Powerful pack may give Blackrock the edge over St Michael’s
But holders aiming to record back-to-back title wins
St Michael’s captain Ross Molony in action against Newbridge College in the semi-final and below, Ross Byrne. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Date: 16 March, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM
Let’s dispel a myth that has grown up around this rivalry for the old boys blowing back in for the final. St Michael’s College are not the also-rans of your youth, they have become a fully fledged powerhouse of Leinster schools rugby.
All the pre-game talk of Blackrock’s 66 titles, to St Michael’s mere two, is irrelevant. St Michael’s can lay partial claim to many of Blackrock’s successes having funnelled so much talent up the food chain until they became a fully independent school in 1970.
In fact, since losing the 2006 final to Luke Fitzgerald ’s Blackrock, they have become the dominant force in the province, last year backing up their first ever title success in 2007.
St Michael’s have also addressed a recent reputation for losing finals. On their sixth consecutive appearance in the junior decider last season, James Ryan led them to glory while the seniors denied Clongowes the three in a row.
This first double made a reality of concerns long held down the Rock road: that the former junior school would carve out a patch of their own. It ensures that today signifies the most important chapter of this old rivalry.
St Michael’s, captained by Ross Molony – whose father Kevin captained them to a semi-final in 1978 – make the short journey to the RDS with a combination of last year’s successful junior and senior squads; a well-oiled machine with quality in every position.
Awaiting them are Charlie Rock ’s Blackrock, a squad littered with under-17 players – six in the starting line-up – and runaway favourites to win the competition in 2014,
The main priority is to end a four-year drought since Jordi Murphy ’s team last brought the cup back to Williamstown.
Both are part of the 10 players, five from each school, due to link up with the Ireland under-18s for a Fira European championship in Grenoble tomorrow.
For certain, 2013 has produced a vintage crop. Be it Gonzaga outhalf Conor McKeon to Roscrea’s Sean O’Brien to Terenure duo Harrison Brewer and Billy Dardis, the spread of talent across the competition has been higher than normal.
Blackrock’s Timoney, David O’Connor and openside David Fortune have been particularly outstanding.
It also helps that Leinster number eight Sean Coughlan, successfully switched to the wing by coach Peter Smyth, will have served his suspension for a tip tackle in the epic semi-final defeat of Roscrea, when 14-man Blackrock came back from a 20-9 deficit.
Coughlan is a hugely damaging ball carrier. Centre pairing Steve Lawton and Gary Ringrose must also be highlighted as Lawton leads the defensive line while Ringrose has missed only one kick at goal in three cup games.
Either fullback, Jack Power or St Michael’s Cian Kelleher, can tear up defences. If Michael’s are to retain the title it will be down to their lineout, a highly skilled offloading game and Byrne. Also watch out for 6ft6in under-16 lock James Ryan, an unreal talent.
Experience may tip the scales for St Michael’s as Byrne, Molony, Adam Leavy, Josh Murphy, Alex Penny, Denis Coulson and Kelleher featured prominently in last year’s final. Still, the suspicion is that their huge pack will ensure Rock lifts the cup.