry Godson (Luke Hammond 36′), 2. Hugo Fitzgerald, 3. Ronan Shaw (Sean Grimley 66′), 4. Liam Tyrell, 5. Jack Coolican (Oscar Rogers 67′), 6. Colm Kirby Ó Briain (Arthur Henry 46′), 7. Tom Cullen, 8. Jack Barry (captain). 

ST MICHAEL’S COLLEGE: 15. Andrew Smith, 14. Eddie Kelly (Rohan van der Akker 63′), 13. Chris Cosgrave, 12. Simon O’Kelly (Hugo McWade 67′), 11. Mark O’Brien, 10. Niall Carroll, 9. Robert Gilsenan (Jeffrey Woods 67′); 1. Jack Boyle (Joey Boland 67′), 2. Lee Barron (Ben Victory 53′), 3. Fionn Finlay (James Power 56′), 4. Stephen Woods (Conor Booth 66′), 5. John Fish, 6. Jack Guinane (Luke Fehily 69′), 7. Mark Hernan (captain), 8. Will Hickey. 

Referee: Brian MacNeice.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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