Historic final as Newbridge and Clongowes go head-to-head
Leinster Schools Rugby Senior Cup final
Daire Walsh looks ahead as Newbridge College and Clongowes Wood College clash in an all-Kildare senior schools final, for the first time in 133 years
By Daire Walsh
New ground will be broken at the RDS Arena in Ballsbridge next Tuesday (March 17) when Newbridge College face Clongowes Wood College in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup decider.
For the first time in the competition’s 133-year history, two Kildare teams will compete against each other in a showpiece decider.
It will also be the first final contested by non-Dublin schools since 2011 – a 46-15 triumph for Clongowes at the expense of Cistercian College Roscrea.
Thus far in 2020, the Clane school have accumulated a combined tally of 118 points in consecutive wins over Terenure College, St Gerard’s, Bray and Castleknock College.
Yet, whereas Pat Kenny’s charges were expected to come through all three of these games, Newbridge caused a seismic shock when dethroning 2019 champions St Michael’s College at the semi-final stage.
It was all going according to plan for the holders when converted tries from Henry McErlean and Lee Barron propelled them into a 14-0 lead with as many minutes gone on the clock.
However, with former Munster, Leicester Tigers and Naas stalwart Johne Murphy at the helm, ‘Bridge have displayed remarkable resilience in the face of considerable adversity.
In their opening clash with CBC Monkstown in Donnybrook, they trailed for much of the first half before eventually storming to a comprehensive 45-7 victory.
On their return to Energia Park for a quarter-final showdown against Kilkenny College, they were forced to negotiate an eight-point interval deficit before Sam Prendergast’s final-quarter penalty eventually sealed the deal on a scoreline of 10-8.
While overturning a formidable Michael’s outfit seemed like a bridge too far, Newbridge defied the odds in spectacular fashion.
After a Prendergast place-kick got them up and running, Newbridge stormed in front on the resumption through Cormac King and Donal Conroy five-pointers.
Michael’s looked set to push on again when Eddie Kelly crossed the whitewash, only for David O’Sullivan’s finish at the opposite end to inspire ‘Bridge towards an unexpected 25-22 triumph.
Murphy undoubtedly has a very talented group at his disposal with 22 players returning from last year’s senior squad. Prendergast has offered a strong presence alongside King at half-back, while captain Marcus Kiely is a magnificent leader of the team at outside centre.
In the absence of the influential Conor McGroary – who missed out through illness – Luke Dunleavy slotted in seamlessly at openside flanker for the Michael’s game. Though McGroary is expected to regain fitness, his deputy certainly provided food for thought in a back-row that includes the ever-present duo of Mark Dennis and Donough Lawlor.
As a consequence of claiming the scalp of Michael’s, Newbridge will have to contend with higher expectations next Tuesday. Still, Clongowes are a side brimming with quality and will not want this opportunity to go to waste.
Their most recent final appearance was in 2014 – a 22-17 defeat at the hands of a Blackrock College side that featured Kildare natives Joey Carbery and Jeremy Loughman.
They suffered four semi-final defeats in the space of five years, before finally getting it right against Castleknock last Monday week (March 2).
Like Newbridge, they had to negotiate a 14-point deficit in the early moments of this clash before also falling adrift in the closing-quarter of a tense affair.
Eddie Carr and Oisin Devitt tries ensured it was a powerful finish from Clongowes in Donnybrook and this continued an astonishing trend in the games they’ve played en route to the final.
Having initially gone behind in their first round encounter with Terenure College, they put on the after burners to eventually claim a 34-14 win.
The same was true of their quarter-final against St Gerard’s. Level at 24-24 early in the second period, they proceeded to register a jaw-dropping 31 points without reply.
The key creative force in this Clongowes team is fly-half David Wilkinson and having struggled with injury in the early stages of the competition, he marked his return to the starting line-up with a nine-point haul against Castleknock.
Whilst Pat Kenny is head coach of Wood, the presence of Joe Carbery, father of Joey, in the management set-up is even more intriguing. Have watched on as his son thwarted Clongowes six years ago, Leinster’s CRO for the North Midlands will hope to play his part in securing a ninth senior title for the north Kildare men and, by extension, deny Newbridge a third crown at this grade.