Late Campion penalty seals it
The Leinster Schools Senior Cup has conjured exceptional contests that have graced the competition through the ages. Yesterday game at Donnybrook bears favourable comparison with any selected from history, an intoxicating amalgam of tension and quality that shrouded the result in doubt until well into injury time.
Newbridge appeared to have snatched a famous victory with a superb individual try from fullback Ronan Murphy, who ricocheted from tackler to tackler, somehow maintaining balance and direction, before crossing halfway between the posts and the touch line.
Out-half Patrick Noble, with the sides tied at 20-20, calmly posted a fine conversion to nudge his side in front: two minutes remained and St Mary's hopes seemed futile. Even when referee Tony Redmond penalised Newbridge with nine seconds left, St Mary's chances of redemption appeared slim as the award was some 45 metres from goal.
Left wing Donal Campion, a brother of former Schools international out-half, Fergal, had posted a mammoth kick in the last round against Belvedere from an even greater distance. Given the nature of this opportunity, the pressure involved, expectations must have been minimal. The young Campion stuck the ball magnificently and St Mary's scented deliverance.
Redmond decreed that there would be time for one final act.
St Mary's out-half Michael Quinn knocked on and from the scrum Noble attempted a drop goal from 30 metres but unfortunately for the gallant Kildare school there would be no final twist as the ball scorched the grass on its way through to the dead ball line.
St Mary's euphoria seconds later was tinged with relief. Despite some fine passages of play and two very well constructed tries they had flirted with disaster because of concentration lapses and were nearly made to pay the ultimate penalty.
Karl Daly was once again the central figure for the winners, ably supported by Gavin Hickie, Shane Cantwell, Robert Ryan and Louis Burke up front. They never enjoyed the same sort of impact as a unit as they had in the previous round but that is due to the quality of the eight that they faced.
Paul Madden worked hard at scrum-half, Kieran Lewis tackled assiduously while James Norton and Darragh Hughes proved dangerous and elusive in possession but collectively the St Mary's back line at times was guilty of a lack of direction and flawed decision making, spurning two clear-cut opportunities.
The Newbridge pack, in which second row Anthony Buckley was an outstanding figure, mauled superbly, making huge inroads into the St Mary's defence. They choose to pack their runners close in in order to blast through the St Mary's fringe defence. Number eight John O'Sullivan cleverly orchestrated many of the rolling mauls by turning his back on contact, after driving from the base of the scrum, allowing those behind him to form a tightly knit wedge.
Behind the scrum, centres Paddy Byrne and Barry Guckian tackled assuredly but it was fullback, Murphy, who carried menace in attack.
The Kildare school took the lead on eight minutes with a try from Buckley who galloped 40 metres from a ruck, side stepping Hughes en route to a fine score. Noble converted.
St Mary's reply was swift: having attacked the short-side the ball came back and wide on the open-side with prop Colm O'Sullivan moving possession swiftly. Hughes added pace to the move easily cantering outside the Newbridge cover to race in from 22 metres.
A Campion penalty was followed by a try from Louis Burke after a well worked move from a ruck close to the line. A Noble penalty in injury time reduced the deficit and Newbridge grabbed the initiative seven minutes after the restart with a try from Henry Hegarty, the product of a fine back row sequence.
Hughes second try, after good work by Colm McWeeney and Campion pre-empted the dramatic closing exchanges that had enthralled the 3,500 crowd.
For St Mary's the cup dream lives on Newbridge bowed out like the champions they most certainly are.
Scoring sequence: 8 mins: Buckley try, Noble conversion (0-7); 13: Hughes try (7-5); 26: Campion penalty (7-8); 32: Burke try (7-13); 37: Noble penalty (10-13); 42: Hegarty try (15-13); 52: Hughes try, Campion conversion (15-20); 68: Murphy try, Noble conversion (22-20); 70: Campion penalty (22-23).
St Mary's: D Hughes; J Norton, K Lewis, C McWeeney, D Campion; M Quinn, P Madden; G Hickie, R Henson (capt), C O'Sullivan; K Daly, P Norton; L Burke, S Jennings, R Ryan. Replacement: B Moran for Henson (65 mins).
Newbridge: R Murphy; R Cunningham, P Byrne, B Guckian, F Drake-Lee; P Noble, C Rees; D Kenneally, G de Bruir, N Hughes; T Gibson, A Buckley; H Hegarty, J O'Sullivan, J Roche. Replacement: H Garrett for Hegarty 52 mins.
Referee: T Redmond (Leinster).