LEINSTER SCHOOLS SENIOR CUP SEMI-FINAL
GONZAGA COLLEGE 33
NEWBRIDGE COLLEGE 31
By Daire Walsh
THEY were close to forging a miraculous comeback victory in the last-quarter, but Newbridge College ultimately came up just short against Gonzaga College in a compelling Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-final at Energia Park in Donnybrook on Tuesday.
33-14 in arrears with a little under 10 minutes gone in the second half, ‘Bridge subsequently stormed back into the contest with tries from Todd Lawlor, Paddy Taylor and Shane Davitt. It wasn’t enough to book a showpiece spot alongside either Blackrock College or St Michael’s College, but there could be no doubting the never-say-die attitude of the Kildare school.
Coached by past pupil and Rathangan native Johne Murphy (a former professional player with Leicester Tigers and Munster), ‘Bridge shared the 2020 title at this grade with Clongowes Wood College after their proposed all-Kildare final clash was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Gonzaga reached the 2019 and 2022 deciders – losing to Michael’s and Blackrock respectively – and were aiming to build on their ever-growing reputation at this level.
‘Bridge had overcome the challenges of Kilkenny College and CBC Monkstown on their way to the last-four and clinically opened the scoring on the stroke of 10 minutes. A pass from Tadhg Brophy released Taylor through a defensive gap and he picked out his centre partner Ciaran Mangan for a simple finish under the posts.
Taylor was on hand to supply the extras, but ‘Bridge’s lead proved to be short-lived. Intercepting a loose pass by Paddy Martin, Gonzaga’s Aidan O’Flanagan raced away unopposed for a try that was supplemented by a Stephen McMahon conversion.
While this looked to be an ideal settler for Gonzaga, it was instead left for ‘Bridge to reinforce their authority. Just shy of the first-quarter mark, full-back Lawlor weaved his way over the whitewash at the end of an extended attack for his side’s second converted score of the half.
‘Bridge suffered a set-back when prop Billy Bohan was sin-binned in the 27th-minute, however, and Gonzaga immediately took advantage with a try from No 8 Paul Wilson – an All-Ireland minor championship winner with Meath in 2021.
McMahon added the bonuses to this five-pointer and did likewise off a stoppage-time finish from hooker Luke McLaughlin to propel Gonzaga into a 21-14 interval cushion.
The Metropolitan outfit carried this momentum into the second half and it took them just five minutes to extend their buffer. Following a superb break into enemy territory, O’Flanagan unselfishly passed out to the left for Hugo McLaughlin to sprint over for a fourth Gonzaga try.
‘Bridge were once again reduced to 14 players in the 43rd-minute when loosehead John R Walsh was yellow carded. In his absence, Gonzaga hooker Luke McLaughlin bagged his second try of the game off an ensuing line-out maul move.
Gonzaga looked set for a convincing win at this point, but Lawlor offered ‘Bridge renewed hope with a neat finish on 53 minutes. Their passionate supporters started to believe when Taylor got over off a set-piece move and Davitt gave them further reason to be optimistic with five minutes remaining.
Despite being under enormous pressure from the Gonzaga rearguard, he burst over the line in emphatic fashion. Taylor added a conversion to this score, leaving ‘Bridge just two points behind in the process.
However, an under siege Gonzaga held firm to bring Newbridge College’s latest Senior Cup odyssey to an end.
GONZAGA COLLEGE: Hugo McLaughlin; JP Breslin, Aidan O’Flanagan, Jody Browne, Mikey Wall; Stephen McMahon, Tom Brophy; Finn O’Neill, Luke McLaughlin, Adam McVerry; Jamie Kennedy, Tom Wyley; Charlie Kennedy, Gavin O’Grady, Paul Wilson.
Replacements: Jamie Sheil for McVerry, James O’Dwyer for Brophy, Jack Kelly for O’Grady (all 59).
NEWBRIDGE COLLEGE: Todd Lawlor; Rory Allen, Ciaran Mangan, Paddy Taylor, Adam Larkin Smithers; Paddy Martin, Tadhg Brophy; John R Walsh, Mark Masterson, Billy Bohan; Shane Davitt, Shane Treacy; John Sheedy, Ronan McGroary, Ruairi Munnelly.
Replacements: Sam O’Loughlin for Sheedy (28-35), Daniel Cox for McGroary (41), Daniel Connolly for Martin, Hugo Owens for Allen (both 45), Josh Montgomery for Masterson, Charlie O’Loughlin (both 68).
Referee: Andrew Cole (Leinster Rugby Referees).