There was an unusual double-header in Gonzaga this afternoon as the finals of the Leinster Schools Championships took place alongside first versus second in the Armstrong – but the weekend saw Benildus teams not in action fare far better than those who were playing.
Benildus had three teams in the Leinster Schools finals – two junior teams and a minor team. The minors went down 3½-1½ to Gonzaga in the semi finals, and took third by default after St Kieran’s forfeited in both sections. Gonzaga didn’t take the minor title though – that went to a Coláiste Eóin team with Benildus’ Bodley B’s Aodhán Keane on board 4.
In the juniors, the As beat the Bs 5-0 in the semi, while Gonzaga got a bye to the final and, again, we got a bye in the third-fourth place play-off. The final was the eagerly-anticipated St Benildus A v Gonzaga A, and the big question was which team was Conor O’Donnell going to play for – was a potential 11/11 in the Armstrong worth more than a schools title? In the end, he went with the schools match, where he was up against Mihailo for the first time since their draw in the Leinster u-16s last month. But things went badly from the start, when Finn dropped a pawn within five moves and lost within half an hour. Mihailo and Dylan ran higher-rated opponents close, both ultimately going down on time, though Mihailo was in trouble anyway. Ben had a lovely attack going, but then got his queen trapped on h4 and had to give up a piece to rescue it. In the end, William averted the whitewash with a draw, but overall, it was far from the close match predicted.
In the Armstrong, we went toe to toe with Gonzaga over the top four boards, which were all draws. Stephen’s draw with Sam Collins moves him to within half a point of a board prize – nothing new for him, but it’d be a first Armstrong board prize for Benildus in well over a decade. Gerry was on board 4 for the first time since our near title in 2009/10, but to no avail as he could only draw as well. But on the bottom four boards, Gonzaga’s strength in depth told – John Gibson lost early, Brendan Lyons became the latest victim of the Carl Jackson juggernaut (48 games unbeaten now) and only I was able to pick up anything when drawing a won endgame.
We should be good for third and our highest finish in 20 years, but we might yet sneak second; Trinity have yet to play Balbriggan, Dublin and Dún Laoghaire. For Gonzaga, a first ever Armstrong is more or less confirmed after five second or third places in a row.
In the Heidenfeld, meanwhile, Curragh beat Celbridge 5½-2½, which is a huge boost to our promotion chances. Celbridge now only have one match remaining, and if we can get 12 points from our last three matches, they can’t finish ahead of us. Curragh’s win more or less wraps up the title for them, and it now looks a straight shoot-out between us and Inchicore A – who we’ve yet to play – for second. Celbridge, ourselves and Inchicore A have all yet to play a solid Malahide side though, so there’s plenty of play yet. If we can beat Inchicore A, we should be up, but that’s far from a given, and there’s always the chance of things going wrong in one of the other two games.
In the Bodley, meanwhile, Enniscorthy thumped Malahide 4½-½, with the latter becoming the first of the top four to really drop back. We now know that if we can draw against Malahide, we’ll have a 6½ point gap with just two (admittedly tough) matches remaining. At the other end, though, Inchicore hammered Bray/Greystones 4-1 to drop our Bs perilously close to the drop.