Michael's can achieve success the hard way
When you've been to three Junior Cup finals in a row, despite not winning any, there are valid grounds for optimism when Senior Cup time comes around.
That is the lot of 2006 winners St Michael's as the 2010 main event comes into view. The Ailesbury Road school is, along with '08 Junior Cup runaway winners Clongowes, rightly fancied to go mighty close again this time.
The draw has been kinder to the Clane school, given the presence of three Vinnie Murray Cup qualifiers in the top half.
However, they should be warned that there has been an appreciable narrowing of the gap between the traditional heavyweights -- Michael's, Clongowes, St Mary's, Blackrock, Terenure, Belvedere -- and the rest this time round.
If Michael's are to make it a second outright success in four attempts, then they will have to do it the hard way, what with 'Rock, Belvo, 'Nure as well as particularly strong Castleknock, St Gerard's, Newbridge and (most likely) Gonzaga sides all lumped together at the lower end.
The smart money will be on a Michael's v Clongowes RDS showdown, but don't rule out an all-Holy Ghost Mary's v 'Rock alternative.
With the possible exception of qualifier 3 (who will meet St Mary's in the opening round), every first-round tie has a most competitive look about it.
Pres Bray (if they overcome St Andrew's), CBC Monkstown, Wesley (although watch Section A Schools Newpark/St Pat's, Navan) and Gonzaga will be fancied to make it through as Vinnie Murray qualifiers 1 to 4 in that order.
That competition only gets under way today, because of the inclement weather.
The Senior tournament kicks into gear on Sunday, January 31, with the battle of the heavyweights when defending champions 'Rock take on last year's beaten semi-finalists (by 'Rock) Belvo at Donnybrook. Revenge would be sweet, but the all-conquering Williamstown Junior Cup winning side of 2007 -- despite losing star turn Andrew Conway -- will be fancied to make it through.
The following day, six of the remaining seven are down for decision, with Mary's, Clongowes, Kilkenny, Roscrea, Michael's and 'Knock the fancied to make it through.
The CBC/Roscrea and 'Knock/Gonzaga games appear the most difficult to call, although Newbridge and most particularly King's Hospital are well capable of taking it down to the wire against Michael's and Clongowes respectively.
The eighth and final tie sees last year's beaten finalists Terenure taking on St Gerard's in a repeat of the 2005 quarter-final -- won by the Bray School on the narrowest of margins.
The 'Nure, like great rivals 'Rock, are celebrating their 150th anniversary, and to that end will be highly motivated to avenge '05 and in the process set up the possibility of a rematch of last year's final. But, as with so many others, don't rule out a possible upset.
If form and tradition carries, it would lead to a quarter-final line up along the following lines: Clongowes v Kilkenny, Roscrea v St Mary's, St Michael's v Castleknock and Terenure v Blackrock. That being the case (and I anticipate at least two of those eight being wrong), I would take Clongowes, Mary's, Michael's and 'Rock to make it through to the last four.
Your guess is as good as mine after that, with both semi-finals likely to be either/or matches.
The bookies say Clongowes v Michael's in a repeat of the '88 and '91 finals (both won by Clongowes) and who am I to argue with that? That said, it's a brave or foolish man who will bet too heavily against a Blackrock Junior Cup-winning unit from three years before. Whatever else, I am neither of those.