From the moment Blackrock College executed a mind-boggling 22-20 come-from-behind win over St Mary's College in the first round, they have been installed as favourites to take the rough with the smooth and their 64th Powerade Leinster Schools Senior Cup.
In fact, they have not made it easy for themselves or their supporters. Their Houdini-like escapology began when slipping 17-0 behind St Mary's and continued in the quarter-final when they fell 6-0 in arrears to King's Hospital.
The team has shown great character to come from behind in the first two matches. We challenged them to take the lead in the semi-final. And they did, said Fr Joe Gough.
The return of hooker Cian Culliton will provide even more muscle to a heavy set of forwards. Peter Young is the unlucky loser in what must have been a tight decision.
Cian was the original choice at hooker until he broke his jaw one week before the Cup started. In a strange way, the timing has suited him. He came on as a replacement for Peter in the semi-final and keeps his place. explained Gough.
While Blackrock have flyers, namely David Nyhan, Michael Kavanagh and Vasya Artemiev, in their back three, they will seek to exhaust Clongowes up front.
If you dominate primary possession, you have a good chance of success. Ireland demonstrated that against England at Twickenham last Saturday. We have a physical edge. But, Clongowes are a very tigerish, hungry side. They didn't win much primary possession against Newbridge, but they compensated by stealing the ball back. They are extremely good at that, said Fr Gough.
Arguably, Clongowes do have, in their ranks, the one player who can produce something super-human on the day. Full back Robert Kearney has been the stand out player in the Cup.
Joe Gough is under no illusions where the threat to his side's ambitions will come from, It is clear that Clongowes' Plan A, B and C is Robert Kearney. I was Manager of the Leinster Schools this season and he was brilliant for us. Of course, we will try to keep the ball away from him.
I would say he is on a par with Gordon D'Arcy, when Gordon was the same age. He is that good. He has all the skills and a great attitude. He will be on the Irish Schools this year and he will go on from there. He can go all the way. There is no doubt about that.
High praise indeed! Kearney will be a constant menace, but Clongowes will have to secure enough ball to bring him into the game. That has been a concern to Clongowes coach Adam Lewis.
There is Robert Kearney. We will put him on the ball as often as possible. But, the rest are honest brokers. Wing Richard McElwee, centre Fergus McFadden and openside Peter Lennon are three of the lesser known players that have been excellent throughout the Cup.
The same way we have combated the three bigger packs we have faced already. We will work hard at every aspect of the game. Obviously, Blackrock will use the maul. They have a good one. We have worked a lot on stopping that this week. It is very hard to stop it, but we will be prepared. We will give a fair bit away in weight, but our boys are very industrious, said Lewis.
Clongowes will need all the industry and honesty they can muster. They will be primed and ready to fire. However, all the signs point to Blackrock. They have too much forward size, speed out wide and direction from out-half Daniel Barnett to take their eyes off the ball.
Paths To The Final.
First Round: Blackrock College 22-20 St Mary's College; Clongowes Wood College 15-6 St Michael's College 6.Quarter-Final: Blackrock College 22-6 King's Hospital; Clongowes Wood College 10-5 Terenure College. Semi-Final: Blackrock College 18-3 Belvedere College; Clongowes Wood College 10-3 Newbridge College.
Blackrock College: D Nyhan; M Kavanagh, L Fitzgerald, J Power, V Artemiev; D Barnett, D Madigan; G Walsh, C Culliton, S Snell, M Cantrell, R O'Hara, D Laffan, G Flanagan, D O'Reilly capt.
Clongowes Wood College: R Kearney; R McElwee, F McFadden, D O'Connor, K Stafford; P Casey, L Ronan; D Halpin, M Jacobs, P Crilly, T Sheils, D Fagan, B Coyle, P Lennon, P O'Meara capt.