For the second year in succession, Newbridge College will contest the semi-final of the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup, after Aaron Dundon’s charges held off a strong challenge from St Mary’s College in an absorbing last-eight clash at Ashbourne last Thursday afternoon.
Leinster Senior Schools Cup
Newbridge College: 17
St Mary’s: 10
An excellent start to the second period had helped Mary’s to level matters (10-10), but a terrific 43rd minute try from Newbridge prop Jonathan Phelan ultimately determined the outcome of this tie.
In a similar fashion to their 2013 campaign, ’Bridge will now face reigning champions Blackrock at the penultimate stage (they suffered a 21-17 reversal to 2012 winners St Michael’s College last March), and although the pressure will be off against the highly-gifted south Dublin school, current Leinster hooker Dundon will nevertheless have high expectations of his impressively-assembled squad.
Newbridge had an opportunity to open the scoring just six minutes into the action from a 35-metre place-kick, but despite finding the distance from a tricky angle, left-wing Joe D’Arcy (one of nine survivors from last year’s starting line-up) couldn’t quite steer his effort between the posts.
However, D’Arcy was not overly affected by this miss, and just four minutes later he broke the deadlock from a similar position following another spot of discipline by the Mary’s rearguard. With a strong wind at their disposal, Newbridge were hoping to build up a sizeable advantage during the first half, but the Rathmines school were coping effectively against the elements.
Indeed, a number of kicks into enemy territory carried past the Mary’s line, which lifted the pressure on the Metropolitans to a considerable degree. As a result, the Shaun Berne-coached outfit grew in confidence as the half wore on, and by the 23rd minute, they had swung the pendulum in their direction.
Out-half Jack Duffy had opted to kick for touch from a penalty, and the gamble certainly paid off, as the subsequent line-out was recycled to bustling No 8 Niall Curran, who powered through the heart of the Newbridge defence, before touching down to the left of the posts.
Duffy’s awkward bonus strike into the breeze drifted past the target, but this five-pointer from Curran looked like being a real confidence-booster for Mary’s.
Newbridge were somewhat unfortunate not to get their first try three minutes before the interval, when D’Arcy was adjudged to have been in touch before grounding on the left-flank, but they finally breached the opposition line in the opening moments of stoppage-time.
Once again, this score arrived following a decision to kick towards the wing, and after flanker Matt O’Connor crossed the whitewash in clinical style at the end of a protracted move, D’Arcy was on hand to superbly apply the bonuses.
This ensured that Newbridge held a 10-5 cushion at the mid-way point, but considering the threat that Mary’s possessed in their back division, there was a sense that they would need more scores before the conclusion of the game.
This point was fully emphasised just three minutes after the restart, when Mary’s full-back Terry Kennedy – who is the son of former Irish international Terry Senior – found a gap on the right-wing, and marauded through the Newbridge cover to secure his side’s second try of the contest. Duffy’s conversion was wide of the mark yet again, though, which meant that the game was delicately poised heading into the final half-hour.
It didn’t take Newbridge long to re-assert their authority, however, and when their pack developed an enterprising rolling maul deep inside the Mary’s ‘22’ just five minutes after Kennedy’s leveller, the alert Phelan pounced to provide the finishing touches over the line.
The dependable D’Arcy broght his personal tally up to seven points in spite of the unwelcome conditions, and with seven points now separating the teams, Newbridge had a vital edge as the final-quarter quickly approached.
’Bridge have earned plenty of plaudits throughout this season for their adventurous attacking brand of rugby, but with Mary’s eager to pursue every available avenue in their quest for a game-changing third try, the south Kildare side needed to showcase a large amount of defensive steel to see out their victory.
There were some occasional speed bumps for Newbridge in the closing moments, and had Mary’s possessed a reliable place-kicker, they may well have reverted to the kicking tee on more than one occasion.
While Mary’s were struggling to utilise the possession that came their way, there was always a chance that they could salvage that much-needed converted try, and the potential for a late fightback was increased by the arrival of 11 minutes of injury-time.
The reason for so much additional time was partly down to a nasty-looking knock sustained by Patrick Fogarty of Mary’s, as well as a mini-scuffle that occurred just past the hour mark. It also took an eternity for the final sequence of play to be halted, but once it did, the Newbridge faithful enthusiastically saluted another courageous performance by their senior squad.
NEWBRIDGE COLLEGE: Niall Delahunt; Mark Delaney, Jake Howlett, Andrew Shanahan, Joe D’Arcy; Jimmy O’Brien, Mark Sutton; Conor Doyle, Connor Johnson, Jonathan Phelan; Conor Doyle, Tom Treacy; Cormac Nugent, Matt O’Connor, Tom Brady. Replacements: Barry Finan for Shanahan (60), Richard Dromgoole-Maguire for Nugent (60), Matthew Stapleton for Delaney (75), Tom O’Neill for Johnson (75).
ST MARY’S COLLEGE: Terry Kennedy; Matthew Oppermann, David Matthews, Benn Hoey, Sean McCahill; Jack Duffy, Mark Fogarty; Michael Fitzgerald, Jordan Finnegan, Conor Whelan; Conor Corcoran, Hugo Diepmann; Gavin Kenny, Patrick Fogarty, Niall Curran. Replacements: Con Harte-Burke for Kenny (62), Eoin Foley for P Fogarty (68), John Delaney for M Fogarty.
Referee: Gary Glennon (LRR).