Gonzaga one step from first Leinster senior title as they see off St Mary’s

Fullback Hugo McLaughlin contributes 17 points as his side recovers from shaky start

Gonzaga College 34 St Mary’s College 21

Gonzaga College turned on the style at Energia Park in Donnybrook on Wednesday to get the better of St Mary’s College and book their place in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup final for the second time in four years.

Fullback Hugo McLaughlin contributed 17 points – including a 28th-minute try – as Gonzaga overcame a shaky start to defeat their near neighbours. Despite showing tremendous aptitude throughout the proceedings, the search for a sixth Senior Cup title will continue into 2023 for Mary’s.

For Gonzaga, it is a chance to earn their maiden crown at this grade after losing out to St Michael’s College in the 2019 decider.

Buoyed by their gutsy quarter-final win over Kilkenny College, Mary’s started the game with serious intent and edged in front when openside flanker Luca Manselli powered over the whitewash in the fifth minute.

Conor Tracey had contributed eight points off the bench against Kilkenny and his routine conversion ensured Mary’s were in the driving seat during the early exchanges.

Following impressive victories against 2020 joint-champions Clongowes Wood College and Wesley College en route to this stage, Gonzaga now found their mettle was being tested. They initially struggled to pick holes through the Mary’s defence, before eventually hitting their stride in the second quarter.

Opting for the posts in the 21st minute, McLaughlin split the uprights to get Declan Fassbender’s charges up and running. This helped to raise the confidence levels of Gonzaga and they proceeded to showcase their undoubted attacking ability in the remaining minutes of the opening period.

Loosehead prop Toby Hammond embarked on a sensational run into the Mary’s 22 and when the ball was subsequently recycled to centre Jody Browne, he sprinted over for a converted try.

This moved the Ranelagh men into the ascendancy for the first time and when McLaughlin was picked out in space on the left wing, he claimed his side’s second try in clinical style.

The fullback supplied the extras to this score and did likewise when Paul Wilson dotted down in the final minute of the first half.

This presented Gonzaga with a seemingly insurmountable interval lead of 24-7, but Mary’s breathed fresh life into the contest when inside centre Evan Moynihan squeezed over for a converted effort in the 47th minute.

Gonzaga didn’t panic, however, and restored their 17-point buffer on the third-quarter mark. After Moynihan was deemed to have illegally prevented Stephen McMahon from scoring a breakaway score – the Mary’s man was yellow-carded for this indiscretion – a penalty try was awarded in favour of Gonzaga.

Those seven points proved to be significant as 14-men Mary’s immediately fired back at the opposite end with a powerful close-range finish by Aaron O’Brien.

This reduced the gap to 10 points for the second time after the resumption, but Gonzaga were never in danger of letting their lead slip. McLaughlin knocked over a second penalty in the closing moments to ensure they will face the winners of Thursday’s clash between Blackrock College and Newbridge College.

SCORERS – Gonzaga College: H McLaughlin try, 2 pens, 3 cons; J Browne, P Wilson try each; penalty try. St Mary's College: L Manselli, E Moynihan, A O'Brien try each; C Tracey 3 cons.

GONZAGA COLLEGE: H McLaughlin; H Neville, H Goddard, J Browne, O O'Neill; S McMahon, M Sullivan; T Hammond, T Cotter, G Morris; T Murphy, L O'Callaghan; N Maguire, G O'Donnell, P Wilson.

Replacements: A McVerry for Hammond (24-28 mins); O Murray for Sullivan (59); T Noone for O'Donnell (67); A O'Flanagan for Neville (70).

ST MARY'S COLLEGE: J Brennan; P O'Beirne, R Moore, E Moynihan, S Kennedy; D Gilbourne, C Tracey; F King, M McHugh, A Sparrow; T McEniff, L Policky; A O'Brien, L Manselli, L McGauran.

Replacements: T O'Shea for King, L Jennings for Manselli (both h-t); Z Hopkins for Moore (59 mins); S O'Leary for McHugh, R Smyth for O'Brien, D Leane for Policky, G Mulvihill for Tracey, M Blake for Moynihan (all 70).

Referee: P Haycock (Leinster).