Gonzaga win a first Senior Cup after dethroning champions Blackrock in final for the ages

Gonzaga turn the tables after defeat in last year’s decider in nine-try classic at the RDS

Gonzaga College 35 Blackrock College 31

It was a Leinster Schools Senior Cup final for the ages, a rip-roaring, enthralling spectacle, the rugby brilliant at times and never less than compelling, a contest that see-sawed one way and then another, the outcome decided by Tom Wyley’s try in the 68th minute in a game that rarely drew breath.

When the dust settled it was Declan Fassbender’s Gonzaga College that led at the final whistle, scoring five tries to four in the process, a first ever triumph in the school’s history, and what a way to do it, dethroning the defending champions and the school that beat them in last year’s final.

It may have taken Gonzaga three finals in this tournament to get over the line, but this was a stunning triumph; league champions and Senior Cup winners in what constitutes a remarkable season, victories that were achieved playing a superb brand of rugby.


At times that sense of adventure looked like it might prove their undoing, but they retained the courage to stick to their playing principles and were ultimately rewarded in a fraught endgame before a crowd of 9,534.

A word for Blackrock, who played like a champion team, especially in adversity, coming back from a 21-10 deficit at half-time to lead 31-28 following tighthead prop Alex Mullan’s second try on 55 minutes.

At times they looked as if they would bludgeon Gonzaga into submission, the powerful carrying of Tom O’Riordan, Mullan, Michael Colreavy, Tommy Butler and the outstanding Tom Brigg, reflected in the way they stockpiled their tries, all four chalked down to forwards.

Scrumhalf and captain Oliver Coffey kicked four conversions, while centre Luke Kritzinger and right wing James O’Sullivan caused problems for the winners. Fullback Charlie Molony excelled on restarts and had some good moments in broken play.

In contrast, Gonzaga’s tries came from their backline, two for their brilliant outhalf Stephen McMahon, the game’s seminal creative presence, others from fullback Hugo McLaughlin, a virtuoso talent, and right wing JP Breslin, before secondrow Wyley pitched in for the pack in the scoring stakes.

Gonzaga’s forwards were immense, resolute in contact on both sides of the ball and while giving away a little in size, they never shirked the collisions. Captain and number eight Paul Wilson, who won an All-Ireland minor football title with Meath, had a colossal game, surrounded by team-mates who were equally uncompromising, focused and diligent.

Luke McLaughlin and Jamie Kennedy stood out even among the collective excellence of the Gonzaga eight. Jody Browne, superb all game, punched holes in the centre, so too Aidan O’Flanagan, his two late breaks pivotal in the build-up to the match-winning try.

The opening 10 minutes were a treat in rugby terms, Blackrock first to strike following two minutes of concerted pressure, clever offloading complemented by quick ruck and varying the point of the attack, all of which culminated in a try for number eight Brigg, converted by Coffey.

Gonzaga’s riposte was swift and equally impressive, centre Jody Browne with the pivotal carry inside the Blackrock 22, a precursor to fullback Hugo McLaughlin’s superb line and spin out of contact that saw him touch down close to the posts.

Coffey kicked a penalty before the game briefly became a homily to the skills of McMahon, astutely aware in taking a quick tap penalty to burrow over from close range and then on hand to profit from his own superbly judged grubber kick, the preamble to a second try. At 21-10 Gonzaga were in the box seat at the interval.

The second half started in a swirl of tries, much like the first, Blackrock prop O’Riordan barging over but once again Gonzaga responded promptly, McMahon’s break the vital invention for Breslin’s try, off a beautifully worked set-piece try. Two tries from tighthead prop Mullan in a 10-minute spell, underlined by some excellent team handling, tip on passes and power in the collisions, took Blackrock into the lead.

When Wilson was held up over the line with five minutes remaining Gonzaga supporters might have feared the worst. But from a scrum in the Blackrock 22, Patrick Masterson made the initial breach and a couple of rucks later James O’Dwyer popped the ball up to the grateful Wyley, who plunged over under the posts, the ninth and final try of a wonderful final.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Brigg try, Coffey con, 7-0; 6: H McLaughlin try, McMahon con, 7-7; 24: Coffey pen, 10-7; 27: McMahon try, McMahon con, 10-14; 31: McMahon try, McMahon con, 10-21. Half-time: 10-21. 39: O’Riordan try, Coffey con, 17-21; 43: Breslin try, McMahon con, 17-28; 45: Mullan try, Coffey con, 24-28; 55: Mullan try, Coffey con, 31-28; 67: Wyley try, McMahon con, 31-35.

GONZAGA COLLEGE: Hugo McLaughlin; JP Breslin, Aidan O’Flanagan, Jody Browne, Mikey Wall; Stephen McMahon, Tom Brophy; Finn O’Neill, Luke McLaughlin, Adam McVerry; Jamie Kennedy, Tom Wyley; Charlie Kennedy, Gavin O’Grady, Paul Wilson (capt).

Replacements: James O’Dwyer for Brophy, Morgan Tyrrell for Kennedy (both 57 mins); Patrick Masterson for Wall 58, Jamie Shiel for McVerry (both 58); Patrick O’Brien for O’Neill (66); Samuel Inglis for O’Flanagan (68).

BLACKROCK COLLEGE: Charlie Molony; James O’Sullivan, Luke Kritzinger, Mark Walsh, Eoghan Walsh; Conor O’Shaughnessy, Oliver Coffey (capt); Tom O’Riordan, Mikey Yarr, Alex Mullan; Michael Colreavy, Tommy Butler; Conor Tonge, Jack Angulo, Tom Brigg.

Replacements: Conall Hodges for Tonge, Andrew Quinn for M Walsh (both 49 mins); Donnacha McGuire for Brigg (65); Harry Whelan for O’Shaughnessy (66).

Referee: Pádraic Reidy (Leinster).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer