'A great kicker, quick and the perception of a Pele'
Tony Ward speaks to four former Ireland internationals and discovers many stand-out memories from their schools rugby days
WHAT SCHOOL DID YOU ATTEND? Mick Quinn – De La Salle, Churchtown until age 12, then Newbridge College
Moss Finn – PBC, Cork
David Humphreys – Ballymena Academy
Eric Elwood – Colaiste Iognaid ('The Jes')
Earliest memories of schools rugby?
MQ – Watching Mick Kelly of Blackrock play in Newbridge when I was in second year. Mesmerising. That's when I realised that the No 10 must dominate. Also watching my brother Sean play cup rugby for Newbridge.
MF – Being able to kick the ball further than anybody else and yet Brother Antonio picked Jimmy Bowen at out-half on the U-13 team!
DH – I had only ever played football before going to Ballymena Academy, but on my first games' day at school we were given the choice between rugby and cross-country. Ballymena Academy had won the Schools Cup the previous year, so I think everyone ended up playing rugby. I still remember the excitement around school every January when the Schools Cup commenced.
EE – Wearing the school jersey for the first time in the local derby matches versus St Joseph's (The Bish) in what was called the (Galway) City Cup. Big occasions for aspiring wannabe internationals and of course WIN and you had bragging rights around town over your mates in the opposing school.
Most memorable schools matches played in?
MQ – 1970 Leinster Schools Cup final when Newbridge beat Blackrock. It was a huge upset result for everyone ... except us! We had beaten Belvedere 10-3, Terenure 15-8 and Clongowes 9-6 in the semi to make the final. In the following years, all 15 players went on to play senior club first team rugby.
MF – The Munster Schools Cup final in 1974 when we were beaten by CBC. We had a four to one overlap in the last minute and the player never gave the pass. We were beaten 9-6 and to this day it annoys me. The perpetrator of the crime shall, of course, remain nameless, in print anyway, but if you want to give me a ring later Wardy ...
DH – Ballymena Academy 3, Methodist College Belfast (MCB) 0.
Third round of Schools Cup in 1987 in the mud and snow and wearing black bin bags under our shirts to keep us warm. Niall Malone (current Ulster rugby analyst) played at 15 for MCB that day and still claims that they were the best MCB ever!
EE – I was fortunate to win two Senior Cups and one Junior as well as losing an SCT final to Garbally College. But, if I am honest, the match I remember most is a game I didn't play in. It was the Connacht Schools Cup final 1985 v 'The Bish'. I was on the bench that day, as back then fourth years were considered too young to be involved in the senior squad.
It was the first time the two Galway city schools met in a Senior Cup decider and in front of the biggest crowd ever seen at a final. Great occasion, terrific atmosphere and of course we ('The Jes') won. As tradition had it, we proudly marched through Eyre Square with the Cup to our school back in Sea Road. Happy days.
Most talented schoolboy opponent?
MQ – Paul Andreucetti of St Mary's and Paul Waldron of Blackrock, two class players.
MF – Unquestionably Johnny Murphy of Pres Bray and later Greystones. He was a great out-half and could kick the ball to America!
DH – Joel Callaghan an outstanding No 7, whose career was unfortunately ended by injury.
EE – I would have to say my friend Nicky Barry. He was a very talented footballer, good skills and had pace to challenge the best of defences.
Schoolboy heroes in your own school?
MQ – We were told about Mick and Tommy Doyle, but in my time the big hero was Tom Grace, who went on to captain Ireland and is now Treasurer of the IRFU.
MF – Again a no brainer. Barry McGann, the greatest out-half of them all at any level. A great kicker, exceptionally quick off the mark and the football perception of a Pele.
DH – Ballymena Academy rugby will always be synonymous with Syd Millar and Willie John McBride, but being an outside-half, I'm not sure that I could choose a hero from the front five of the scrum!
EE – I would have to say a teacher by the name of Franny Kelly was a man I admired greatly when I was a young student and an aspiring rugby player. He was doing his H-Dip when he taught me business, but he was also the coach that brought me into the squad in '85 for that famous Cup final. He trained us hard, worked hard for us and instilled great values in us as young men. We had a great team spirit and always played for him and for each other. He is currently teaching in Clongowes Wood College.
Do the schools still have a big role to play in Irish rugby?
MQ – Absolutely. Schools rugby is the lifeblood of the game here. It is hugely entertaining, extremely competitive and most of the success of the last 10 years was spawned in rugby schools.
MF – Absolutely, but I think the attitude should be more about enjoyment and less about winning. The fall-out after leaving school is huge, nearly 80pc, mainly because the lads are exposed to far too much rugby and pack it in as a result.
I also think the academies should not be let near the schools because it creates an elite group within the school and it's not good for team building and friendships which is what it is all about.
DH – Schools rugby has historically been the main driver of the game in Ireland for both players and coaches and as we strive to produce more and more high quality rugby players to compete at both provincial and national level, the schools in Ulster will continue to play a central role.
As with all school sport, there will be challenges along the way, but I believe that Schools rugby will continue to provide inspiration and memories for many generations of schoolboys and girls in the future.
EE – Yes for sure. I believe along with our club structure, these are the two pathways where, as young rugby players, we can learn the basic skills of the game, develop them and put them into practice in a competitive environment.
One word to sum up the game in the schools?
MQ – Magical.
MF – Refreshing.
DH – Traditions.
EE – Enjoyment.
And the Cup winner this year in your province will be?
MQ – Blackrock College.
MF – Who else but my alma mater, the famed black and white (PBC)
DH – MCB
EE – There is always only one team. The Jes!