Terenure, Calasanctius set sights on treble glory
Provincial holders face battle to retain titles, writes Tony Ward
If success at Junior is a prerequisite to achievement at Senior then Terenure in the East and Calasanctius in the West appear well primed for that aspiration, and indeed the expectation that natural step up brings.
For both the D6W and Oranmore schools, the Junior campaign ahead represents an opportunity to make it three titles at that level in a row.
The 'Nure have been there before with successive wins in 1976, '77 and '78, while for Calasanctius it is virgin territory, after the remarkable feat of back-to-back titles over the past two years for this fast developing force in Connacht and Irish rugby.
For either one to make it three on the bounce would be a wonderful achievement.
Bear in mind, in Leinster St Michael's have shown incredible consistency in making it through to the last four finals -- without winning a single one.
Were they to do it at the fifth attempt I don't think anyone would begrudge them a first outright title since '02.
The draw has been kind, with Belvedere's size and Newbridge's all-round strength probably the main obstacles to yet another Michael's final appearance.
St Andrew's field a relatively strong side this year but with Michael's their opponents in the first round it could hardly be any tougher. Castleknock too will have a definite say but it looks like Michael's from the bottom end.
If Terenure are to complete the hat-trick then they are sure going to have to do it the hard way, what with Clongowes first up and Holy Ghost schools St Mary's and Blackrock on the likely road ahead.
To that, add league semi-finalists Kilkenny and a particularly slick CBC Monkstown, making it heavy traffic all round.
'Rock have been out of the Junior loop since 2007 (when they pipped Michael's 13-10) but signs are of a strong Williamstown squad ready again to take control.
Powerful up front, as epitomised by former Skerries CC 6ft5ins lock/No 8 David O'Connor, and lethal behind -- particularly in the back three where free-running full-back Zack O'Hagan wreaks havoc.
Despite them losing narrowly to Newbridge and Clongowes in friendlies, any side that manages to knock the 'Rock looks likely to go all the way.
For Calasanctius, 2009 represented the big breakthrough and 2010 copper-fastened that emergence.
It speaks volumes for Connacht underage rugby to have former minnows like Calasanctius and Rice College (Westport) contesting the provincial final.
The holders have been grouped with league runners-up Marist College, while Rice have it all to do in a heavyweight sector embracing Garbally, Colaiste Iognaid (the Jes) and St Joseph's Galway (the Bish).
If the Bish can revisit their pre-Christmas league-winning form, then a repeat of the league final against Marist could be on the cards. What better motivation for treble-chasing Calasanctius?
Down south it is Crescent Comp who carry the heavy mantle of reigning champions into this year's competition. The draw hasn't been too kind, with recent McCarthy Cup (U-15) winners Castletroy first up.
The 2008 Junior Cup winners have Mark McCarthy (brother of the multi-talented Diarmuid, star turn on the Senior Cup winning side in the same year) at out-half.
The winner of that game will then face the loser of Ardscoil (beaten semi-finalist in 2010) and PBC in the second qualifying round.
The other key qualifying tie would appear the Cork/Limerick CBC/Munchin's clash, with the winner of that well set for the semi-final at least.
The new dual qualifying system has muddied the waters, making predictions (despite there being only eight teams involved) more difficult than ever.
That is no bad thing with the four eventually emerging for the semi-final certainly having to earn that right. There may be an element of the 'back door' but in this U-16 competition tactical planning doesn't apply. The policy is simple: win first up and take each game as it comes from there.
In Ulster, at Medallion level (Junior), as at Senior, when there is no definitive outcome to the final the trophy is shared.
It is not the ideal solution but history and tradition in the northern competitions takes precedence, and for the first time since 2000 and eighth split overall, we have dual holders going into this year's tournament.
Wallace High School (who have yet to take the Shield outright) and Campbell College played out a nerve-tingling 10-10 draw in last year's final. They, along with the two schools to have monopolised this tournament over the years, Methody and Inst (RBAI), will be in the shake up for sure.
Between them they boast 66 titles, over twice the number of the rest combined.
In all four provinces, the task of predicting the Junior/Medallion winner with any degree of certainty is a risky business. Long may that uncertainty continue.
Irish Independent Supplement