Few if any schools manage to balance scarce sporting resources as well as Ardscoil Ris. The North Circular Road school has made a massive impact in a very short time, specifically in hurling and rugby. Yet again this year they are a force to be reckoned with, particularly when factoring in that they were losing Junior Cup finalists in 2011 and 2012.
The class of 2014 is coached by former Shannon players Mossy Lawler and James Hickey. It includes nine players back from last year's squad beaten by north city rivals St Munchin's in the second qualifying round, after they had convincingly disposed of Glenstal (39-6) in Qualifying Round 1.
Munster U-19 full-back Stephen Fitzgerald captains a squad littered with fellow representative players in hooker Shane Fenton, Brion Moriarity, No 8 Kelvin Brown, out-half David O'Mahony and Jack O'Halloran.
For the second year running Ardscoil will take on the boys from Murroe in the opening round. They will be fancied to win that and earn a seeded place in the second qualifying round, which will, for the first time, be conducted on a rolling draw basis.
Despite producing a veritable who's who of Munster and Ireland greats – think Paul O'Connell, Sean Cronin, Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne and you get the drift – the big breakthrough by way of that elusive first Munster Senior title has still to be made.
Runners-up to Pres in the 1996 decider is as close as they've been to date, but, much like St Michael's in Leinster, consistently banging on the door at junior level eventually forces the senior equivalent open.
Six JCT finals, including wins in 2003 (a side that included Sherry at loosehead) and 2005, suggest it is only a matter of time before the most revered underage rugby cup in the province makes its way to an already bulging trophy cabinet at this great educational and sporting institution.
Could be a strong dark horse this time around.
COACHES: James Hickey, Mossy Lawlor, Harry Ryan, Jamie Tuohy, Enda Gavigan (manager).
LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Munchin's (19-12) in qualifying round 2.
SQUAD: Hugh Bourke, Killian Bracken, Liam Brock, Lloyd Whyte, Andy Coffee, *Joe Cannon, Ryan Earls, *Shane Fenton, *Stephen Fitzgerald (captain), Robbie Graham, Ciaran Cusack, Dylan McMahon, Paul McNamara, Barra O'Byrne, Darragh Ryan, *Joey Walshe, Diarmuid Scannell, *Brion Moriarity, *Patrick Staff, Tom Walsh, *Kelvin Brown, *David O'Mahony, *Jack O'Halloran, Darragh Ryan, Jerry McCabe, Jack O'Donnell, Oisin Bernard, Pierce Lyons, James Shorten.
CASTLETROY COLLEGE, LIMERICK
They may be the new kids on the block, but already the impact of Castletroy College on Munster and Irish rugby has been immense. The school has now won all four major competitions since first competing in 2004. The McCarthy Cup (U-15), the Junior Cup (U-16) twice, the Bowen Shield (U-17) and Senior Cup (U-19) have all resided in Newtown.
The year 2008 is, of course, forever etched in Castletroy history as that was the year they lifted the coveted Junior and Senior Cup double for the very first time. A remarkable achievement.
last March, the U-16s beat Crescent College to take the Junior Cup for the second time and in the process denied the Dooradoyle school the double.
One suspects it might be a little early for the 2013 Juniors to make their mark at U-19, but given what has already been achieved in such a short space of time, anything is possible.
The successful coaching duo of Martin Burke and John Staunton, mentors to the winning SCT of 2008, are back in situ, aided and abetted by Declan English, Conor Gallagher and Richie Feeney.
Jack O'Neill is captain of a squad with 12 back from last year's unit beaten by Rockwell in the second qualifying round. It includes Noel Clohessy (nephew of Peter) and Mark McCarthy (brother of Diarmuid) – who will ever forget that extraordinarily brilliant individual try in Dooradoyle in the final – and son of Derek, Munster Senior Cup winner with Young Munster. To that add Munster Schools flanker Ronan Murphy and scrum-half Rory Cunningham.
Eight of the 2012/2013 Junior and 2013/2014 Bowen Shield winning team are on board with particularly talented individuals to watch in No 8 David Rowsome, openside Niall O'Shea and wing Sean McBrearty.
Two recent past pupils, Ronan O'Mahony (son of former Garryowen utility back Jerry, brother of Barry) and James Real (son of former Old Crescent out-half Jamesie) have become the first from Castletroy to get pro contracts – O'Mahony with Munster and Real with Connacht.
Having already suffered a heavy friendly defeat to Rockwell, they will be complete underdogs when the schools clash in the first qualifying round. Would they want it any other way?
COACHES: Martin Burke (Head), John Staunton, Declan English, Conor Gallagher, Richie Feeney, Paul Harman, Dave Cross (physio), Brendan Colleran.
LAST YEAR: Beaten by Rockwell (25-7) in qualifying round 2.
SQUAD: *Eoin Fitzgerald, *Conor Humphreys, *Joe Doyle, *Noel Clohessy, Stuart Hoare, *Robert Larby, David Rowsome, *Jack O'Neill (captain), Ian O'Connor, *Mark McCarthy, Ross Kennedy, *Paul Butler, *John Fox, David Garry, *Conor Lenihan, Conor Fleming, Mark O'Mara, Mike Finucane, *Ronan Murphy, *Rory Cunningham, Sean McGuire, Brian Donovan, Niall O'Shea, Joseph Conway, Conor Myers, Sean McBrearty, Ronan McDonnell, Evan Slattery, Andrew Corrigan, Shaun Shinnors, Charlie Maloney, Dale Hayes, Daniel Brazil, Shane O'Hara.
When Cork's 'big two' go four years without a senior title, I guess it amounts to a mini crisis on Leeside. With Rockwell contesting the last three finals, winning two and with Crescent the reigning champions, you have to go all the way back to the Cashel School's three-in-a-row between 1959 and 1961 for the previous famine for Pres and Christians.
Should both great rugby schools fail in their endeavours this time round, then not since 1931 – a period when Rockwell and Limerick CBS were very much to the fore – will the most coveted underage trophy in Munster rugby have spent four years outside of Cork.
Such has been the CBC/PBC dominance that these two lead the way with 28 titles apiece, although Rockwell's re-emergence since the new millennium (embracing seven finals and three wins) has closed the gap to three. Yet again Christians (Junior Cup winners in 2012) will be centrally involved and with the final set for Musgrave Park, the incentive is even greater. Bear in mind, too, that in 2013, apart from the big two trophies (Senior and Junior), the Sidney Hill school did a clean sweep of Bowen Shield, McCarthy Cup, Barry Cup and Kidney Cup.
Conor Twomey, ex CBC, UCC and Dolphin, along with the vastly experienced Peter Melia, oversee a squad captained by Shane McAuliffe, including nine back from last year's group – pipped (7-6) by eventual winners Crescent following a replay – and one littered with representative players.
Skipper McAuliffe and loosehead Liam O'Connor have been involved with the U-19s, while Michael Clune (son of former Cork Lord Mayor Deirdre and brother of Robert, medal winner in 2009), Vincent O'Brien, Cian Barry, Shane O'Hanlon, Evan Mintern, Colm Fitzgerald and Greg Roche have all lined out with the Munster Schools U-18 side at various stages throughout the season.
Other prominent squad members include Jamie Murphy (grandson of 'Noisy Noel' and nephew of Kenny), Jack McHenry (son of golfing great John), Dave Parfery (brother of Pat, medal winner in 2009) and Alex Penney (son of Munster coach Rob).
In the tie of the opening qualifying round they face holders Crescent College in a match guaranteed to be every bit as close as the drawn semi-final and replay of a year ago. Beyond that your guess is as good as mine but if you're looking for a pre-tournament favourite Christians could be it.
COACHES: Conor Twomey, Peter Melia, Neil Lucey, Christina Cronin, Conor Martin (physio), Dr Larry Martin.
LAST YEAR: Beaten by Crescent (7-6) after draw (3-3) in semi-final.
SQUAD: Greg Roche, Cian Barry, *Shane O'Hanlon, *Evan Mintern, Colm Fitzgerald, *Vincent O'Brien, *Liam O'Connor, Glen Stokes, *Alex Penney, Daniel Walsh, David Parfery, David Dempsey, Dylan Purvis, Michael Coomey, Eoin Scully, Dan O'Connell, Darragh Feeney, Declan Barry, Kevin Creedon, Stephen Kennedy, Conor Leahy, Robert Hyde, Jack McHenry, Nessan Guilfoyle, David Lynch, Darragh Muldoon, Ben O'Callaghan, Niall Melia, Thomas Treacy, Alec McHenry, Darren Lee, *Mikey Fielding, *Michael Clune, *Shane McAuliffe, Conor O'Driscoll, Morgan Walsh, Oisin McSwiney, Cormac O'Mahoney, Mark Kavanagh, Kyle O'Brien, Peter Hyde, Sam Kennedy, Jamie Murphy, Shane Murphy, Josh Foley, Conor Horgan, James Bradfield, *Jason Higgins, William Trevor.
CRESCENT CC, LIMERICK
By general consensus, it was the 1983 success over PBC in the Musgrave Park final that re-awoke a sleeping giant. Captained by Kelvin Leahy (the personification of modesty and the person central to leading St Michael's to a second Leinster Senior title in 2012), supported by outstanding Irish Schools captain Len Dinneen Jnr (son of former Old Crescent captain and the voice of Limerick rugby Len Snr) and coached by Dudley Herbert, Don Reddan (dad of Leinster and Ireland scrum-half Eoin), as well as 'Rusty' Cross (brother of St Munchin's coach and former Young Munster and Munster centre Pat), that victory ended a 20-year famine and paved the way for the Dooradoyle revival.
But the early noughties have been almost as lean with the emphasis on development at junior level leading to three U-16 final appearances in the last four years embracing back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
With that solid foundation in place, signs are that, under head coach Conan Doyle, the crew of 2014 are very well equipped to defend last year's hard-won title. And with 13 back from that cup-winning extended squad optimistic vibes seem very well founded, although with Christians in the opening round they will need to hit the ground running.
Jason O'Sullivan, JJ O'Neill, Will Leonard, Gary Fitzgerald, Liam McMahon, Robert Scott and Jay Kavanagh all started last year's final while Mike O'Donnell, Cormac Blake and Ed Barry were on the bench. That's 10 of last year's cup winners involved again this time round.
O'Donnell, McMahon, Blake, and O'Neill have represented Munster in addition to Sean Fitzgerald, Jonny Keane, Billy O'Hora, Jack Harrington, Calvin Nash and Gary O'Sullivan. That's 10 representative players in all.
They may not be shouting it from the rooftops, but everything points to a strong title defence. The biggest obstacle may be dealing with high expectations.
COACHES: Conan Doyle (Head), Eugene McGovern, Paul 'Chuggi' Ryan (physio).
LAST YEAR: Winners.
SQUAD: Mark Rickard, *Mike McGann, Sean Hensey, Sean Fitzgerald, *Johnny Keane, *Robert Scott, Rory Noone, *Mike O'Donnell, Bryan McNamara, *Liam McMahon, Sean Naughton, *Jack Hogan, *Cormac Blake, Billy O'Hora, *Jay Kavanagh, *JJ O'Neill, *Ed Barry, Philip Spillane, *Gary Fitzgerald, Jack Harrington, Tim Moloney, Evan Moloney, *Will Leonard, Calvin Nash, Glenn Dickinson, Gary O'Sullivan, Niall Mulcahy, Andrew Harrison, Eoin McDonnell, Bailey Faloon, Kimble Faloon, *Jason O'Sullivan, Dylan Sheehan, Caolan Moloney, Cian Reale, Ian Clein, Owain Quinlan, Fionn McGibney, Cian Guerin, Jason Barry.
GLENSTAL ABBEY, MURROE
They may have but one final appearance to date (1970 v Rockwell) to their names, but the achievement of Glenstal Abbey, a relative minnow, in competing so consistently in the premier competition is quite phenomenal. Immense pride is taken from recent past pupils Ian Nagle and Duncan Casey making the regular Munster professional squad.
Once again it is a battle to stay the pace. A well-deserved pre-Christmas win away to cup holders Crescent has boosted morale no end. They are also realistic enough to appreciate that what happens in an early season friendly is very far removed from the white heat of Munster Cup battle in late January.
To that end Aiden McNulty and Felix Ross oversee a typically committed group with seven back from last year's extended squad beaten by Ardscoil and Christians in the two qualifying rounds. Powerful front-rower John Healy captains the side with fellow props Gearoid Fitzpatrick and Ian Molloy, lock Eoin Ryan, scrum-half Rory Hogan, Max Ryan and wing/full-back Cal Og Healy providing the backbone of experience this time round.
Both Healy and Ryan have worn the Munster colours already this season. Ryan is also a member of Old Crescent RFC where he plays alongside fellow Munster players Sean Fitzgerald and Jack Harrington of Crescent as well as scrum-half Rory Cunningham of Castletroy. Out-half Tim Costigan plays for the Connacht Schools.
There is, of course, no easy draw, so, in a repeat of last year's qualifying round 1, it will be north city school Ardscoil Ris, who will provide the formidable opposition in the opening cup clash. An opportunity for revenge, yes, but tempered with the realisation that the beaten Junior finalists in 2012 have even loftier ambitions 12 months on.
One thing guaranteed is that the school with the scarcest resources in the province will give it their all. Underestimate them at your peril.
COACHES: Aiden McNulty (Head), Felix Ross, Sean Skehan.
LAST YEAR: Beaten by CBC (41-8) in qualifying round 2.
SQUAD: Bernard Cosgrove, *Gearoid Fitzpatrick, Joe Hartnett, *Ian Molloy, *John Healy (captain), John Murphy, Neilus Mulvihill, *Eoin Ryan, Alex Donohoe, George O'Hara, Matthew Ryan, Ben Clancy, David Quane, William McGann, *Rory Hogan, Ryan Johnston, David Kenny, *Max Ryan, James McCarthy, Jamie McAleese, Tim Costigan, Michael Boland, *Cal 'Og' Healy, Jack Stafford, Colm Hogan, Robert Fleming, Sean O'Sullivan, Killian Glynn, Michael Sweetman.
For Pres it's been something of an up and down season so far, but with much more of the latter. Former Ireland Schools and ex- St Michael's coach Paul Barr is again at the helm, assisted by former Cork Con and PBC star player, as well as successful Con coach Brian Walsh.
With Barr and Walsh running the show, early-season form will count for nothing when Pres face the 'B' school qualifier followed by St Munchin's in qualifying round 1 a fortnight on. Successive finals in 2010 (winners) and 2011 have been followed by a couple of lean years for the Mardyke school.
Injury certainly has contributed with the list of those out of action in double figures as the cup kick-off fast approaches. But that comes with the territory and is effectively the same for all schools.
As ever, they are blessed with a particularly big squad, captained by gifted Munster Schools centre Paul Kiernan (son of former Dolphin, Lansdowne and Ireland centre Michael and grand nephew of Tom). Kiernan is one of three, along with loose head prop Joe Ring and scrum- half John Poland, to have represented Pres on the Munster Schools (U-18) side this season.
I watched the Leinster/Munster game back in September where, despite Leinster winning, all three played significant roles, with Poland making the biggest impact when coming off the bench early in the second half at Donnybrook.
In addition, along with Greg Roche (CBC), Sean O'Connor (Rockwell) and David O'Mahony (Ard Scoil) the three PBC boys have been centrally involved in IRFU national training camps ahead of the underage internationals scheduled for the spring.
As well as Poland and Kiernan, Conor Flanagan, vice-captain David St Ledger, Eoin Perry, Morgan Carey, Rob Reardon and Steve McCarthy are others back from last year.
It is a relatively small number when compared with most other highly fancied schools.
Despite getting the better of Munchin's in a pre-Christmas friendly that will count for nothing when both schools field at full strength on wednesday. A Pres team minus the favourites' tag is a dangerous one. Would Barr or Walsh want it any other way?
COACHES: Paul Barr (Head), Brian Walsh, Niall Scannell, Marian Carey, Enda O'Regan.
LAST YEAR: Beaten by Crescent (18-12) in qualifying round 2.
SQUAD: Aaron Daly, Billy Pope, Brian O'Sullivan, Brian O'Mahony, Caolan O'Flynn, Cathal Murphy, Charlie Nolan, Cian Collins, Cian Stanton, Ciaran Walsh, Colin O'Neill, *Conor Flanagan, Conor Kiernan, Conor Murphy, Conor Ormonde, Cormac Dineen, Daire McDonagh, Darragh Dennehey, David Ahern, David Aherne, David Fitzgerald, David O'Sullivan, *David St Ledger, Eddie Ryan, Emmet McCarthy, Eoin O'Shea, *Eoin Perry, Gearoid O'Mahony, Graham Smith, Hugh O'Keefe, Jack Carrigy, Jack Lenihan, Jake O'Donovan, James O'Callaghan, Jerry Clifford, Joe Ring, *John Poland, Kevin O'Leary, Luke Merriman, Michael Fitzgibbon, Michael Whooley, Michael Shinkwin, *Morgan Carey, Patrick Hogan, *Paul Kiernan (Captain), *Rob Reardon, Robin Reidy, Sam Deane, Shane Daly, Shane McCarthy, *Steve McCarthy, William Buckley.
ROCKWELL COLLEGE, CASHEL
In many ways the 1970 victory over a Glenstal side contesting its only ever final represented a watershed of sorts for Rockwell. Little did anyone know then, but the school that had dominated the premier competition for the previous 60 years (six outright successes in the first 10 years) was about to hit a veritable famine.
But for 1985, it was to be another 30 odd years, the next century, in fact, before Rockwell began to challenge the big two (PBC and CBC) again with any regularity. Even then, the opening decade comprised just three finals with one win (2001 over Munchin's).
That makes for just three senior titles between 1970 and 2011.
However, since 2009, the force is back. The 2014 coaching team of Mark Butler, Denis Leamy, Frank Fitzgerald and Alan O'Donnell will be gearing their charges towards a third title and sixth final appearance in as many years.
Make no mistake Rockwell rugby is back where it wants to be as one of the giants of the Munster schools game. And with some 19 players back from last year's extended squad, beaten by Crescent at the final hurdle, this is a group more than adequately equipped to go the whole way.
Munster Schools out-half/centre Aidan Moynihan captains an outfit that includes fellow representative players in prop Brendan Quinlan (also Irish Youths), lock Sean O'Connor, flanker Tommy Anglim, scrum-halves Ben Riley and Dave O'Mahony, out-half Bill Johnston, centre Rory Horgan, wing Willie Coffey, wing/full-back Alan McMahon as well as German U-18 international winger Felician Wirxel.
Put simply, much like their sister college of Blackrock in Dublin, the side that 'knocks the Rock,' will take some beating. Along with Christians they are pre-tournament favourites and with good reason.
COACHES: Mark Butler, Denis Leamy, Frank Fitzgerald, Alan O'Donnell, Shaun McCarthy, Fran Mulcahy (physio), Marie Ahearne (physio), Tony Smith (manager).
LAST YEAR: Beaten by Crescent (27-5) in the final.
SQUAD: Brendan Quinlan, *Sean O'Connor, Jack Binchy, William Purcell, *Tommy Anglim, Mikey Wilson, *Ben Riley, *Dave O'Mahony, *Bill Johnston, Shane Lanigan Ryan, *Aidan Moynihan (captain), *Rory Horgan, Niall Campion, *Luke Hickey, Ben Murray, Jack Tierney, Adam Cunningham, *Jack Bolger, *David O'Dwyer, James Kendrick, *Jimmy Feehan, Jack Quinlan, Frederick Mittlestrauss, John Power, *Jack Brophy, Daryll Fehilly, Lochlin English, *Sam O'Connell, Daryll Egan, *Joss Murray, *Elliott Stone, Lee Molloy, Kieran Moynihan, *Colm O'Shaughnessy, *Felician Wirxel, *Alan McMahon, Liam Casey, Ian O'Reilly, Conor Beary, Harry Gilbert, Donncha Ryan, Sean Sweetnam, *Tim Brophy, Diarmuid Gallagher.
ST MUNCHIN'S COLLEGE, LIMERICK
Back in the early eighties, the late, great Sean Conneely got me involved in coaching at the Corbally School. It was with a heart and a half I did it – nobody but nobody could refuse Sean – but my abiding memory was of the first session I attended.
It was early September 1981. The lads were just back from holidays, but it may as well have been the week leading up to the St Patrick's Day final.
To Sean it was all the same. You trained the way you played ... nothing was negotiable. Paul 'Moose' Culhane was captain and what the coach demanded, the skipper delivered. They were a particularly talented bunch who went on to take the trophy back to Munchin's for only the second time. Pat Murray, Liam Looney, Philip Danaher, Willie Quinlan, Tom O'Connor and Geoff Moylan were just some of those involved.
The intensity and physicality in training all that season was relentless irrespective of the elements. I recall that era now, because whenever I refer to Munchin's rugby, intensity is the word foremost in my mind.
And with the irrepressible John Broderick still at the helm, it's heart-on-the-sleeve stuff. Same now as ever it was. As the current management will tell you proudly and openly – "with Broderick-coached teams, there is a strong Young Munster influence."
Luke O'Halloran (just back after a year and a half out through injury) is captain of a squad that includes an astonishing 22 players back for the second or third time at senior.
It is that strength in depth allied to the relevant experience that makes the five-time winners (last in 2006) a very significant threat this time around.
O'Halloran is one of six representative players. Others to have worn the provincial red include Ben Kilkenny (nephew of another Munchin's great, Keith Wood), Emmet O'Callaghan, Ed O'Keefe (currently out injured, but hoping to be back in time), John Foley and Peter Meyer.
Also back from last year are Limerick minor footballers Ryan Meagher, Keelan Stephanson and Adam Guerin, Brendan Keogh (cousin of Stephen Keogh of Munster and Leinster), Brian Bennet (cousin of Sean Cronin of Leinster and Ireland).
Cian O'Shaughnessy is a highly talented Irish boxer and David Begley a Clare minor hurler.
Ger Slattery (called into action by Rob Penney for Munster over the Christmas period) and Eugene O'Brien add to the Young Munster coaching slant, but Shannon out-half Tadgh Bennett provides a bit of balance in coaching the backs.
Pres (assuming they beat the 'B' school qualifier) will be some opposition to kick off their campaign. They may not start out as favourites, but for Conneely and Culhane in '82, read Broderick and O'Halloran now.
Physically very strong, whoever they draw, you can be sure of one thing, the class of 2014 are going to take some beating.
COACHES: John Broderick (Head), Ger Slattery, Tadgh Bennett, Eugene O'Brien.
LAST YEAR: Beaten by Rockwell (13-6) in the semi-final.
SQUAD: *Ben Kilkenny, Adam Guerin, Adam Moloney, *Antoine Sheehy, *Alan Wallace, *Bobby Price, Brian Bennett, *Brenden Keogh, Cameron Stephenson, Cian O'Shaughnessy, Corey Wells, *Colin Duggan, *David Begley, Dean Tidswell, Emmett O'Callaghan, *Edward O'Keefe, Evan O'Connor, Eric Mulcahy, Jonathon O'Hanlon, John Foley, John Quinlivan, James Burke, *Jordan Prenderville, Liam O'Dwyer, Josh O'Curry, Michael Deveney, *Keelan Stephenson, *Killian Browne, *Luke O'Halloran, *Nathan Nugent, *Peter Meyer, Patrick Murnane, *Ryan Meagher, *Sean O'Dea, *Shane King, *Shane Doona, *Shane Halpin, *Stephen Collins, *Thomas Madden, *Tom O'Dwyer, Mark Long.