Impressive Michael’s see off Gonzaga to claim Senior Cup title

Experienced campaigners too good on the day for opponents appearing in first ever final

St Michael’s Mark Hernan lifts the trophy after they beat Gonzaga to claim the Senior Cup title. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

St Michael’s Mark Hernan lifts the trophy after they beat Gonzaga to claim the Senior Cup title. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

St Michael’s College 28 Gonzaga College 5

A third Leinster Schools Senior Cup title for St Michael’s College and the merit of their victory brooks no argument, even if the final margin was a tad harsh on a spirited Gonzaga College challenge.

Michael’s scored four tries and might have crossed for a couple if a final decision here and there had been as sharp as the approach play. It’s a minor cavil because when they did get into their opponents’ 22, they invariably left with a seven-point haul.

Michael’s power game was hugely impressive, with the props Jack Boyle and Fionn Finlay, hooker Lee Barron and number eight, Will Hickey huge buttresses and primary carriers, who occupied multiple defenders, and were rarely grounded in the first collision.

The speed of the ball at the breakdown, facilitated by the work of flankers captain, Mark Hernan and Jack Guinane allowed Michael’s to rip through the phases quickly, eating up metres, while the two secondrows Stephen Woods and John Fish were technically very efficient in clearing out at the breakdown.

Gonzaga, dwarfed physically, may rue that their line speed in defence was a little passive in the first half and occasionally high in the tackle, which allowed the Michael’s carriers to break the gain-line time and again. It was the basis for Michael’s two first half tries a brace for loosehead prop Boyle, both of which were converted by centre Chris Cosgrave.

The winners used the strong wind sensibly in the first half to establish field position and then were direct and precise in pummelling their opponents. Michel’s occasionally varied their approach, looking to the wider channels, but Gonzaga were resolute in shutting them down where centres Karl Morgan and Frank O’Grady tackled with authority.

St Michael’s Rob Gilsenan scores a try. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
St Michael’s Rob Gilsenan scores a try. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

When the physical pain recedes over the coming days the Gonzaga players will reflect on a wonderful campaign with pride; they certainly honoured the school’s first final with the integrity of their performance.

The final margin of defeat will seem a little harsh and there were a couple of moments in the second half when they might have reduced the deficit. Incorrectly called back for a forward pass that could have yielded a try, on another occasion they were denied by millimetres, thwarted by Michael’s aggressive goal-line defence.

Dander up and distracted by the belief that a frontal assault would yield a try, as it had done in the first half, Gonzaga had a numerical advantage out wide but didn’t process that information in time. St Michael’s scrumhalf Rob Gilsenan produced a wonderful covering tackle on Brian Barron to hold him up over the line.

Gonzaga’s collective performance was impressive and from a technical and tactical perspective there was much to admire. They probed cleverly but also showed huge commitment physically, while their footwork into and through contact periodically allowed them to escape into the Michael’s backfield.

In prop Henry Godson, unfortunately forced off just after the interval, and secondrow Jack Coolican they possessed two of the game’s outstanding performers, while Ronan Shaw, Liam Tyrell and captain Jack Barry also contributed lavishly in a superb effort from the pack as an eight; hooker Hugo Fitzgerald and flanker Colm Kirby-O’Briain working tirelessly at the breakdown and beyond.

Jack Connolly and Harry Colbert made a couple of breaks, one apiece, while Morgan and O’Grady were a handful on both sides of the ball. Fullback Conor Hennessy had one or two bright moments too. Gonzaga’s try in first half injury time was scored by Coolican, a fitting reward for a monumental effort, to leave his side trailing 14-5 at the interval.

The Ranelagh school needed a quick start to the second half but instead it was Michael’s who regained the initiative with a try from rumbustious hooker Lee Barron, which Cosgrave again converted. Gonzaga kept coming and coming but without the reward of points and it was Michael’s who would have the final word on 58 minutes.

Right wing Eddie Kelly demonstrated some lovely footwork to escape down the right touchline, a move that had started in the Michael’s 22, and Gilsenan’s intelligent support line, meant that the scrumhalf was on hand to accept the scoring pass. Cosgrave kicked the conversion to make it 28-5, the intensity of the contest dissipating slightly as the benches were emptied.

St Michael’s were deserving winners, beating the best the tournament had to offer, an excellent side and with nine of the starting team eligible again next year, they’ll have a decent shot at retaining the trophy. Gonzaga by virtue of their performance lost nothing in defeat and that will be easier to absorb in the days and weeks ahead.

Scoring sequence – 7 mins: Boyle try, Cosgrave conversion, 7-0; 23: Boyle try, Cosgrave conversion, 14-0; 35 (+3): Coolican try, 14-5. Half-time: 14-5. 43: L Barron try, Cosgrave conversion, 21-5; 58: Gilsenan try, Cosgrave conversion, 28-5.

Gonzaga College: C Hennessy; F O’hOisin, F O’Grady, K Morgan, B Barron; H Colbert, J Connolly; H Godson, H Fitzgerald, R Shaw; L Tyrell, J Coolican; C Kirby-O’Briain, T Cullen, J Barry (capt).

Replacements: L Hammond for Godson 36 mins; A Henry for Kirby-O’Briain 46 mins; S Grimley for Shaw 66 mins; M Colgan for Colbert 66 mins; JJ Walsh for O’hOisin 66 mins; G Kenny for Fitzgerald 68 mins; O Rodgers for Coolican 68 mins; S Wilson for B Barron 69 mins.

St Michael’s College: A Smith; E Kelly, C Cosgrave, S O’Kelly, M O’Brien; N Carroll, R Gilsenan; J Boyle, L Barron, F Finlay; S Woods, J Fish; J Guinane, M Hernan (capt), W Hickey.

Replacements: B Victory for L Barron 52 mins; J Power for Finlay 55 mins; R van den Akker for Kelly 62 mins; C Booth for Woods 66 mins; J Boland for Boyle 68 mins; J Woods for Gilsenan 68 min; H McWade for O’Kelly 68 mins; L Fehily for Guinane 69 mins.

Referee: B MacNiece (Leinster).

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