McMahon power play can boost Michael's bid for glory
When the draw for the Leinster Senior Cup was made back in early December, with St Michael's and Clongowes positioned at opposite ends, the feeling was that both teams would be RDS bound for the final.
And so it has come to pass, with the two best all-round teams making it through to today's showdown.
For St Michael's, it will be a fifth final appearance with all but one (versus Blackrock in 2006) against Clongowes. Back in 1988 (6-3) and again in 1991 (7-3) victory went to the Clane School, with the big breakthrough coming in '07 when Conor Cleary's all-conquering side brought the much-coveted Senior trophy to Ballsbridge for the first time.
But as good as that winning unit was, the class of 2010 appear to be even better. And after beating Newbridge (28-7), Castleknock (41-3) and St Gerard's (15-6) they have looked the real deal. The demolition of highly-rated Castleknock in the quarter-final was particularly impressive and suggested that the team were well on their way to title No 2.
But this is Clongowes, the consummate scrappers who certainly won't stand back and admire their opponents at the RDS.
And after seeing off King's Hospital (13-5), Kilkenny (37-12) and St Mary's in a closely fought affair (10-9) at the penultimate stage, they find themselves ideally placed now as underdogs going into this afternoon's showdown.
Robert Hynes is skipper for a typically workmanlike Clongowes' team. Dermot O'Meara and David Quirke provide solid and varied direction at half-back, while in full-back Stephen McAuley they possess the searing potential to cut any opposition apart.
Conor Gilsenan, this time at blindside, will be marshalling a very strong back-row and in Nick McCarthy, they possess a robust flanker. Indeed it's the battle of the back-rows which should not just provide the highlight, but ultimately the game-determining factor as well.
But here St Michael's will match the six-time winners where they are traditionally strongest. The ability of Daniel Leavy, Christopher Kenna and Paddy Dix competing at the breakdown, grappling for possession and turning over ball to which they have little right, have been crucial aspects to their quality play thus far.
And the contribution of captain Emmet McMahon -- particularly out of touch -- is equally important, as from Luke McGrath, through Cathal Marsh, Alex Kelly and the rest of a star-studded back-line, they are laden with class and attacking potential.
Both schools have been very much to the fore of the Junior competition in recent times with Clongowes lifting the title emphatically in '08 and Michael's responsible for preventing them recording back-to-back wins by way of a 15-14 defeat in last year's quarter-final.
For St Michael's, this year's Junior Cup final (against Terenure College on Sunday) represents their fourth in a row. It's an extraordinary level of consistency on which the seeds for this latest assault on the senior title have been well and truly sown.
All evidence points to St Michael's being the pre-match favourites but as they will know only too well, when it's Clongowes in opposition, a scrap to the wire is all but guaranteed. If both teams give their best, St Michael's should win.
But, put simply, it's about which team turns up in the best nick on the day. And for the impartial amongst us, would we want it any other way?
Verdict: St Michael's
St Michael's-- C Diamond; M Corballis, A Kelly, M Craig, D Egan; C Marsh, L McGrath; K Duffy, F Barry, D Reynolds; S O'Connor, E McMahon (Capt); D Leavy, C Kenna, P Dix. Reps: A Murphy, W Browne, S Hogan, S McGarry, K Jones, C Gilsenan, N Van Der Laan.
Clongowes -- S McAuley; O O'Suilleabhain, J McMahon, G O'Suilleabhain, A Thomson; D Quirke, D O'Meara; E Byrne, E Lewis, I Prendiville; T Beirne, R Hynes (Cap); C Gilsenan, N McCarthy, J Coughlan. Reps: S O'Riordan, T Collis, T Byrne, S O'Keefe, S Burke, M Maxwell, N Jones.
Ref -- J Carvill (ARLB).
Clongowes v St Michael's
Live, Setanta Ireland, 3.30