Belvedere hold out Blackrock to retain title
A late Blackrock surge was repelled in thrilling finale at a wet and windy RDS
The Belvedere College players celebrate after their Leinster Schools Senior Cup final against Blackrock College at the RDS. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Belvedere College 10 Blackrock College 3
The end is the only place to begin, because it was where Max Kearney and Hughie O’Sullivan squeezed their bodies under Blackrock’s ball.
After all the drama, Belvedere coach Phil Werahiko bestowed upon them the highest praise imaginable by comparing his leaders to “McCaw and Carter.”
Kearney, the Belvedere captain playing in his third senior cup final, did have the game of his young life. The others followed in what must go down as a masterfully constructed 10-0 lead, followed by unbreakable resistance to deny clear favourites Blackrock a try in 70-plus minutes of pounding, relentless pressure.
The clock had just ticked into injury time when Paul Haycock awarded Blackrock a penalty after a Belvo’ player didn’t release quickly enough on the ground.
The lineout on the 22 was permitted with Blackrock captain Cian Reilly calling the throw on himself at the front. Reilly had little option as towering representative lock Charlie Ryan succumbed to a shoulder injury he took into the match. Blackrock had also lost flanker John Fairley and scrumhalf Patrick Patterson - who possesses all the physical attributes and skills to become a professional - in what was a non-stop war of attrition (those with suspicions of head injury were removed).
Blackrock hammered away, inching towards the Belvedere try line but Kearney got underneath the final carry by replacement prop Thomas Clarkson before O’Sullivan’s arm gave the referee a perfect picture.
“Held up,” Haycock signalled before blowing the final whistle.
The Blackrock players remonstrated, seeking a review from Television Match Official John Carvill, but Haycock had made his decision and with it came the correct result.
Belvedere played the wet conditions in superior fashion, using the first half wind to construct a 10 point cushion before this never to be forgotten defensive effort gave an enthralled 8,400 crowd their money’s worth.
“The last 20 minutes meant a lot to us,” said Kearney. “We have dedicated a lot to be in that position, so defending like we did in those last 20 minutes was almost easy.”
The rain, coming just before kick-off, disrupted any coherent phase play until Belvo carried deep into Blackrock territory to snatch the game’s only try.
It was outhalf David Hawkshaw at his very best. Hawkshaw played as vital a role in this victory as Kearney and O’Sullivan; ripping ball off three bigger ‘Rock forwards at key moments but also creating the five points for Peter Maher with a perfectly weighted grubber.
Blackrock fullback Tom Roche - a fantastic attacking player who struggled badly here under slippery ball - fumbled and Maher pounced. O’Sullivan converted and added a penalty on 27 minutes, which looked straightforward, but needed a clean strike in the swirling wind.
The first half ended with yet another Blackrock knock-on as Belvedere ran off in what looked a collective statement of surging confidence.
Blackrock’s reaction was immediate and sustained. But Belvedere, as Kearney explained, were performing with a ‘no-tomorrow’ mindset. A Peter O’Reilly penalty did make it 10-3 early in the second half but the seemingly inevitable Blackrock try never came. Their maul got no joy out of Belvedere’s better coached pack.
Number eight Ruadhán Byron was phenomenal, be it a multitude of shuddering tackles or carrying his team out of danger.
Hawkshaw’s clean rip off Francis, six metres from the try line, on 58 minutes also resonated.
When Patterson sought to kick Blackrock into a position and thereby set a platform to launch their next attack O’Sullivan, more often than not, gathered before swinging the pendulum back behind the champions.
Blackrock will always have regrets about handling errors but Belvedere’s grit forced most of them. That was the game in microcosm.
“We’ll see you on O’Connell Bridge,” said a battered but smiling Kearney in reference to the now traditional victory march up to Great Denmark Street where the cup remains for another year. Belvedere have not managed that feat since Ollie Campbell’s 1972 side. Then they had to wait 33 years for Cian Healy and friends to end the famine.
Now, after this, they are out on their own in second on the roll of honour with 11 titles.
The walk to school will never feel so sweet.
Scoring sequence - 21 mins: P Maher try, 5-0; H O’Sullivan con, 7-0; 27 mins: H O’Sullivan pen, 10-0. Half-time. 37 mins: P O’Reilly pen, 10-3.
Belvedere: H O’Sullivan; M Donnelly, P Maher, C Walsh, J Wilkes; D Hawkshaw, P Cagney; C Molloy, A McDonnell, J Robinson; G Murray, O O’Brien; C Doran, M Kearney (capt), R Byron. Replacements: S Barry for J Wilkes (43 mins), C Byrne for A McDonnell, D Hill for O O’Brien (both 61 mins), J Haughey for C Molloy (64 mins).
Blackrock: T Roche; T Maher, L Turner, J Moriarty, D Heavy; P O’Reilly, P Paterson; G Coyne, S McLoughlin, J Byrne; A Murphy, C Ryan; J Fairley, A Francis, C Reilly (capt). Replacements: R Deegan for T Maher (half-time), M McGagh for J Fairley (43 mins), S Molony for S McLoughlin, J Burke for C Ryan (both 50 mins), T Clarkson for J Byrne (52 mins), C Delaney for G Coyne (64 mins), R Fahy for P Patterson (65 mins).
Referee: Paul Haycock (Leinster).