Rarely do the underdogs triumph in a replay, but this is what last year’s beaten finalists will have to do if they are to progress from an afternoon on which their players and coaches showed remarkable restraint in what could have turned into an explosive situation at the final whistle.
Early on, Byrne and Cirain Gaffney swapped penalties in a scrappy opening quarter. Then, Ireland Schools centre Rory O’Loughlin latched onto a stray pass to sprint 60 metres for the opening try in the 27th minute which Byrne converted from the left.
At the time, this had all the hallmarks of a decisive breakthrough as the superb Dan Leavy set the tone around the fringes against a tremendous Roscrea breakaway trio of Ross Enraght-Mooney, Rory Moloney and Sean O’Brien.
Gaffney’s 33rd minute penalty left four points in it. Just before the break, St Michael’s number eight Donagh Lawlor was binned to reduce his pack to seven.
This mattered little when St Michael’s went on the attack at the start of the new half. However, Roscrea repelled their advances and slowly worked their way back into the game.
Left wing Maurice Fitzgerald’s fancy footwork undid the Dubliners in the 54th minute when he dribbled the ball down the field and pounced as it rolled over the line.
The unflappable Byrne was back for three more points and a regained lead of 13-11 when Roscrea moved up offside in the midfield in the 61st minute.
It was tit-for-tat as the tempo of the match sky-rocketed. The Roscrea forwards then attempted to engineer a drop goal for Gaffney. It worked only for the ten to miscue.They came again. This time Gaffney cleverly opted for the cross-field kick for right wing Fionn Higgins who gathered the bobbling ball for what looked like the matchwinner five minutes into injury-time.
It was simply unbelievable that a further 12 minutes was found before Byrne kicked his third penalty in the 52nd minute of the second-half.
Scorers for St Michael’s College: (R O’Loughlin try; R Byrne 3 pens, con).
Scorers for Cistercian Roscrea: (M Fitzgerald, F Higgins try each; C Gaffney 2 pens).
ST MICHAEL’S: C Diamond; R Kavanagh, R O’Loughlin, B Holland, A Leavy; R Byrne, L Martin; A Barr, H Murray, J Lawless, R Moloney, S Harold, D Leavy (capt), J Parsons, D Lawlor.
Replacements: B McDermott for O’Loughlin 49; J Murphy for Harold, N McCarthy for Martin both 51; G Kelly for Murray, both 62.
CISTERCIAN ROSCREA: P O’Dwyer (capt); F Higgins, C Brennan, M Mellotte, M Fitzgerald; C Gaffney, G Ryan; S Moran, S Cody, O Heffernan, A McGrath, E Quirke, R Enraght-Mooney, R Moloney, S O’Brien.
Replacements: M Gavin for McGrath 68.
Referee: G Glennon, Leinster Branch.