Leinster Schools Senior Cup: Belvedere complete rollercoaster ride to final

Brave Clongowes comeback falls just short in an enthralling semi-final

Belvedere College 27, Clongowes Wood College 26: Not much rhyme or reason influences the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 2015. St Michael's, considered the runaway pre-tournament favourites, were sensationally removed by Clongowes Wood's stubborn refusal to bend in the quarter-final.

Now they too are gone. Beaten by a better team, with a game plan not dissimilar to Ireland's tortuous kick-chase routine, inflicted upon all comers since Joe Schmidt became national coach.

As ever, the teenagers imitate the professionals.

Phil Werahiko, the Belvedere coach who has been doing the rounds of Irish club rugby since the 1990s, is another Kiwi who has identified the benefit of playing in opposition territory.


That should be the simple narrative. Of course it isn’t.

Belvedere led 27-5 after 58 minutes. Utterly dominant, due to the box kicking of Hugh O'Sullivan and generalship of outhalf Conor Jennings, even the famed resilience of their Jesuit sister school could hardly turn this tide.

But what followed verged on the miraculous.

Slow things

“Sometimes as young men they don’t cope with the reverse in momentum,” said Werahiko later. “My voice is gone trying to tell them to slow things down when we went a man down. Then they got two quick tries. In the end we were lucky. Clongowes are opponents that never go away. They proved it again.”

To the building of Belvedere’s mighty lead then.

Flanker Max Kearney grabbed an overthrown Clongowes lineout after seven minutes but was hauled down just short of the try line. Still, the numerical advantage wide left was exploited as winger Oscair McGrath eventually crossed near the corner flag.

Jennings converted and within 90 seconds had a try of his own.

O’Sullivan’s kick was allowed to bounce, Jennings hacked it on before winning the ensuing sprint. His penalty on 20 minutes made it 15-0.

Clongowes hadn't fired a shot and seemed destined to limp back to Clane branded an average side when Eoin Cleere raced over early in the second half, following a fine offload by Belvedere lock Conor McCaffrey (younger brother of Dublin footballer Jack).

It meant Donal Mongey’s mauled try, cancelled out by Belvo sub prop Dan McCaffrey’s score, felt like mere footnotes.

Then the game changed.

It began with Dan McCaffrey's yellow card reducing Belvedere to 14 men for seven minutes. Clongowes wily scrumhalf Rowan Osbourne rifled under the posts as Conor Murray's left foot took over the kicking, landing the first of three conversions.

The chill

Before the thousands braving the chill could catch their breath, captain

John Molony

heroically powered over.

Still, at 27-19 with nine minutes to play, the chasm seemed too great. And anyway Belvedere were now in Clongowes territory.

That was until James Lappin’s intercept and 70-metre breakaway try on 65 minutes.

Suddenly the north Dublin school, having not made a final since Tom Sexton lifted the cup in 2008, were clinging to a one-point lead.

Errors, like a crooked lineout, crept into Clongowes last assault to see matters end when Belvedere's Jack Clarke was illegally felled by Molony.

What looked a concussive blow was followed by a yellow card, presumably for a no arm tackle, from referee Nigel Correll as Jennings' resulting penalty went wide but dead.

Belvedere now await the winner of today’s duel between Newbridge College and Cistercians, Roscrea.

Scoring sequence 8 mins: O McGrath try, 5-0; C Jennings con, 7-0; 10: C Jennings try, 12-0; 20 min: C Jennings pen, 15-0. Half-time. 42: E Cleere try, 20-0; 50: D Mongey try, 20-5; 53: D McCaffrey try, 25-5; C Jennings con, 27-5; 58: R Osbourne try, 27-10; C Murray con, 27-12; 61: J Molony try, 27-17; C Murray con, 27-19; 65: J Lappin try, 27-24; C Murray con, 27-26. BELVEDERE: E Cleere; S Long, J McKeown, D Murnaghan, O McGrath; C Jennings, H O'Sullivan; M Sweeney (capt), A Hynes, E Molloy; C McCaffrey, B Egan; S McNulty, M Kearney, T de Jongh. Replacements: D McCaffrey for A Hynes (41 mins), J Kenny for C McCaffrey (57 mins), F Dillon-Kelly for M Kearney (57-64 mins temp due to sin bin), J Clarke for E Molloy (60 mins), G O'Kelly for H O'Sullivan (67 mins). CLONGOWES WOOD COLLEGE: M Silvester; F Madden, J Lappin, M McDermott, C Murray; J Glynn, R Osbourne; N Rinklin, J Molony (capt), C Carroll; T Burke, D O'Mahoney; W Connors, D Mongey, S McCrohan. Replacements: E Carroll for C Carroll, J Moore for T Burke (both 44 mins), T Monaghan for J Glynn (54 mins), P Nulty for D Mongey (64 mins). Referee: N Correll (ARLB).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent