Schools play fantasy cup
Schools cup rugby is a remarkable affair, with each season bringing new heights of professionalism.
On the sidelines for one Leinster match last week were four coaches, complete with earpieces, microphones, bag carriers and a physio, to monitor the progress of their students -- as well, of course, as the Setanta cameras.
It is a surreal world that apes (some would say parodies) the professional game, one where the biggest and best funded schools traditionally prosper and the rest make up the numbers.
There are, however, breakthrough years. Clongowes, now a powerhouse, made its mark in 1978 after 50 years of trying. St Michael's, once a minnow, is now a perennial favourite, while the latest challenger is St Gerard's, coached by Eric Miller, the former Irish international. He has taken a promising group of players to the heights of a semi-final after last week's win against Blackrock.
Victory would make Gerard's the first co-educational school to reach the final, and the first 'outsider' to reach it since Roscrea's appearance in 1999. It is a significant achievement for Miller (pictured) and Gerard's, but it also underscores the glacial pace of change in schools rugby.
The current system self-evidently favours the status quo, yet reform is resisted most fiercely by those who dominate. Schools rugby is cocooned from the real game, its players kept away from underage club rugby, and its trophies accumulated by the few. Leinster schools cup rugby is an end in itself -- an intense, sometimes ludicrous, fantasy world.
Enjoyable, certainly, but delivering far, far less for the development of the game than it could.