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'It was the biggest thing in the world to me. I was forged in that match'

As PBC and CBC meet in today’s Munster Senior Schools Cup final, Simon Zebo looks back on his virtuoso try in the 2007 decider between the Cork rivals.

THE FIRST MISTAKE, Simon Zebo laughs, was kicking at him. The wind was swirling around Musgrave Park, but Christians ought to have known better but to give this prodigiously talented winger time and space on the ball.

Robbie O’Donoghue’s clearance kick was straight down Zebo’s throat. There were barely 10 minutes on the clock, but what followed was the game’s defining-moment and, as it turned out, a pretty significant moment in the 18-year-old’s nascent career.

Simon Zebo Simon Zebo. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It was a try out of nothing, a wonderfully opportunistic and virtuoso score befitting of the occasion. At the time, the 2007 Munster Senior Schools Cup final meant everything to Zebo and his Pres team-mates — and he rose to the occasion. 

The fielding of the wayward kick, the sidestepping of two defenders, the kick-dummy, the acceleration and the finish. It was magic, it was outstanding. And it was Simon Zebo all over. The instinct, the confidence, the ability. Box-office, even then.

“A lot of it was down to instinct,” he tells The42. “It was a very windy day so I knew they were going to kick a bit so I sat back really deep, collected the kick. Some fella came flying out at me and I was stepping and off I went.

“The rest was history for me and that team. It is one of my fondest memories for me as a rugby player because I was running up the side where the Christians supporters were and all game they were giving me stick because I was standing out on the wing on my own. It was very funny because you could hear a pin drop on that side of the ground.”

Zebo’s early try set PBC on their way to a memorable 13-3 victory over their bitter rivals, a triumph which saw them join Christians at the top of the Munster leaderboard with their 27th title.

While their young winger stole the headlines, that PBC team also included Munster captain Peter O’Mahony and out-half Scott Deasy, who would go on to spend four seasons as a professional with the southern province. 

“That final was huge for me,” Zebo recalls. “At the time, it was the biggest thing in the world to me. For the weeks leading up to it, it was all the talk amongst the students, the schools, the history between our two schools.

Source: SimonZebo/YouTube

“It was such a big moment for us and we ended up going out and winning the game. It was my first taste of a big-game atmosphere and it really gave me a taste and a hunger for playing in front of big crowds again.

“Once I got a taste of it, I just thought ‘I really want this to be my job’. It gave me a hunger and a motivation to go out and become a professional rugby player. It was certainly a crucial moment for me in terms of my career.

“I was forged in that match, and in schools rugby.”

Both PBC and CBC have gone on to add to their Senior Cup titles in the intervening years but meet for the first time in the Munster decider since that day in 2007 later this afternoon at Musgrave Park [KO 4pm, eir Sport]. 

Christians are appearing in their second successive final and third in four years, but they were last champions in 2016, while Pres are bidding to return to the summit of Munster schools rugby after lifting the trophy for the 29th time in 2017.

“It’s crazy when you think about it but it’s such a feeding ground for professional rugby,” Zebo adds. “Schools rugby is huge and it prepares you to go on for a career in rugby.

It was very important for me in my career, it was very important for Pete [O'Mahony]. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

On the rivalry between the schools, the 35-time capped Ireland international laughs: “In Pres, we hate Christians. There’s a proper rivalry there. It just adds that extra spice to it. We probably have no reason to be such bitter rivals from a young age but it’s there and is great for the competition.

“It will make for a hell of a game on Sunday. Nobody will want to lose to your biggest rival. I really hope Pres do the job and we add another trophy to the cabinet.”

Christian Brothers College:

15. Billy Cain
14. Patrick O’Hara
13. Killian Coghlan
12. Harry O’Riordan
11. Aaron Leahy
10. Cian Whooley
9. Mark O’Connor

1. Charlie Rasmussen
2. Scott Buckley (captain)
3. Mark Donnelly
4. Aidan Brien
5. John Willis
6. Ronán O’Sullivan
7. Conor Walsh
8. Cian Hurley.

Replacements:

16. Alex O’Brien
17. Oisín Leahy
18. Padraig O’Brien
19. Dillon McAuliffe
20. Robbie Kelleher
21. Luke McAuliffe
22. Kevin Murphy
23. Seán Kelly
24. Karl Waterman
25. Johnny Murphy.

Presentation Brothers College:

15. Mark McLoughlin
14. Michael Hand
13. Seán Henry Squires
12. Peter Cunnigham
11. Darragh French
10. Louis Bruce (captain)
9. Joe O’Leary

1. Rory Duggan
2. Darragh Murphy
3. Darragh McSweeney
4. David McCarthy
5. Eoin Quilter
6. Jack Kelleher
7. John Forde
8. Alex Kendellen.

Replacements:

16. Ben Comiskey
17. Ciarán O’Connor
18. Adam O’Connor
19. David O’Halloran
20. Mark Fitzgibbon
21. James O’Shaughnessy
22. Alex Walsh
23. Daniel Hurley
24. Sam O’Sullivan
25. Cúchulain Livingstone.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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