A dramatic last-gasp penalty from Conor Fitzgerald handed Ardscoil Rís a return to the SEAT Munster Schools Senior Cup final as Presentation Brothers College hearts were broken at Musgrave Park.
Last season’s runners-up had been heading for semi-final disappointment as they trailed 11-10 deep into stoppage time in a game disrupted by two lengthy injury breaks.
Yet when they finally got over halfway having come under relentless pressure from the Cork side the Limerick men were rewarded with a penalty for a deliberate knock-on just over the Pres 10-metre line. After 16 minutes of added time, fly-half Fitzgerald delivered victory, just as he had done in the previous round against Christians.
“We made it hard for ourselves because we stopped playing rugby,” Ardscoil head coach and former Munster player Mossie Lawler said. “We started well, went 3-0 up, because we played. We went 10-0 up, because we played and then we just stopped.
“We needed a score in the last play of the game and we played and then we got our penalty, which was one unbelievable kick.
“I think the big lesson for us is that we’ve got to play rugby. We can’t just sit back and defend because we won’t win a cup if we do. But the belief going into the final is there so we’re really looking forward to it.”
Lawler’s side will face the winner of today’s Thomond Park semi between Rockwell College and Glenstal Abbey while defeat for Pres means a fifth year since their last Senior Cup success. The desolation of their players as they sank to the turf was all too clear but Ardscoil just about deserved their victory.
They had led 10-3 at half-time having enjoyed plenty of possession, Fitzgerald opening the scoring with his second kick in the sixth minute.
A lengthy stoppage followed as Ardscoil prop Tom Walsh received treatment for what was reported as a dislocated shoulder. Ardscoil, though, continued to dominate with some enjoyable continuity rugby.
The breakthrough came in the 12th minute when flanker Ian Brown made a break in midfield, drawing defenders before off-loading into open space where fellow back-rower Oisín Bernard gathered and ran under the posts, Fitzgerald’s conversion sending Ardscoil 10-0 up.
Pres did not score until just before half-time, captain John Poland giving the Corkmen a much-needed boost with a penalty.
Trailing 10-3, Pres showed some spark, twice coming up short when prop Joe Ring chased a loose ball but was beaten to the touchdown by Ardscoil scrum-half Hugh Bourke and then Poland got over the line, only for referee Hodges to rule a knock-on.
A Pres try did arrive on 56 minutes, fly-half Peter Sylvester breaking upfield before the ball ran loose, centre Shane Daly grabbing it and running over for the score.
Poland failed to convert and the game was hit by another delay when Ardscoil’s Brown was felled by a bang to his shoulder and head, eventually taken from the field by stretcher, Lawler reporting he had not been concussed.
Pres remained in the ascendancy, taking the lead in the 65th minute when replacement forward Michael Shinkwin’s carry to the 22 was halted by a high tackle. Poland kicked the penalty and his side were 11-10 up and looking in control.
There was still plenty of time to play, however, and Ardscoil finally found a route over halfway, a penalty following and with it Fitzgerald’s clutch kick.
Lawler said he had faith in his fly-half to do his duty.
“Conor’s a super kid but as I said to him, that’s his job, to kick those goals. I’d give massive credit to our sub prop (Andy Coffey), he hasn’t played much in the front row and he comes in today and locks out the scrum when our tighthead went off.
"For me he’s probably the big hero of the game but it’s always the out-half who’ll get the credit. Even so, he’s a great kid, a super talent.”
Disappointed PBC coach Peter Scott spoke of his pride for his players and praised Ardscoil for “fighting until the very end”.
“I think we thought we’d the game won, we made a couple of mistakes and maybe overplayed it a bit in the last two or three minutes when we should have hidden the ball up our jerseys. Then they broke out and got an unfortunate penalty.
"He gave it for a deliberate knock-on and he does slap it down so it’s hard to look at the referee, you’ve got to look at yourselves there.
“It was a smashing kick by the young man and we wish them the best in the final.”
D Dennehy; B Pope, S Daly, R Reidy, C Duggan (D O’Sullivan, 50); P Sylvester, J Poland – captain; J Ring, E McCarthy (P Crowley, 69), S Deane; K O’Leary, B O’Mahony; C O’Flynn (M Shinkwin, 50), G Smith, J O’Sullivan.
D Gavin (L Brock, 54); N Randles, J O’Donnell, P Collins, M McManemy; C Fitzgerald, H Bourke; P Lyons, T Chan – captain, T Walsh (A Coffey, 6); B O’Byrne, R Coffey; O Bernard, I Brown, J McCabe (D Ryan, 60).