Take your pick for this wide open race
Published 18/01/2011 | 05:00
For a cup that has been competed for every year since 1876, the 2010 Ulster Senior Schools final made for something of a change, and a refreshing one at that, with eventual winners Ballymena Academy and Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) making it through for an unexpected St Patrick's Day showdown.
Bear in mind it was only Ballymena's third outright success and first since 1981 while for BRA, despite eight final appearances, they have but one outright victory (1997) to their name. Both will be part of the Elite Eight seeded to join the rolling competition in the latter stages.
The Ulster competition is somewhat different from the other provinces, with the preliminary rounds played before Christmas and the second round proper starting on January 8.
The winning schools from Round 2 are then joined by Regent House, Friends School, Down High School, a notably strong Foyle and Londonderry, Limavady Grammar School, Dalriada, Banbridge Academy, Sullivan Upper School and five-times winners Bangor Grammar.
The final eight seeded teams comprising Methodist College (winners in '08 and '09), RBAI, Wallace High, Royal School Armagh, Campbell College and Ballyclare High School, in addition to last year's finalists, will join the winners of Round 3 for Round 4 on Saturday, February 5.
The quarter-finals are then scheduled for the 19th, with the semi-finals on February 28 and March 2, culminating in the traditional final on March 17. Unlike the other three provinces, the draw is made as each round progresses, thereby adding to the excitement, but with only the semi-finals and final played at neutral Ravenhill. Up as far as the final four, it's first team out in the draw that enjoys home advantage.
Though pipped by Ballymena (11-10) in last year's semi-final, Methody will again be one of the teams to beat along with the other big Belfast two, Campbell and Inst (RBAI).
On their recent training camp in Spain, Methody beat the Spanish national U-18 side. Watch too for Campbell. With no fewer than eight members of the Ulster U-18 Schools side, the Brian Robinson-coached squad are highly fancied.
And if you're looking for a dark horse, then Ballyclare High School could be the one. Apart from a lone defeat to Ballymena they have won almost every game this season. Watch too for Foyle and Londonderry.
Ballymena have Caleb Morrison, Tim Patton, Sam McNabney, Peter Wallace and Callum Patterson back from last year, while BRA field Ryan Clarke, Stuart Olding, Eoin Devlin and Matthew Robinson from last year's beaten final side.
Keep an eye too on 2004 winners Royal School Armagh; with Kenny Hooks again at the helm they field a formidable looking unit.
Just recently Armagh beat RBAI, who were fresh from success over Methody.
It's been that sort of unpredictable season, making 2011 a wide open competition in every respect.
Irish Independent Supplement