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A pity there had to be a loser

The year Pres came within a whisker of Leinster Senior Schools Cup success


Duncan Leopold makes the break that leads to that Tom O’Shea try that broke Pres Bray hearts in 1971.

Duncan Leopold makes the break that leads to that Tom O’Shea try that broke Pres Bray hearts in 1971.

Duncan Leopold makes the break that leads to that Tom O’Shea try that broke Pres Bray hearts in 1971.


Before a large and enthusiastic crowd expectations were high as Pres took on the holders, Newbridge College, in the first round of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup at the Old Belvedere RFC grounds on Anglesea Road. Pres were looking to win the Cup for only their second time and their first since 1932.

Newbridge took an early lead with an unconverted try. Pres opened their account just before half-time when out half Brendan Byrne scored a try under the posts, which scrum half Barry Kealy converted. 25 minutes into the second half Kealy kicked a penalty to put Pres up 8-3. After Newbridge scored another unconverted try, Pres held on to win by two.

Full back on the Newbridge team was Ronan O’Brien, who the previous year had been on the Pres Junior Cup team. Against him on the right wing for Pres was Ronan’s first cousin, Eamonn O’Brien.

Next up was the other team from Kildare – Clongowes Wood College.

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Pres took on Clongowes in an exciting second round tie at Donnybrook. Clongowes, following their impressive first round defeat of St Mary’s, were a much-fancied team and took an early lead with an unconverted try. Pres hit back with a fine try by No 8 Cormac O’Carroll, which Barry Kealy duly converted. The Pres pack then began to dominate the opposition in all phases. Kealy kicked another penalty to leave Pres leading 8–3 at half-time.

After the break, Kealy kicked a further two penalties and right wing Eamonn O’Brien scored an opportunist try in the corner which Kealy, uncharacteristically, failed to convert. However, the rout of Clongowes was complete and Pres came away with a comfortable 17-3 victory.

Next up - Castleknock College in the quarter-final.

After trouncing Clongowes in the previous round, Pres needed the reliable boot of Barry Kealy to overcome Castleknock in what turned out to be an unimpressive quarter-final victory. A mammoth 40-yard penalty from Kealy in the sixth minute set Pres on the road to victory. Another penalty followed after 23 minutes of play. Castleknock reduced the arrears with a penalty just before half-time.

After the break Pres gradually found their true form and with just 10 minutes remaining Kealy added a fine penalty from the touchline, to put Pres 9-3 up and they held on for the win. Luck was not on the side of Castleknock as they saw two penalty attempts come back off the woodwork and failed with a simple drop goal attempt.

Next up - De La Salle, Churchtown in the semi-final.

At a bitterly cold Lansdowne Road, Pres took on De La Salle and cruised to an easy victory with Barry Kealy once again to the fore scoring 13 points.

Playing with a strong breeze, Pres took an early lead when Kealy scored a try from a five-yard scrum, which he duly converted. Five minutes later, he scored his second try following another scrum near the line. Once again, his conversion split the posts.

A penalty followed shortly thereafter. De La Salle never got on the scoreboard and were left to rue some missed penalty opportunities. All eight of the Pres pack were outstanding but none more so than No 8 Cormac O’Carroll who had passed a late fitness test moments before kick-off, enabling him to play.

Next up - Belvedere College in the final.

Belvedere were first on the scoreboard when they kicked a penalty after just 13 minutes. Barry Kealy then equalised for Pres with a penalty after 25 minutes of play. The scores were level 3-3 at half-time.

Within seven minutes of the resumption, Kealy was once again to the fore when blocking down an attempted clearance kick on the Belvedere line and crashing over for a try which he duly converted to put Pres 8-3 ahead.

Minutes later Belvedere hit back with an unconverted try. In the 16th minute, Kealy kicked a huge penalty from two yards inside the Belvedere half to extend the Pres lead. Sadly, it was to be their last score.

Belvedere reduced the deficit to two points with a penalty from Ray Finn. Pres were hanging on for dear life, but in the dying moments their defence was broken when Belvedere got over for a try under the posts. The try was converted to give Belvedere a hard-fought victory at 14-11.

The game was, as expected, a thrilling spectacle. The papers the next day said it was a pity there had to be a loser, as seldom in the history of the competition had two teams fought so hard and courageously as did the victors, and the vanquished - Pres Bray – in a cup final decider.

The 1971 final on St Patrick’s Day was one of the famous thrillers and the 15,000 crowd at Lansdowne Road got full value for their admission fee. There can hardly be a more galling sporting experience for Pres Bray than to lose a school’s cup final in the dying minutes, after looking all set to win and bringing the Cup back to Bray for the first time in 39 years.

There was some consolation for Barry Kealy, Cormac O’Carroll and John O’Reilly in that they were selected to play for the Leinster Schools XV against Ulster Schools in the final schools interprovincial of that season.

The Belvedere team contained one Seamus Oliver (Ollie) Campbell, who would go on to win his first cap for Ireland in January 1976 against Australia. He was, of course, instrumental in Ireland’s Triple Crown victory in 1982. Also on the Belvedere team that day was centre Ray Finn, who would go on to play for Ireland against France in March 1977.

Links with the victorious Pres Bay team of 1932

Hadgy Murphy, centre for Pres in 1932, was the father of the Pres captain and centre Harley Murphy. Brian O’Brien, wing forward for Pres in 1932, was the father of the Pres right wing Eamonn O’Brien.

Kevin McGuire (1), Pat Robinson (2), Dermot O’Brien (3), Gerard McGuire (4), John O’Reilly (5), Pat Byrne (6), Cormac O’Carroll (8), Jimmy Doyle (7), Barry Kealy (9), Brendan Byrne (10), Harley Murphy (12), Fergus Dunphy (13), Alan MacKay (11), Gerard Phelan (15) (RIP), Eamonn O’Brien (14)

Barry Kealy

Finbarr (‘Barry’) Kealy – the boy from Cork – was not just the hero for Pres, but also the outstanding player of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup campaign of 1971. Over five games he scored 49 points of Pres Bray’s total of 58, including all 13 in the semi-final and all 11 in the final, both in man-of-the-match performances.

By any stretch of the imagination, it was a remarkable achievement by the scrum half.

It should be remembered that, back then, a try was worth only three points!

He was described as:“a giant scrum half”, “amply proportioned”, “hefty”, “a scrum half with the build of a prop forward”, “an extremely talented performer with a huge prop-like frame”.

The newspapers also said: “it is hard to emphasise the importance of Barry Kealy to the team - he has a fine break and when near the line has the power to carry it through.

His place kicking is sure and long, and his touch finding is invaluable”.