Byrne earns favourites St Michael's another joust with brave Cistercians


LEINSTER SCHOOLS SENIOR CUP St Michael’s 16 Cistercian, Roscrea 16:COMPARISONS TO Lazarus don’t do this resurrection enough justice. St Michael’s, the unbackable favourites for the Leinster Schools Senior Cup, seemed utterly beaten in what was poised to be the most surprising result since Kilkenny felled Blackrock in 2007.

Then, unbelievably, in the 17th minute of injury-time, St Michael’s outhalf Ross Byrne coolly slotted a penalty to earn a replay, which takes place next Wednesday back on NUIM Barnhall’s finely manicured surface.

Cistercians were understandably distraught when referee Gary Glennon eventually called a halt to proceedings.

St Michael’s got the chance to engineer that late penalty, given for not releasing, despite the ball going dead four times in the last five minutes of added time.

It all seemed so cruel.

Considering nine players have returned from last year’s, albeit comprehensive, final defeat to Clongowes Wood, if Roscrea weren’t respected yesterday, they certainly are today.

The classiest performer on view was fullback Philip O’Dwyer, with their number eight Seán O’Brien (as physically imposing at this level as his namesake in the professional ranks) a close second.

That is some compliment considering the best underage flanker in Ireland, St Michael’s captain Dan Leavy, was also out there wreaking havoc.

St Michael’s constructed a 10-6 lead thanks mainly to a well-taken, 50-metre intercept try by representative centre Rory O’Loughlin, who eventually contributed to all that injury-time despite a serious looking arm/shoulder injury.

(Another moment of interest was St Michael’s number eight Donagh Lawler’s sin-binning just before half-time for what appeared a strike.)

Despite a chronic lack of possession, the Roscrea pack refused to fade, with props Seán Moran and Oisín Heffernan scrunching their opponents’ scrum, while Eamonn Quirke, Rory Moloney and Ross Enraght Moony refused to bend on the gainline.

Not that there was any route past Leavy. Since his heroic losing performance in the 2010 senior final, when still only 15 years old, the tackle area has been this blindside’s domain. Late in the second-half, Leavy hammered a fellow backrower in the tackle, immediately regaining his feet to obliterate the ruck as well.

A phenomenal talent, the only justice in St Michael’s salvaging a draw is this certain recruit into the Leinster Academy will be on view again.

The contest went haywire from the 55th minute. Roscrea eased into a 10-11 lead after flipping a St Michael’s put-in to the scrum and attacking the wide channels.

Cormac Brennan had the vision to grubber in behind the drift defence and a deft toe-poke by winger Maurice Fitzgerald saw him dive on the ball for an unexpected touchdown.

This is the same Maurice Fitz who crossed for a memorable try in the surprise victory over Terenure last year.

It took Leavy’s men seven minutes to regain the lead. Rory Kavanagh made the initial ground before the Roscrea’s defensive line flooded offside.

Byrne seemed almost casual when making it 13-11.

On to the madness, and maddening, endgame.

O’Dwyer seemed to have created the game’s definitive score. The Roscrea forwards drove into the St Michael’s 22, constantly attacking the short side. That Gaffney wouldn’t drop into the pocket for a second drop goal attempt – he missed the first – seemed a grave error.

In fact, it was a calculated ruse; having focused their opponents’ defence on tight-in big runners, suddenly Gaffney flung the ball out to O’Dwyer in midfield. He knew exactly where the space was, planting a kick to the far wing, where Fionn Higgins won a sprint to the corner.

We were already five minutes over the allotted 70 but, really, there was all the time in the world.

Scoring sequence: 3 mins: R Byrne pen, 3-0; C Gaffney pen, 3-3; 28: R O’Loughlin try, 8-3; R Byrne con, 10-3; C Gaffney pen, 10-6. half-time. 54: M Fitzgerald try, 10-11; 61: R Byrne pen, 13-11; 75: F Higgins try, 13-16; 86: R Byrne pen, 16-16.

ST MICHAEL’S COLLEGE: C Diamond; R Kavanagh, B Holland, A Leavy; R O’Loughlin, R Byrne, L Martin; A Barr, H Murray, J Lawless; R Molony, S Harold; D Leavy (capt), J Parsons, D Lawler. Replacements: B McDermott for O’Loughlin (48 mins), J Murphy for Harold, N McCarthy for Martin (both 50 mins), G Kelly for Murray (62 mins).

CISTERCIAN, ROSCREA: P O’Dwyer (capt); F Higgins, C Brennan, M Mellotte, M Fitzgerald; C Gaffney, G Ryan; G Ryan, S Cody, O Heffernan; A McGrath, E Quirke; R Enraght Moony, R Moloney, S O’Brien. Replacements: M Gavin for A McGrath (68 mins).

Referee: G Glennon(ARLB).