RUGBY: LEINSTER SCHOOLS SENIOR CUP SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW: NEWBRIDGE COLLEGE V ST MICHAEL’S COLLEGE
By Daire Walsh
NEWBRIDGE College will aim to replicate the heroics of their junior compatriots when they face St Michael’s College at Energia Park later this afternoon (kick-off 3pm).
Newbridge defied the odds at the same venue last Wednesday to knock Michael’s off their perch in a Leinster Schools Junior Cup quarter-final. The Ailesbury Road outfit entered 2020 as defending champions at that grade and the same is true of their senior brigade.
With comprehensive wins against Temple Carrig (67-0) and last year’s finalists Gonzaga College (34-3) already under their belts, Emmet MacMahon’s men will be overwhelming favourites to prevail today. Newbridge have overcome the challenges of CBC Monkstown and Kilkenny College en route to the penultimate rounds and will certainly enter the contest in fine spirits.
Yet, ‘Bridge head coach Johne Murphy acknowledges there will be little room for error once his players cross the white line.
“They [Michael’s] are always favourites for the cup and they’ve performed very well. They’re a big side and they play to their structure incredibly well. We have to have one of our best days and there’s no doubting that. We play a good brand of rugby, we enjoy what we do and how we play. Hopefully we can put them under a bit of pressure,” Murphy explained.
“They’ll have to deal with us and we’re going to make those extra passes and we’re going to take on their line speed. Hopefully we come out the right side of it. We’re certainly not going to die wondering. It’s a massive test for our lads. We know we have to be beyond task and be as good as we can be. Then we have a chance. If we’re not as good as we can be, we don’t.”
This Newbridge group are certainly not lacking in either resilience or character as they proved in their two games to date. Having trailed Monkstown for large chunks of their opening round meeting, they subsequently turned on the style to claim a convincing 45-7 success.
Additionally, the Common men were 8-0 adrift at the midway stage in their quarter-final clash with Kilkenny before registering 10 unanswered points after the resumption. Though there was little wrong with their approach in the early moments of these encounters, Murphy hopes their impressive second half showings can now translate into a full 70-minute performance.
“We have started very well in both of our games. The only thing we haven’t done is score. If we score early, we get settled and then away we go. The lads also have in the back of their mind that they have been behind twice. Albeit against sides, no disrespect to the other two, not as good as Michael’s. But they have come back.
“They have that bottle and they have that capability of just staying in the game. Chipping away, staying in a game and in the melting pot in the last 10 minutes. We’ve come out on top of a really tough test [against Kilkenny].
“That will be the goal. To stay in the game, push it and let’s see where we’re at with 10 minutes to go. Hopefully we’ll be in a position where we can get an opportunity or we get a chance. If we get a chance, then we’re going to be very dangerous.”
With a large chunk of players having graduated from Junior Cup level – and indeed the 2019 Senior Cup campaign – there is an abundance of experience within the Newbridge ranks. However, outside centre Marcus Kiely has proven himself to be a natural leader.
When they were desperately in search of a score in their duels with Monkstown and Kilkenny, it was Kiely who produced the goods on both occasions. Unsurprisingly, Murphy has been impressed by the Newbridge skipper during his relatively short spell at the helm.
“I’ve only been in the school the last six months and it was very clear to me, very early on, that Marcus is one of the standouts and one of the main leaders in the group. Marcus is an exceptional young talent and he leads by example. In pivotal moments he stands up,” the former Munster utility back added.