Clongowes hold all the aces in their bid to create history
Pardon the Cheltenham parallel, but 10/1 on favourites in a two- horse race -- now that's pressure.
Such is the lot of reigning champions Clongowes as they go into today's Powerade decider as probably the hottest favourites in the history of the competition.
With seven cup winners back from last year and a hugely impressive run in this year's competition, it is not too difficult to understand why they are all the rage to achieve back-to-back titles for the very first time.
They have already proved themselves at least the equal of Des Dillon's all-conquering crew of 1998, but, if anything, there is an even greater strength in depth in this class of 2011. Nearly every player on the Clongowes' bench would make the starting line-up in most other schools, such has been their impact, with Diarmuid Kennedy and Max McFarland particularly effective when called into action.
Powerful flanker Kennedy has been particularly impressive when coming on for Nick McCarthy in both the quarter-final and semi- final matches and at critical times.
To put it in its simplest terms, from loose-head Gordon Frayne to utility replacement Bryan Grehan, Clongowes have a squad without a readily identifiable weakness.
Once the draw was made in December, Roscrea knew they were in with a real shot in the upper half of the draw. And so it has come to pass, with well-constructed wins over Castleknock, Terenure and St Gerard's seeing them through to today's eagerly awaited showdown.
Junior League winners in 2008 and Senior League semi-finalists, they are a squad who have been well used to winning at various levels on the way up. The nucleus is exceptionally strong from hooker Denis O'Dwyer, through Rory and Colin Moloney, halves Gareth Gallagher and Bill Duggan, powerful centres Shane Layden and skipper Conor Finn and on to free- running full-back Philip O'Dwyer.
Back in the final for the first time since Redmond Barry and co in 1999, they are still in search of that long overdue maiden title. Factor in 11 still on board from last year's beaten quarter-finalists and it smacks of a group well entitled to anticipate the completion of that mission today. Just four points separated the schools (18-14 to Clongowes) in a pre-tournament friendly. However, everything still points to one logical outcome. Given the quality, given the incentive, given the occasion, all the evidence tilts towards Clongowes.
Take Roscrea to perform but Clongowes to prevail.
Clongowes -- H Burns; G Murray, J Glynn, C Joyce, C Mahony; D Quirke, C McQuaid; G Frayne, B Byrne, E Byrne; B Phelan, T Byrne; N McCarthy, C Gilsenan (Captain), J Coghlan. Reps: D O'Byrne, T Collis, P Timmons, D Kennedy, M McFarland, S Fromm, B Grehan.
Roscrea -- P O'Dwyer; C Brennan, S Layden, C Finn (Captain), M Mellotte; B Duggan, G Gallagher; G Fallon, D O'Dwyer, C Farrell; A McGrath, R Moloney; A Henderson, E Quirke, C Moloney. Reps: O Heffernan, S Moran, J Fitzpatrick, R Enraght Moony, A Wheatley, M Fitzgerald, J O'Driscoll.