GROUNDBREAKING stuff in Dublin 4. St Gerard’s have never won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup but they paid scant attention to history yesterday by seeing off defending champions and 66-time winners Blackrock in this nip-and-tuck quarter-final.
Coached by former Irish international, Eric Miller, and with Tony Ward as their director of rugby, the boys from the Bray school played with a determination to match any Irish international, past or present.
Gerard’s had come to the quarter-final having seen off Terenure, last year’s runners-up, in the opening round while Blackrock had begun their defence of the title with a seven-point win against the previous holders, Belvedere.
If those results offered the promise of a memorable meeting, the first half wasn’t long in shattering such notions. The entire period, which included eight minutes of added time, failed to produce a score.
Both sides also had to contend with the loss of their starting scrum-halves to injury shortly into the second quarter, although both Conor O’Rourke (Gerard’s) and Angus Lloyd (Blackrock) slotted in seamlessly.
Gerard’s stand-out moments of the half came from their defence. From Jack Conan’s crunching tackle inside 60 seconds to Rian O’Loughlin’s hit on McGuinness near its end, the Bray boys meant business.
Another hit on McGuinness midway through the half from lock Finn Boylan was lucky to escape censure but it was a rare misdemeanour on a day when Gerard’s produced what will only be a mini-upset to those closest to the tournament.
Crucially, they managed to throw some sublime running rugby into the mix at the start of the second half and, though it was a brief liaison, it was to prove enough to get them over the finishing line.
Wing Jett Desmond provided the first break and a glimpse of what was to come after the restart and the try followed shortly after thanks to a blitzkrieg assault on the Rock defensive line from out-half Steve Crosbie.
It came from a scrum just inside the Blackrock half. Taking the feed from his replacement half-back partner, Crosbie hared past a plethora of tackles before feeding the onrushing O’Loughlin. His clever angle of approach took him over.
Josh Glynn’s conversion added to the size of Blackrock’s task but they responded well for the remaining half hour or so and, by the final whistle, they had been camped in the Gerard’s half for what seemed like an eternity.
Time and again they made life needlessly difficult with a knock-on, a dropped pass or an accidental crossing movement but they did breach the try line twice only to be held up on each occasion.
Some of the Gerard’s defending in that spell will enter the school’s folklore. Conan was a colossus, making hit after storming hit, while Crosbie launched one relieving kick from his own goal area that Rob Kearney would have applauded.
It was O’Rourke who applied the final touch, launching the ball out behind his own line deep into injury time before the pitch invasion swallowed the participants whole.
The dream lives on.
ST GERARD’S: J Glynn; D Simmonds, R O’Loughlin, J Crosbie, J Desmond; S Crosbie, R Glynn; C McAlinden, C Hayde, C Lyons; F Boylan, R Maxwell; S Hackett-Delaney, S King, J Conan.
Replacements: C O’Rourke for Glynn (20); A Carroll for Simmonds (38); A Bothwell for Boylan (49); A Lynch for McAlinden (60); D Cooney for Hayde (65); O O’Neill for Hackett (70).
BLACKROCK COLLEGE: B McGuinness; M Roche, C Fitzpatrick, C McEllin, J O’Sullivan; D Godfrey, M Walsh; S Wijntjes, P Carroll, T Moran; S Cooke, J Kelly; C Sheehan, P Dargan, R Marsh.
Replacements: A Lloyd for Walsh (26); J Langbroek for Dargan (47); A Boland for Wijntjes (55).
Referee: G Glennon (ARLB).
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