Munchins roadblock as Pres aim to bridge eight-year gap

ONLY once since they were first successful back in 1918 have Presentation Brothers, Cork, gone eight years without capturing the Coca Cola Munster Schools Senior Cup.

That happened between 1958 and 1966, a drought that ended in spectacular fashion when Barry McGann led Pres to the title en route to becoming one of the country’s finest ever out-halves.

At Thomond Park this afternoon, Pres take on St Munchin’s in yet another final, knowing that defeat would make it their longest ever spell in the wilderness. They were last successful in 1996 with a side that included Peter Stringer and Mick O’Driscoll and have lost in each of the last two deciders, to St Munchins in 2002 and CBC 12 months ago.

In spite of their relative lack of recent success, Pres remain one of the great traditional forces in schools rugby. They have won the Senior Cup on 25 occasions, two behind pacesetters CBC, and produced some of the game’s finest exponents in the process.

St Munchins, on the other hand, have been restricted to three successes although they, too, have provided Ireland with some outstanding players, not least two of its most recent past captains in Keith Wood and Anthony Foley.

Both Pres and Munchins have had to battle hard to reach the decider.

Indeed, the Cork side were outsiders when they lined out against city rivals CBC in the quarter-finals but they pulled off a great win, thanks in no small measure to the drop goal-kicking expertise of centre Tom Gleeson, who hit the target twice, and out-half Gavin Dunne.

Rockwell provided very strong opposition in the semi-final before Pres got home after a first-class encounter by 20-16.

Ard Scoil Rís were favoured to go a long way this season but fell at the first hurdle to St Munchins, who then went on to defeat Limerick rivals Crescent (13-0) in the semi-final when their impressive hooker Gerard Slattery helped himself to a couple of tries. That margin would have been even wider had out-half Wayne Murphy brought along his kicking boots.

He missed a few very good chances and Munchins supporters are hoping he will strike the form of two years ago when his late conversion from an acute angle saw his side home 20-19 against Pres.

This final could well prove a contrast in styles with Pres favouring a more expansive approach. They possess a major threat in Tom Gleeson, who like Wayne Murphy, is contesting his third successive final, while half-backs Gavin Dunne and Sam Cronin have also been impressive to date.

They make an enforced change in the pack with the injured Eamonn Nugent replaced by Ronan O’Leary with Des Prendergast moving to number eight.

St Munchins have a couple of potent forces up front in Slattery and number eight David Gardiner and will need to win the forward battle if they are to succeed. They also make one change from the semi-final line-up, Brian Meade coming into the second-row for Neilus Keogh.

ST MUNCHINS: JP Hartigan; F Daly, A Ajoung, J Clogan, E Moloney; W Murphy, T Cahill; S Foster, G Slattery, A Cotter, B Meade, F Walsh (capt), L Mullane, F Cross, D Gardiner. Replacements: D Lavery, N Keogh, T Nihill, R Deady / S Malone, M Carroll, M Kinsella.

PBC: E Ryan; D Ward, T Gleeson, A Kelleher, M Carey; G Dunne, S Cronin; J Philpott, D O’Halloran, M O’Leary, C Kennefick, R O’Leary, D Daly (capt), C Fitzgibbon, D Prendergast. Replacements: E McCarthy, N Bourke, S Tobin, H Dockry, S Caul, D O’Connell, E Reynolds.

Referee: P Roche (Munster).

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