As Belvedere College trudged off the field and out of the Senior Cup for another year, their Clongownian counterparts remained behind to stretch out some weary muscles. There was no whooping or hollering from the Clane school to mark the end of a decent outing (save for a simple Cian O’Donoghue wave to his growing fan club). It was clear that minds were already trained on the next round. In truth, Clongowes’ imminent participation in the semi-final was never really in doubt.
Although they started much the brighter, the early advances of the Dublin outfit were quickly negated by an Alan Hughes try that typified this purple performance – dogged determination up front allied to slick movement out wide will make this team a match for anyone. Struggling to get their hands on the ball in the early stages, it took until the fifth minute for a momentum shift to occur when an industrious Clongowes pack forced a turnover that fell into the hands of Conor Gleeson. The vice-captain could barely believe his eyes as a clear passage to the try-line opened up before him. Alas, gritted teeth could not carry Gleeson the distance but determined support from his teammates ensured that Fergal Cleary could release his polished backline with Hughes strolling over close to the posts. Hughes added the extras and along with a subsequent penalty, confidence began to soar.
Although a Jack Hutchinson try coming at the end of a commanding maul reminded Clongowes that they were in a contest, Cleary et al soon put the fixture beyond their opponents’ reach. In an impressive upgrading on the showing against Kilkenny, there were fine performances in each Clongowes jersey. Finally returning to the starting XV following an injury-blighted campaign, Stephen McVeigh was a controlling influence from No.8, allowing Josh Pim to exert his customary manic aggression at the breakdown. Conor Gleeson was everywhere,while John Molony was clearly enjoying the physicality. Meanwhile, coming into the side at loosehead prop, Jonathon Inglis put in a significant shift. Behind them, Rowan Osborne gave as impressive a display as has been seen from a Clongowes scrum-half in some time. Alert and organised, he deservedly notched the try that saw Clongowes enter the break with an 11 point advantage.
The outstanding performer on show however was Cian O’Donoghue. With shades of Gearóid Hayes from the victorious 1998 campaign, O’Donoghue was a constant thorn in Belvedere’s side. Generally creating chaos whenever he merely caught sight of the ball, it would have been easy for Clongowes to continuously feed the cup specialist and let him loose. Instead they chose not use their flying winger at every given opportunity, forcing their opponents to consider the several alternate threats across the back division. Captain Cleary and Cillian Burke probed several gaps, while the boot of Westmeath minor footballer, Alan Hughes drew many admiring glances. Ultimately though it was O’Donoghue’s effort following a brief purple patch for Belvedere that was the game’s standout moment.
While a positive Clongowes outcome never seemed to be in question, Belvedere found themselves just 7 points behind with 20 minutes to go thanks to a Ciaran Clifford try. Had Cleary’s men panicked the Clongowes gathering at Donnybrook might have done likewise. Instead, they got through their work and waited for the right moment to pounce. When it arrived, all agreed that it was worth the wait. Approaching Belvedere’s 22, O’Donoghue took a shrewd inside ball from Osborne at full pace to cut through the defence and race home to ensure the route to the semi-final would be a purple path. The Clongowes sabbatical from the latter stages of the Senior Cup is over.
Mr Richard McElwee
Belvedere will have an early opportunity to reclaim some pride when they take on the JCT at Donnybrook on Wednesday 26th February at 15.00.