EVEN the most partisan Pres supporter admitted the better side lost in this gripping Clayton Hotels sponsored Munster Schools Senior Cup semi-final at Musgrave Park on Wednesday.
Little wonder Bandon Grammar School were crestfallen at the final whistle because it’s they and not Pres who should be in the St Patrick’s Day final against CBC.
You wouldn’t have given the west Cork side too much hope of advancing to their first decider after only turning around 8-7 in front, having played with the howling wind at their backs.
But, they adapted well to the conditions and took the game to their opponents, who also struggled to make use of the elements and signs began to appear of Pres creaking under the pressure.
Key players started to fumble routine passes and when Bandon out-half Jack Crowley stretched the lead to 11-7 with a second penalty after 54 minutes, an upset looked like developing.
Bandon will reflect with some regret on not dealing with re-starts properly in key moments in that second-half.
Within six minutes of falling further behind, Pres snatched the lead back with an outstanding individual try from replacement full-back Michael Hand on the hour.
He spotted the tiniest of gaps along the right, enough room just about for Hand to gallop from over half-way and score for a 12-11 advantage. Surely, this would settle the former champions?
It didn’t. If anything Pres became more unsure and lived dangerously in their own 22, offering a chance for Bandon to capitalise which they duly did after 64 minutes.
The city school got their wires crossed at the base of a scrum and from the resulting turn-over prop Conor Heaney just made the line for Bandon’s second try, which Crowley converted for 18-12.
Now, Pres had to chase the tie a second time and once again Bandon were penalised at the re-start, allowing their opponents a chance of redemption.
It duly came on the call of 70 minutes after Pres won a close-range line-out and trundled close to the Bandon line with number eight Alex Kendellen forcing his way over.
That cut the deficit to the minimum, putting all the pressure on captain Louis Bruce, who held his nerve magnificently to slot the winning conversion.
Pres had to survive six added-on minutes which they achieved, but they made life difficult for themselves at times before the final whistle brought joy and relief in equal measures.
Up to that dramatic climax the game meandered uneventfully. Against the wind, Pres centre Peter Cunningham was put through by Mark McLoughlin for an eighth minute try, converted by Bruce.
Crowley kicked a penalty within five minutes for 7-3, but Pres carried more of an attacking threat despite a ferocious breakdown contest, where both sides were penalised for holding on.
Then, three minutes before the break, Bandon conjured up a moment of magic, when Crowley offloaded at the right time for strong running full-back Soren Minihane to set off on a memorable diagonal run which deserved produced a stunning try.
Still, we expected a Pres onslaught on the resumption, but it didn’t materialise as Bandon grew in confidence the longer the second-half went on only to come out the wrong side of such a narrow result.
Tries: P Cunningham, M Hand, A Kendellen L Bruce (2)
Tries: S Minihane, C Heaney J Crowley Pens: J Crowley (2)
M McLoughlin; D Squires, P Cunningham, S Henry Squires, D French; L Bruce, captain, J O'Leary; R Duggan, D Murphy, D McSweeney; D McCarthy, E Quilter; J Kelleher, J Forde, A Kendellen.
J O’Shaughnessy for O’Leary 43, M Hand for McLoughlin 51, M Fitzgibbon for McCarthy 57.
S Minihane; T Beare, J D'Alton, B Matthews, H Hall; J Crowley, C Roberts; D Ogden, M Archer, C Heaney; J Brady, M Lynn; J Connolly, J Beamish, N Beamish.
A O’Connor for Archer and C Coomey for Lynn half-time, R Palmer for Matthews 60.
E Cross (MAR).