Hockey: New' journey to All-Ireland
Blackrock boys 'Park decade of decline to reach national finals
Newpark Comprehensive School qualified for their first All-Ireland schoolboy championship finals in over a decade as an incredible comeback against St Columba's and a lively 5-2 win over Mount Temple saw them into the main event.
European schools champions back in 1998, the Blackrock side have been one of the sleeping giants of the Leinster circuit in the intervening years.
But under the tutelage of Mark Cullen, Peter Murphy and Carl Breaden they made it back to the top table this week.
Along with Kilkenny, they filled one of the two remaining places for Leinster schools in Whitechurch Park last Wednesday, joining pre-qualified Wesley, St Andrew's and Sutton Park in the competition which gets under way in late October.
The crucial game in the six-match series was the opener, in which Newpark battled with Columba's. The Saints had opened up a 2-0 lead by half-time as Irish U16 international Ross Canning deftly rolled a reverse-stick push under Stefan Gallagher before doubling his tally with a drag-flick.
But the key period came when Canning was sin-binned for a rash tackle early in the second half.
Jonathon Elmes whipped home a fine corner goal, high to the right of the net, to give the Blackrock school hope of snatching some kind of result.
Johnny Byrnes and John Cummins continued to cause mayhem but it was not until the closing six minutes that they snatched an equaliser. Elmes' drag-flick was saved this time but Simon Lowry was on hand to volley the rebound into the backboard.
And the die was finally cast in the last minute when a sixth Newpark corner gave them a chance to nick the win. Elmes duly obliged, this time firing low to the left for a famous victory.
True to form, as Senior Trophy holders, Kilkenny lived up to their favourites tag as they dismissed an understrength Mount Temple -- shorn of former Irish U16 captain Mark Ryan through injury -- 4-0, with Matthew Moore netting twice.
The two first-round winners met in the second series of games in another keenly contested tie. The Cats held the lion's share of possession but were unable to get the better of Gallagher in the first period and when they did, the woodwork intervened.
Moore cracked the bar with a stunning reverse-stick aerial while Jeremy Duncan's neat switch move also came back off the post.
Byrnes' pace was creating chances at the far end, too, drawing Matthew Thompson into an excellent stick-save to keep the scores level at the break.
The floodgate, though, opened in the second period when Moore scored via a couple of deflections at corner-time. Lowry levelled within a minute with a thundering straight hit but the tie was settled in Kilkenny's favour when the controlling influence of Duncan created havoc in the Newpark circle.
His crash ball bounced around the penalty spot before David McClure finished the job to guarantee his side's passage to the championships.
Columba's 3-1 win over Mount Temple -- Sam Bewley, Jack Armstrong and Tom Gibbs all on target -- saw the northside school eliminated while the Saints had to hope for at least a draw against Kilkenny and a Newpark slip-up.
Neither happened as Newpark raced into a 2-0 half-time lead and, though Temple rallied in the second half, Johnny Byrnes' hat-trick led to a 5-2 final score. The Cats, meanwhile, claimed the final tie 4-0 to top the group with three wins and 11 goals.