Saturday 25 February 2017

Seventh heaven for mighty Rock

Blackrock Col 12 St Michael's Col 10

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It was a case of extremes of emotion at the end of another tough, tense all Holy Ghost decider at jam-packed Donnybrook yesterday.

To Blackrock goes the Cup for the 46th time and a seventh success in seven attempts this millennium; and to St Michael's, the heartbreak of a sixth defeat in seven finals in the same period, but even more of five successive defeats at this underage level on the ultimate stage.

In the end, 'Rock got there on the back of a mighty forward effort, technically well drilled and almost unstoppable when within striking distance of the opposition line.

Over the course of the 70 minutes there was precious little in it, with the Michael's forwards manufacturing enough primary possession to threaten Rock consistently in midfield. Time and again the excellent Matthew Gilsenan, in tandem with Oisin O'Meara and Adam Leavy, worked the midfield 'wrap around' to stretch the Williamstown scramble defence to the limit.

But the 'Rock defence stood up. Only once was their line breached, mid-way through the first half, and it came on the back of some real opportunism on the part of O'Meara.

It was 17 minutes in before 'Rock broke the deadlock. The opening try came on the end of a trademark back-row move -- brilliantly engineered by skipper Nicholas Timoney and clinically finished by the most conspicuous forward on the day, Oliver Jager. Ian Kinsey then added the conversion.

It was essential Michael's scored next and they did with O'Meara the creator and finisher, courtesy of the most audacious intercept. It came in the 22nd minute after a Gilsenan kick to the corner. O'Meara read the attempted counter-attack to perfection and did exceptionally well to not alone cut off the intended pass, but retain sufficient momentum to make the line despite Johnny Redmond's gallant attempt to haul him down. Gilsenan converted and it was 7-7.

Suddenly the tide was flowing the other way and despite two excellent solo bursts by Jager and Coughlan, it was Michael's, courtesy of an ice-cool Gilsenan penalty, ahead at the break.

Both sides took up where they left off, with Michael's threatening in the wider areas through O'Meara, Leavy and Gavin Duffy. But they couldn't score, and there was the constant threat of the Rock juggernaut getting close to their line.

In the 51st minute it came. A clever box-kick by Tristin Brady was gathered by wing Redmond on the bounce to get within metres of the Michael's line.

Twice they were awarded kickable penalties but each time refused, opting instead to go for the jugular. Dane Fitzpatrick, Hugo Kean and Evan Holland were all centrally involved before the hugely influential Timoney went over for the match-winning try.

But not before one final piece of drama as Michael's, inspired by outstanding lock James Ryan, worked their way back into their rivals' territory.

They forced the penalty with almost the last play but Gilsenan's difficult kick from wide out on the left drifted agonisingly wide of the near upright.

Blackrock -- Z O'Hagan; J Redmond, J O'Hehir (D Glynn 35), I Kinsley, D Coughlan (D O'Mahony 62); J Power, T Brady; S Lynch (D Fitzpatrick 35), G Moylan (H Kean 35), E Holland; J Dwan, D O'Connor; O Jager (C O'Dwyer 68), E Fanning, N Timoney (Captain).

St Michael's -- G Duffy; K Victory, A Leavy, O O'Meara, W Butler; M Gilsenan, S Smith (D Duggan 60); O Joyce, J O'Connell, H Redmond (L Bradbury 62); C Cregan (Captain), J Ryan; A Penny, C McGettigan, M Deegan.

Ref -- E Kenny (Leinster Referees).

Irish Independent

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