Burns tackle triggers rout as Clongowes crush 'Rock
Leinster Senior Cup
When the draw was made back in December the quarter-final meeting of Cup giants Blackrock and Clongowes seemed an inevitability.
The general consensus was that whichever school emerged unscathed from that titanic clash would take some beating. Well, with on-fire St Michael's next up, we're in for the mother and father of all semi-finals.
But first things first as yesterday, at Donnybrook, Clongowes produced pretty much the complete squad performance when comprehensively outplaying the school every other aspires to beat.
Most worryingly, given the record margin of defeat, is that Blackrock didn't play at all badly. On the contrary, they gave as good as they got for large chunks of a hugely competitive match brimming with skill and commitment.
Flanker Tom Austin's extraordinary tackle count epitomised the Williamstown school's never-say-die resolve. But much like 1998 (with so many back from last year's winning side) this squad is special.
There is not a readily identifiable weakness in the side, a fact reinforced by the impact off the bench of scrum-half Max McFarland and powerful flanker Diarmuid Kennedy. Either would comfortably make most any other team in the province. Such is the strength in depth of this exceptionally talented group.
Like Ireland on Sunday, they hit the desired tempo immediately. The defence right across the field is not alone a purple and white wall but every player steps up to the tackle. It is schoolboy rugby's equivalent of the full-court press.
To be fair to 'Rock, for the opening half hour they traded tackle for tackle and turnover for turnover. Clongowes were shading it by two Conor Mahony penalties to one effort from Mark Roche coming up to the 30-minute mark. Then came a key moment: a try-saving tackle by full-back Harry Burns on Jack Dempsey when the 'Rock out-half appeared destined to make it in under the posts.
Amazingly, within minutes it was all over bar the shouting. The outstanding Bryan Byrne blocked an attempted clearance before Conor Joyce, Conor Gilsenan, McCarthy and Joyce again all handled for Joyce to race in. Mahony added the extras.
No sooner had it restarted then all three front-rows Gordon Freyne, Tom Collis and Byrne bulldozed deep into 'Rock territory before McFarland and McCarthy combined to set Mahony racing clear. At 18-3, the writing was on the wall.
Another Roche penalty gave 'Rock a promising start to the second half, but two more tries by Gilsenan (46 minutes) and Gareth Murray (58) -- with Mahony adding a conversion and a penalty to a Pierce Dargan try, converted by Roche for 'Rock -- put Clongowes into a 31-13 lead.
The back-to-back title-chasing champions were out of sight. A try apiece followed, with Murray again crossing and No 8 Jordan Coughlan nailing the conversion. Second-half replacement Laurence Leonard reduced the deficit with an injury-time try, converted by Roche, to salvage some pride.
They will not thank me for saying it, particularly with Michael's next up, but on this overwhelming evidence it is difficult to envisage anyone stopping the march to a second successive title.
Clongowes -- H Burns (S Fromm 64); G Murray, J Glynn, C Joyce (R Scanlon 69), C Mahony; D Quirke, C McQuaide (M McFarland 5); G Freyne, B Byrne, T Collis (D O'Byrne 53); B Phelan (P Timmins 59), T Byrne; N McCarthy (D Kennedy 35), C Gilsenan (capt), J Coughlan.
Blackrock -- S Barron; D Lunn (C McCrory 67), C McEllin, M Roche, K O'Leary; J Dempsey (A Walsh 39), C Rock (A Lloyd 39); A Boland (M Carroll 44), D Hogan, C McGuire (capt, F Bolger 52); P Dargan, G Thornbury (C Duff 58); M Connolly (L Leonard 52), T Austin, R Marsh.
Ref -- K Beggs (Leinster Rugby Referees).