Rock shocked: Schools rugby giants knocked out of cup
St Gerard's 7
THE sense of expectation was palpable in Donnybrook yesterday. St Gerard's had been tipped to dump out the reigning champions and they duly delivered following a pulsating second-half.
You would have been forgiven for considering abandoning the game at half-time. After the first 35 minutes, a missed Blackrock penalty was the closest either side had come to a score as the sides cancelled each other out in almost every facet.
Scrums were even, Gerard's steadied the line-out after losing possession on their first throw and the ball spent an undesirable amount of time in the air, although both full-backs coped admirably with the Garryowens.
Forays into the opposition 22 were rare, if not quite non-existent, as the rival packs sized each other up in the opening exchanges.
The Gerard's back-row did, however, hint at the influence they would exert in the second half. Stephen Hackett-Delaney, aided by Finn Boylan, put in a thunderous hit on Blackrock's Con Sheehan, and Jack Conan, who put in a man-of-the-match performance, snaffled up an interception and looked set for a try, only to be pulled back for a marginal offside call.
After some ferocious exchanges, injuries dominated the half-time discussion. Both No 9s had been forced off before the break -- Blackrock's Marcus Walsh succumbed to a shoulder injury he carried into the game, and St Gerard's captain Robbie Glynn was also replaced after picking up a knock.
Thankfully, the second period offered much better fare right from the restart. Eric Miller's half-time team-talk seemed to strike a chord with the Wicklow side as they showed more adventure with ball in hand, looking to spread the play wide.
They threatened soon after the restart. Wing Jett Desmond made the most of limited space to break the gain line. Possession found its way back to Steve Crosbie, whose cross-field kick was just too long for the onrushing Dylan Simmonds.
Crosbie's kicking was right on the money all afternoon and it was his break that set up the game's decisive moment. With just 10 minutes of the second half elapsed, the Bray out-half created space with a jink and tore through the heart of the defence before handing off Blackrock No 8 Richard Marsh.
Centre Rian O'Loughlin did brilliantly to get alongside his No 10 and his angled run was superb as he eluded the clutches of another Blackrock defender to crash over and prompt delirious celebrations among the considerable Gerard's support in the stands. Full-back Josh Glynn kept his nerve to add the extras.
The Blackrock backlash didn't come immediately as a number of handling errors halted their momentum and on the odd occasion they did threaten, the superb Conan was on hand to plug the gap.
Meanwhile, Gerard's continually carried directly at the Blackrock midfield when afforded the opportunity, but, with the title slipping from their grasp, the champions rallied.
'Rock centre Caolann Fitzpatrick carried the fight in the final quarter and he was at the centre of the move that saw Blackrock almost get over the line, only to be held up by some magnificent last-ditch defending.
Further attacks were thwarted by a combination of knock-ons and more terrific Bray defending and when Crosbie's excellent relieving kick with just minutes left brought play close to the half-way line, it seemed Gerard's had done enough.
However, Blackrock came storming back for one more attempt. Camped under the Gerard's posts, the champions lost possession at the ruck and replacement scrum-half Conor O'Rourke booted the ball dead to secure a famous victory for the Wicklow school.
St Gerard's -- J Glynn; D Simmonds (A Carroll 38), R O'Loughlin, J Crosbie, J Desmond; S Crosbie, R Glynn (C O'Rourke 20); C McAlinden (A Lynch 60), C Hayde (D Cooney 65), C Lyons; F Boylan (A Rothwell 49), R Maxwell; S Hackett-Delaney (O O'Neill 70), S King, J Conan.
Blackrock College -- B McGuinness; M Roche, C Fitzpatrick, C McEllin, J O'Sullivan; D Godfrey, M Walsh (A Lloyd 26); S Wijntjes (A Boland 55), P Carroll, T Moran; S Cooke, J Kelly; C Sheehan, P Dargan (J Langbroek 47), R Marsh.
Ref -- P Dennehy