St Michael’s hold off Belvedere’s last stand to book final slot
Michael’s fight back from 10-0 deficit to set up St Patrick’s Day final against Gonzaga
St Michael’s College players celebrates at the final whistle after their victory over Belvedere College in the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup semi-final at Donnybrook. Photograph: Emma Power/Inpho
St Michael’s College 16 Belvedere College 15
St Michael’s just about had enough to overcome Belvedere in a pulsating Leinster Senior Cup semi-final at Donnybrook on Wednesday and set up a final meeting with Gonzaga at the RDS on St Patrick’s Day.
Belvedere showed they were up for the battle as centre John Meagher powered through Mark Hernan. On it went, as Michael’s John Fish ripped the ball from tighthead Conor Cagney and Belvedere answered with a scrum penalty to eat into St Michael’s territory.
Number eight Will Hickey picked Meagher’s bread-basket and Alekseiy Soroka guaranteed Belvo’s lineout ball.
The hits could be heard from the main stand as Fish and Hernan felt the force of Belvedere’s carriers.
The Great Denmark Street school had the edge in territory and outhalf Justin Leonard made the first meaningful break before Cagney was held up over the whitewash from a maul.
The second lineout also drew a penalty against St Michael’s for pulling down and the third was good for Andrew Synnott’s try as Belvedere took the lead in the 16th minute.
From the restart, St Michael’s chasers got in under Soroka to wrestle a turnover and they showed the same confidence that worked for Belvo in spurning three points for the posts.
They came as close as they could without the same benefit as Mark O’Brien was tackled into touch by fullback Dwyer.
There were issues of composure as Belvedere fumbled the lineout and Rob Gilsenan’s pass asked too much of Niall Carroll.
In the blink of an eye, Belvedere was surging through Leonard, and Fish was binned for playing him without the ball. St Michael’s then had to survive another maul and they just about managed to do so.
There was no release of pressure, however, as Soroka took the ball on from a scrum and replacement Dylan O’Grady dived over to give Belvedere a 10-0 lead, Leonard’s conversion bouncing back off the crossbar in the 27th minute.
Before they could embrace the two-score lead, Chris Cosgrave slotted a penalty in what was a much-needed boost for St Michael’s. They followed this up with a Cosgrave kick and collective pressure forced a penalty which Cosgrave missed by inches.
A bullish charge by St Michael’s prop Jack Boyle got them on the front foot, but left wing O’Brien could not get outside O’Grady at the end of the half.
St Michael’s exploded into life from drives by Jack Guinane and Boyle, without grabbing a try, but Cosgrave struck a penalty in the 39th minute to reduce the deficit to four points.
It turned out to be the correct decision when fullback Andrew Smith made a miracle counter from deep for Will Hickey’s offload and Guinane’s take-and-give put Cosgrave in for a stunning lead try in the 42nd minute.
The reaction was ruthless, Belvedere turning to their maul once again for Cagney to reclaim the advantage 15-11 in the 49th minute.
By now, the intensity was through the roof, Guinane locking on for a penalty turnover.
Their main ball carrier Boyle was back on the prowl until the hard-up defence snuffed out a dangerous looking attack.
St Michael’s came with pace down the right, Cosgrave putting Kelly to within a metre.
The big boys took over from there, hooker Lee Barron driving low to the line for a single-point lead in the 59th minute.
It was a bare knuckle ride from there as Belvedere struggled for one last chance and St Michael’s captain Hernan denied them with a turnover for a penalty.
This forced Belvo to make a go of it from their own line, making it all the way to halfway where Barron clamped down to end the game.
ST MICHAEL’S: 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: J Power for Finlay (28 mins); R van den Akker for O’Brien (50).
BELVEDERE: R Dwyer; S Murphy, C Mulvaney, J Meagher, M Grogan; J Leonard, P Lysaght; H Flood, A Synnott, C Cagney; J Jones, C Yalloway; E Rutledge, A Coleman (capt), A Soroka.
Replacements: D O’Grady for Dwyer (18 mins); C Rogers for Murphy (42); C Kelly for Yalloway (46); M Galinski for Flood (49); G Murray for Jones, B Jennings for Rutledge (both 59); D Hawkshaw for Lysaght (63).
Referee: N Correll (Leinster Branch).