Roscrea retained eight of the starting line-up from last year’s historic final success, but it was their north Kildare counterparts who drew first blood in this encounter.
After containing an early Roscrea attack, Clongowes were awarded a fourth minute penalty — and centre Benjamin O’Shea made no mistake from a distance of 35 metres.
The eight-time champions were applying serious pressure to their opponents whenever they gained possession, and after Thomas Monaghan recycled the ball to the left-flank on 18 minutes, full-back Michael Silvester dived over for the opening try of the contest.
The impressive O’Shea was on hand to add the bonuses, as Clongowes developed a deserved 10-point cushion. Yet, Roscrea displayed plenty of resilience as the half wore on, and despite being held up by the opposition rearguard on a number of occasions, powerful tighthead Dylan Murphy ultimately finished off a strong line-out maul on the half-hour mark.
This was a much-needed boost for Roscrea, but following a wayward conversion attempt by Conor Kelly, another O’Shea three-pointer ensured that Clongowes brought a 13-5 lead into the second half.
The Clane school were aiming to reach their fifth senior decider in seven years, but a strong break 12 minutes into the half by hooker Eoghan Maher provided the framework for Michael Milne to eventually crash over to the right of the Clongowes posts for a converted score.
This was throwing down the gauntlet to Clongowes, but they responded to this set-back in impressive style.
After working the play across the Roscrea line at the end of the third-quarter, excellent approach work from the midfield pairing of O’Shea and Miles O’Connor enabled winger Fiachra Lynch to squeeze through in the right-corner.
O’Shea was off-target from a tricky bonus kick, though, and this left the door open for Roscrea to turn the tie on its head. Milne had caught the eye throughout the course of the proceedings, and he claimed his second try in the 58th-minute.
A missed Kelly conversion meant that Clongowes still held onto a slender advantage, but the decisive score of an enthralling penultimate round clash arrived nine minutes from time.
After robbing a Clongowes lineout just shy of the whitewash, flanker Diffley touched down from a powerful drive by the Roscrea pack. Kelly added two points in superb fashion from the left-wing, and despite coming under severe pressure in the closing stages, Roscrea booked their place in the March 17 showpiece.
M Milne 2 tries, D Murphy, B Diffley try each, C Kelly 2 cons.
M Silvester, F Lynch try each, B O’Shea 2 pens, con.
C Kelly; D Keane, P O’Shea, S Hastings, J Murphy; A Tynan, K Kavanagh; M Milne, E Maher, D Murphy; F Wycherley, A Murphy; B Diffley, J Canning, S Meagher.
B Hyland for O’Shea (h-t), A Browne for A Murphy (41), J Culligan for Canning (47).
M Silvester; F Lynch, M O’Connor, B O’Shea, R Lemess; T Monaghan, J Murphy; J Martin, D Sheehan, E Carroll; J Moore, F McCarthy; P Nulty, S McMahon, D Jeffares.
A Kelly for Jeffares (42), T Dooley for Sheehan, G Graham for Martin, B Maher for Monaghan (all 66).