Today: Pinergy Munster Schools Senior Cup final: Crescent College Comprehensive v PBC, Thomond Park, 2pm.
JUST 48 days after the Limerick school claimed a 17-13 victory in the opening round, the rivals square up for a second time in the biggest day in the rugby calendar.
It’s the first final since 2019 because of Covid and technically Pres are the defending champions after sharing the title with CBC the following season. There was no cup in 2021.
The schools last met in a final in 1995, when Pres avenged the previous year’s defeat to the same opponents, who had David Wallace in their side.
Ronan O’Gara captained the Cork school to a 13-6 victory at wind-swept Musgrave Park, where Anthony Horgan scored a memorable try and Eddie Hogan-O’Connell kicked three penalties.
Pres have played a game more en route, bouncing back to defeat St Munchin’s 31-12 with tries from Sean Condon (2), Adam Twomey, Fionn Roussell and Ben O’Connor, who has 30 points to his name.
Then came the spirited fightback against Christians in the semi-final, 12 points in arrears with seven minutes remaining only to pull it out of the fire for a 21-19 triumph.
Roussell, Condon and O’Connor grabbed tries once more with O’Connor, last year’s Cork All-Ireland minor hurling captain, converting twice from the touchline.
Crescent followed their opening round win with a hard-fought 17-15 semi-final success against Bandon Grammar School, who led by 15-12 with four minutes left.
But, Crescent held their nerve and their talisman, number 8 Ruadhan Quinn, completed his hat-trick of tries to snatch a 17-15 win.
Pres are coached by Ger Bourke with Cian Bohane, Don Buckley, Ian Lehane and Ciaran O’Regan completing the management team.
The back door system dates back to Bourke’s time at St Munchin’s in 2009, when teams could meet each other twice.
“It’s the new format, the new lay-out and we’re grateful of a second chance though it’s probably unusual in the traditional sense, but, obviously we’re very excited about it,” he told the Echo.
“We didn’t keep the ball long enough, didn’t execute properly and didn’t test them.
“I thought we didn’t handle the occasion and most disappointingly the biggest lesson we learned that day was our heads dropped, when we went behind.
“We, then, reverted to that team we were back in September/October.
“That game was still there to be won at 17-13, but our belief just evaporated and Crescent finished the game on top.
“We spoke about it and had some harsh meetings and I think you saw a different team against St Munchin’s and a very different side against Christians.
“The belief was there that day and it needed to be for obvious reasons.” Getting players back on terra firma from the high of overcoming Christians in such dramatic fashion hasn’t been a problem for Bourke.
“I was very conscious on the day and we addressed it immediately within minutes of the game being over, in the huddle in the middle of the pitch.
“Today is everything. These boys have dreamed about playing a senior cup final since they were 12 and 13.
“Sixth-years have had a tough run with Covid and very unsuccessful junior campaigns, but they have a chance to leave school with a bit of history in their pockets.
“We obviously enjoyed the win, but we went straight back at it and there are lessons from that game, too.” And the famous venue certainly adds to the occasion.
“I’m from Limerick and Thomond Park is a special place.
“We spoke about it as a group though it’s strange having the final on Tuesday, the 15th, at 2pm, and it certainly won’t add to the crowd from a neutrals’ point of view.
“Yet, it’s an absolute privilege for us to run on out at Thomond Park and the players are very aware of that.”