Sunday 30 April 2017

Belvo boys reject 'rugby school' cliches

Belvedere College captain Brian Egan raises the Leinster Schools Senior Cup
Belvedere College captain Brian Egan raises the Leinster Schools Senior Cup
VICTORY: James Kirwan, Sean Courtney and Ralph Moran, who won the Senior Applied Maths Quiz National Final

Claire McCormack

They clinched the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in superb style last weekend, but Belvedere College refuses to be stereotyped as one of the country's quintessential "rugby schools".

After an eight-year drought, thousands of supporters and past pupils brought the city centre to a standstill as the 'Belvo boys' carried the prestigious trophy over O'Connell Bridge to its new home on the north side of the Liffey.

Although the inner-city team, which includes some students from socially deprived backgrounds, has now lifted the cup 11 times, it's not all about rugby at the fee-paying Jesuit secondary school.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Gerry Foley, headmaster of Belvedere College, said the Great Denmark Street school is "extremely proud" of all its sporting, academic and musical achievements this year.

"The standard of rugby this year was exceptional, but for us it's about pride in every event we compete in, we try our best in everything that we do," he said.

"Over the same couple of days, the school has been recognised for winning the rugby, winning the All-Ireland in French debating and we've been victorious in claiming the All-Ireland in Applied Maths."

The school, which opened more than 180 years ago, also recently won the Feis Ceoil and was nominated for Musical of the Year in the Bord Gais Theatre Festival.

The school is also celebrated for its extensive social justice programme which includes teaching English to refugees, supporting the society of Vincent de Paul, the Belvedere Youth Club, the 'Block Pulls' - which fundraises for Temple Street and St Francis Hospice - the annual 'Sleep Out' in aid of Fr Peter McVerry and Focus Ireland (they raised €190,000 last Christmas), and a host of other local activities such as their weekly soup run for the homeless. Mr Foley, who has been based at the northside school for 14 years, said their whole approach to rugby is set in the context of the characteristics of Jesuit education.

"Nurturing talent and the passion it takes to perform at one's personal best, to achieve excellence in all things, lies at the heart of Belvedere," he said.

"Developing talent is the business of all schools, in an ethos that fosters the values of honesty, integrity, commitment, conscience and reflection," he said.

Staff, parents and pupils also hope that Belvedere's win will help break down "false impressions" of successful sporting schools.

"I've read in the past that schools like ours are 'rugby schools' and that is a misperception, which blinds people to the success of children in so many disciplines," he said.

When asked about any spiritual preparations ahead of last Sunday's showdown against the reigning champions from Offaly, Cistercian College Roscrea, Mr Foley said while there is Mass every Friday morning, it's "probably significant" that the players have been together on retreats since first year.

He believes this spiritual experience has helped the players, mostly fourth, fifth and sixth year students, to develop an ability to reflect and recognise that their talents are for sharing and to improve society - an attitude demonstrated by Belvedere College captain Brian Egan speaking immediately after the match.

"His comments showed no signs of arrogance, he empathised with the Roscrea players by saying many of his team had been in their position last year," said Mr Foley.

"That night, students, past pupils and teachers from both schools socialised together. That's how sport should be; a passion to achieve one's best, to be a part of the team and dignity in victory as well as defeat. Winning isn't everything, you also must be there for each other - that's the true value that underpins sportsmanship. For now, it's back to the books."

Sunday Independent

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