PBC stormed back from 10 points down with a five-try onslaught to ensure a repeat of the 2019 Clayton Hotels Munster Schools Senior Cup final against rivals and reigning champions Christians.
A day after their Junior Cup team was eliminated by a St Munchin's second-half comeback, Pres's senior squad inflicted the same fate on the Limerick school to set up back-to-back PBC-CBC finals for the first time since 1981.
Hard as it was to pick out a forward from a powerful pack, Alex Kendellen's two close-range tries, either side of Sam O'Sullivan's levelling score, were crucial. Stunning Daniel Hurley and James Keohane tries embellished the win.
For Pres head coach Ger Burke, a former Munchin’s captain who coached them to their last final in 2012, it was a bittersweet day; delighted with the result but devastated to lose one of their outstanding back-row, John Forde, to a dislocated elbow late on.
“He’s a big-game player, the bigger the occasion, the bigger the performance,” said Burke.
I’m absolutely devastated for him. It’s not looking good. Sport is so cruel. He has been pivotal to everything we do. I just hope that we can get the job done and he gets a medal because he deserves one.
“He’s a special kid and I think you’re going to see a few of those Pres lads on a bigger stage, but John is one of them. I’m heartbroken for him.”
Pres held a monopoly on territory for the first 15 minutes but they never really threatened the Munchin's line. Two costly knock-ons, as well as a Daragh McDermott tackle and Liam Neilan turnover the key moments in keeping Pres on the edge of, but rarely inside, the Munchin's 22.
With Alexander Wood and Seamus McCarthy Burbage kept busy kicking the ball out of danger, further sloppy errors by Pres eventually gave Munchin's a foothold which they gleefully grasped to take a shock 10-0 lead.
Darragh Long's big carries drew two penalties, with Wood converting the first and the second providing the platform for their 21st-minute try. Daniel Squires' loose pass was gathered by Wood who raced in under the posts for a simple seven points.
This shocked Pres into life, bringing their forward superiority to bear for an immediate response. Munchin's immaculate discipline was broken, conceding their first penalty, which was kicked to the corner, and at the fifth attempt, Kendellen broke through for a try.
Then, five minutes later, with Billy Kiernan, in for Adam O'Brien at out-half from their win over Crescent, carrying the ball to the gain-line and drawing in defenders, space was created out wide for Darragh French to free O'Sullivan who rampaged over the line. Alex Walsh converted the latter for a 12-10 lead.
Pres's discipline almost cost them again, conceding two penalties and lucky not to have been penalised for a third. That allowed Munchin's a stoppage-time salvo, with Donnacha O'Callaghan taking a quick-tap penalty to within five metres. A scrum allowed them attempt an overlap on the narrow side, but Kendellen was alive to the scrum-half's thinking, helping Keohane bundle Conor O'Shaughnessy into touch.
"I was going, oh Christ, here we go," said Burke of the self-inflicted 10-point deficit, "but I have to say the response... there's a group of players that in other years, maybe, you'd have doubted. But you look at the leaders there, Kendellen and Jack Kelleher, captain and vice-captain, and you saw the response.
"We hadn't settled, we were just a little anxious, but once we got going, I was completely confident."
The Mardyke school's momentum continued into the opening three minutes of the second half. Hurley beat four would-be tacklers with an electric run to establish them in the Munchin's 22. The forwards piled on the pressure before Kendellen, again, was the man to wriggle over. Walsh's conversion pushed the lead out to nine.
Munchin's came back with relentless force, building phases upon phases over the next 20 minutes. That pressure peaked when Forde was sin-binned but Pres came up with steal after steal; Jack Kelleher, then Kendellen, then Billy Kingston lifting the siege.
When Forde was reintroduced with 10 minutes to go, the was a sense that Munchin's had given their best shot and been rebuffed.
Within moments, Pres confirmed that assumption.
O'Sullivan offloaded to Hurley who once again beat four defenders. This time, there wasn't a fifth to stop him as he ran under the posts, making Walsh's conversion as easy as possible. Hurley limped off, his job done, smiling as he received a huge ovation from the crowd.
A graver blow came when Forde was helped off with his dislocated elbow but a happier mood was restored when Keohane, hailed as "the most under-rated back in the country" by Burke, fended off three defenders for another stunning Pres try. Walsh made it four kicks from five and 33-10 at the end.
P Campbell; D Hurley, D French, D Squires, J Keohane; B Kiernan, A Walsh; B Kingston, B Comiskey, D McSweeney; S O’Sullivan, D O'Halloran; J Kelleher, J Forde, A Kendellen.
R McAuliffe, C O'Connor, J McCarthy, T Gough, M Deane, L Ormond, P Hyland, S McLoughlin, J O'Brien.
D McDermott; C O’Shaughnessy, S McCarthy Burbage, D Long, J O’Brien; A Wood, D O’Callaghan; K Ryan, J Devanny, C Finn; G Kirwan, L McCormack; J Clohessy, E Hickey, L Neilan.
G Harrington, N Walsh, S Hayes, J Kelly, K Sheehy, C O'Brien Comerford, J Costello.
R Horgan (MAR).