(*Indicates those involved in last year's cup campaign)
Champions in '05 and '08, the Great Denmark Street school have enjoyed a low-key run-up to this year's eagerly awaited competition.
As they were last year, when they faced Blackrock, they will again be centre stage on the opening day, this time against St Michael's.
Gabriel Fulcher picks from a group captained by scrum-half David Shanahan, one of six back from last year's match-day squad, and including seven representative players in all.
John Conroy and Lee Mitchell have propped for the province at U-18 and U-19 level respectively, while fellow forwards Connor Owende (brother of last year's captain Michael Oyuga), Anthony Slein and Greg Ofiah have all lined out at either level.
So has Shanahan at scrum-half for the U-18s, along with versatile three-quarter Jimmy Hawkshaw.
Also included is Ireland hammer-thrower James McCabe (yet another from the remarkable Phil Conway Academy for developing field athletes).
Back-three talent Cillian O'Sullivan is back and raring to go following two frustrating seasons on the sidelines with injury. On the downside out-half/centre Aidan Power has a long-term injury and will miss the cup campaign.
Michael's will be favoured, but it will take a top-level performance from last year's beaten finalists to get back on track and put that bitter disappointment to rest. Discount 'Belvo at your peril.
Coaches: CJ Barry, Stuart Colahan, Fr Jim Culliton, Andrew Dunne, Gabriel Fulcher, James Hart and Colin McCarthy.
Last year: Beaten by Blackrock (20-13) in first round.
Squad: Sean Baird, Donal Brennan, Ian Brennan, Jonathan Butler, *Brian Byrne, Kevin Cagney, David Carey, Kevin Conneely, *John Conroy, Alex Davey, Garbhan Doyle, Caimin Dunne, Alex Fennell, Dan Fernee, Brian Fitzpatrick, Killian Foley, Sam Gaine, Tom Gibbons, Louie Hamilton, Cormac Hanlon, Jimmy Hawkshaw, Ross Holden, Michael Irving, Mark Kelly, Darragh Kennedy, Peter Lalor, Andrew Larkin, *Daryl Lynch, Eoin Lysaght, James McCabe, Dean McKenna, Lee Mitchell, Brian Moriarity, Emile Mullan, Ross Mullan, Killian O'Donoghue, Greg Offiah, Tom O'Hara, Eoin O'Hehir, Cormac O'Leary, Cillian O'Sullivan, Connor Owende, *Aidan Power, Mark Quinn Neylon, Brendan Ryan, Michael Sexton, *David Shanahan(Capt), Stephen Sheridan, *Anthony Slein, Fearghal Sullivan, Stephen Troy, Owen Waldron and Hugh Weldon.
Despite fielding 10 representative players (including nine back from last year's beaten quarter-finalists), this is a 'Rock side in which the whole is so much more than the component parts.
Yes, there are outstanding individuals, but having watched the Williamstown School on a few occasions already this season, it is the collective ethic that hints at a squad more than capable of rising to the challenge.
While most neutrals will be focused on the quarter-final and a potential tilt at reigning champions Clongowes, the immediate task for Peter Smyth, Fr Malachy Kilbride and Co is to prepare for Newbridge or De La Salle. Be in no doubt, the mindset will be right.
Cormac Maguire captains a squad which includes Mark Roche (son of former Blackrock and Greystones centre Dave) and Adam Boland lined out for Ireland in the recent U-18 defeat to England, while Gavin Thornbury and Conor McEllin were both on the bench.
Also included in another highly talented 'Rock squad are James Bowen, son of former Munster and Ireland winger Jimmy; Adam Langbroek, son of former Leinster and Ireland as well as Blackrock RFC president Job; and Jonny Sexton, son of former Leinster and Ireland winger Johnny. Sean Barron is a current Dublin minor hurler.
Although Clongowes took the pre-cup friendly, all bets will be off if purple and white and blue and white square up in Donnybrook in the last eight.
Coaches: Fr Malachy Kilbride, James English, Brian Savage, Peter Smyth (head), Justin Vanstone and Harm Jager.
Last year: Beaten by St Gerard's (7-0) in quarter-final.
Squad: Michael Carroll,*Adam Boland, Justin Murphy, Matthew Foster, Daragh Cahill, *Cormac Maguire (Capt), *David Hogan, Barry Fitzgerald, Jonny Sexton, Cillian Duff, Connor Quinn, Gavin Thornbury, *Pierce Dargan, Alex Carroll, Fergal Bolger, Max Connolly, Laurence Leonard, *Richie Marsh, Kevin O'Brien, Tom Austin, Paddy Hinkson, *Conor Kilcoyne, Adam Langbroek, Shane McEvoy, John Robinson, Mark McDonald, *Angus Lloyd, Paddy Beauchamp, Charlie Rock, Jack O'Carroll, Alex Walsh, Andrew Quirke, Johnny O'Hehir, Jack Dempsey, *Mark Roche, *Conor McEllin, Peter Conlon, Gavin Walsh, David Lunn, Ciaran Greenwood, Jack O'Doherty, Killian O'Leary, Conor McCrory, James Bowen, Karl Marron, Christian Dodd, Sean Barron, Jack Gallagher, Brefini Ryan, Luke Breen, Brian Aylmer and Michael Cantwell.
If ever a defeat hurt a school badly it was Castleknock's quarter-final loss to St Michael's last year.
The eventual runners-up hit overdrive that day, but the real disappointment, quite apart from losing, was that a highly fancied 'Knock side never showed up.
Suffice to say it will be a highly motivated group that either Joe O'Brien or Conor O'Riordan (brother of '07 skipper Dermot) will lead out to face Roscrea on February 2.
Head coach Andy Kenny picks from a squad which includes eight back from last year and includes Leinster representative players in wing Mike Mellett, No 8 Joe O'Brien, as well as highly promising fourth-year lock Jack O'Neill.
Pre-Christmas success over Coolmine (to retain the Eddie Melvin Cup) has the squad in good nick ahead of the upcoming campaign.
However, with no league form from which to gauge their ability, they are something of an unknown quantity. That said, having eked some form of revenge over Michael's and beaten Belvedere in highly competitive friendlies, the 'Knock challenge is not to be dismissed lightly.
In a wide-open top half, the eight-time winners are as well placed for a meaningful assault as any.
Add to that the technical input of Grand Slam-winning former Wales coach Mike Ruddock and it's fair to say the groundwork has been laid.
Coaches: Andrew Kenny (head), Mike Ruddock (technical consultant), Ian Smith, Darran Sheils and Nigel Travers (conditioning).
Last year: Beaten by St Michael's (41-3) in quarter-final.
Squad: David Barnes, Mark Bennett, Aidan Boswell, Ciaran Boyle, Darren Brennan, *Mark Briody, Jack Burke, James Carroll, Shane Carroll, Edward Cawley, Conor Clarke, *Sam Condon, Greg Culhane, Jason Daly, Sean Dempsey, Alex Dunne, Cormac Fagan, *Tom Farrell, David Flynn, Paul Geissel, Andrew Gillespie, *Rory Gleeson, Sean Hanlon, Thomas Healy, Darragh Henry, *Ryan Hickey, Conor Kearney, Evan McCormack, James McCormack, Andrew McGuinness, Ollie McKevitt, *Mike Mellett, Ahmad Mu'azzam, Paul Nalty, *Joe O'Brien (Capt), Tiernan O'Donoghue, Jack O'Neill, Barry O'Regan, Niall O'Regan, *Conor O'Riordan (Captain), Perry Dylan, Eoghan Quinn, Brian Rossiter, Keith Scanlon, Thomas Shields, David Sweeney, Brian Tighe, Robert Troy and Tarik Ullah.
CISTERCIAN COLLEGE, ROSCREA
The 1999 finalists are one of the dark horses. Only a three-point defeat to Gonzaga (25-22) prevented the Tipperary school topping their section in the league.
Having lifted that title at Junior level in 2008, it is a squad well used to competitive fare, with that all-important winning culture.
A narrow defeat to St Mary's deprived them of a place in the semi-final a year ago, but with 11 of that experienced squad back again now, this is a group with the wherewithal to inflict major damage this time round.
The friendly record is good so all comers be warned. Conor Finn is captain and one of seven representative players split between Connacht and Leinster. Finn, fellow centre Shane Layden, full-back Philip O'Dwyer, Ross Mooney and Matt Mellotte have all lined out at either U-18 or U-19 levels for the western province .
Tight-five forwards Oisin Heffernan -- at either hooker or prop -- and lock Rory Maloney have been involved with the Leinster U-17s. Layden, much like Wexford's Redmond Barry from the class of '99, is equally adept at Gaelic football, playing for his native Roscommon.
Having pushed mighty Clongowes to just a four-point friendly defeat (18-14), cautious optimism is well founded. Keep an eye on them.
Coaches: John Lillis, Alan Tynan, Peter Swanepoel and Wesley Carter.
Last year: Beaten by St Mary's (17-12) in quarter-final.
Squad: Gearoid Fallon, *Craig Farrell, *Sean Moran, *Denis O'Dwyer, Oisin Heffernan, Aiden McGrath, Rory Moloney, John Fitzpatrick, *Ross Mooney, Alex Henderson, *Adam Wheatley, *Colin Maloney, Eamon Quirke, Jack O'Driscoll, Gareth Gallagher, *Matt Melotte, *Bill Duggan, *Shane Layden, *Conor Finn (Capt), Cormac Brennan, *Philip O'Dwyer, Maurice Fitzgerald, David Kirwan, Keelan Moran, Killian Buckley, Andrew Mackey, Finton Browne, Ronan Tully, Gavin O'Donovan, Padraig Delaney, Liam Moran, Paul Phelan, Sean Cody, Fiachra O'Regan, Shane Kelly, Paddy Cummins, Paddy Ryan, Geoff Ryan, Ronan Hayes and Peter Bain.
CLONGOWES WOOD COLLEGE
Let's call a spade a spade. This is the team they've all got to beat. They are not just the reigning champions, but a squad with a track record of success at Junior and Senior level, and also one which plays the game in the right way with vibrant use of space at its essence.
That might give the impression of a laissez faire, Barbarians-type approach, but Clongowes' back-to-back assault is based primarily on a powerful pack doing the basics well and on the electric scavenging that has always served the Clane school so well.
There are seven cup-winners from last year, with more from the all-conquering Junior side of '08 to join them. They have experienced players in key positions sprinkled liberally throughout the side.
There is representative stock with Edward Byrne (another Cian Healy in the making), Conor Gilsenan (a powerful presence), Nicholas McCarthy (a chip off the old block that was tearaway flanker dad Noel in his prime), No 8 Jordan Coghlan and Bryan Byrne all turning out for Leinster at U-18 or U-19 levels.
You can add to that Dylan Coughlan, who's played in the Connacht green. He is yet another dual talent, with his prowess on the cricket field already acknowledged by way of selection for Ireland 'A'.
There are three Byrne brothers in the squad -- twins Edward and Bryan as well as older brother Thomas.
Defending the trophy will not be easy, but they are looking to create their own special niche in Clongowes history as the first side to successfully defend the title. Opportunity beckons like never before.
Coaches: Noel McNamara, Pat Kenny and Bret Igoe.
Last year: Winners
Squad: Bryan Byrne, *Edward Byrne, *Thomas Byrne, *Jordan Coghlan, *Tom Collis, Dylan Donnellan, David Doyle, Frayne Gordan, *Conor Gilsenan, Bryan Grehan, Diarmuid Kennedy, Rob Lipsett, *Nicholas McCarthy, Sean Mulholland, Dan O'Byrne, Tom O'Regan, Jack Paul, Brian Phelan, Peadar Timmins, Ian Tyrell, John Wallace, Harry Burns, Sebastien Fromm, Jamie Glynn, David Gray, Conor Joyce, Jack Kennedy, Stephen Lynch, Oliver Mackle, Conor Mahony, Max McFarland, Conor McQuaid, Garvan McVerry, Gareth Murray, Mark Nicholson, Ciaran O'Hanrahan, Brian Phelan, *David Quirke, Robert Scanlon and James Sullivan.
You won't hear them shouting it from any rooftops, but there is an air of quiet optimism in Ranelagh.
In terms of churning out representative players and academy recruits, the Gonzaga record in recent times stands tall. And though the draw could scarcely be described as kind, given it is 10-time winners Terenure first up, there is a feeling that the 'Nure will be facing a torrid test.
Terenure old boy and former Leinster forwards coach (in the Declan Kidney era) Bobby Byrne has instilled a winning psyche into Gonzaga.
And with 12 back from last year's cup match-day squad, all league signs (where they emerged with a 100pc record) point to a serious cup assault. Centre Stephen Murphy captains a side which includes fellow Ireland Schools caps Barry Daly and full-back Jack Fitzpatrick.
Also included is the versatile Hugo Mays (son of former Ireland second-row Kevin), who has played for this country's U-18 and U-19 cricket teams, while John McDowell (another back from last year) is a son of former Minister for Justice Michael.
All roads lead to Donnybrook on February 3, with the winner of that assuming the mantle of top-end favourites. Tradition might suggest the 'Nure are favourites, but don't be fooled: this is on-the-day stuff, big time.
Coaches: Bobby Byrne (head), Declan Fassbender, John Murphy, Oliver O'Brien (manager), Kevin Croke, Liam Hennelly, Graham Dean and Niall Bevan (physio).
Last year: Beaten by Castleknock (11-3) in first round.
Squad: Robert Byrne, Ronan Carroll, Andy Clarke, *Robert Cooke, Conor Costigan, Philip Crowe, Jack Curtin, Barry Daly, *Alex Deeney, Matthew Dooley, Patrick Finlay, *Jack Fitzpatrick, Gareth Forde, Jack Hennessy, *Patrick Hollywood, Dermot Lavelle, Michael Lenahan, *Richard Lenehan, Matthew Lowe, Simon Maybury Thornton, Andy Maye, *Hugo Mays, *Cillian McDowell, *John McDowell, *Andrew McEvoy, Sean McGrath, Conor McKeon, Niall McNelis, *Stephen Murphy (Capt), Ken Murray, Ultan Murray, *Conall O Brolchain, *Andy O'Reilly and Jack Phelan.
Kilkenny are Senior League Section A winners and a team on a repeat mission. They have pulled one over on St Mary's before and, given the depth of talent in Jeff Carter's squad, they know they've got what it takes to rewrite history.
Carter, along with Andy Melville, coaches a side captained by Ross Elmes and they have eight back from last year's side beaten by Clongowes (37-12).
Prop Elmes, out-half Peter Lydon and centre Foster Horan have all lined out for Leinster at U-19 level this season.
Although bunched with Section C heavyweights Belvedere, St Michael's and St Mary's, the Castlecomer Road school is more than capable of holding its own.
Confidence is high following an unbeaten league campaign and a second successful trip to the St Joseph's College Schools Festival in Ipswich, where they finished a creditable fifth of the 16 competing (including Campbell College, who were runners-up to the host school).
Coaches: Jeff Carter, Andy Melville and James Morrow (manager).
Last year: Beaten by Clongowes (37-12) in quarter-final.
Squad: *Ross Elmes (Capt), Adam Doyle, Barnaby Rhys Thomas, Colin Deacon, Dylan Leybourne, Evan Kelly, *Foster Horan, Gary Condell, *Gavin Ridgeway, Gordon Hanbidge, Harry Crowley, Henry Hatton, Ian Stanley, Jack McCarthy, Jack McDowell, *Jonathan Yates, *Max Barnard Day, Michael Triggs, *Peter Lydon, Robin Foot, Ross Bailey Kearney, Ross Deacon*, Sam Sterling, *Shane Delahunt and Tom Bulfin.
Once the main draw was made, the importance of the play-off between King's Hospital and Newbridge for the final automatic qualifying place (from the league) grew in stature.
The winners would play either Wesley or Templeogue in the opening round of the main event, while the losers would face the force that is Blackrock.
Luke Satchwell and his King's Hospital team grasped the significance of that clash and with it the all-important victory. So, for the beaten league finalists in 2009 and 2010, a place in the Challenge Cup quarter-final beckons. The Senior Cup is enough incentive in itself, but with Caleb Powell the sitting president of the IRFU, the team would like to do the man who has contributed so much to rugby at the Palmerstown school proud by way of producing a barnstorming run in the coming weeks.
And with eight back from last year, the omens are good. The forward conveyor belt is working as efficiently as ever with four Leinster representative players in the current pack.
From loose-head Colin Fair Brennan, alongside hooker Dale McDonough Kinkade through lock Josh Hinde to tearaway flanker Brian du Toit, the talent is undoubtedly there. With no Section C opposition in sight before the semi-final at least, the incentive is great.
Coaches: Matt Jarvis and Ray McIlreavy.
Last year: Beaten by Clongowes (13-5) in first round.
Squad: *Colin Fair Brennan, *Dale McDonough Kinkade, Eamon Lawler, Ben Heather, *Josh Hinde, *Luke Satchwell (Capt), *Brian du Toit, Cian Foley, *Harry Hevey, *David Potterton, Will Nolan, Ian Fitzpatrick, *Tom Quigley, Eoin Delaney, Josh Dowds, David Butler, Graham Reynolds, David Duffy, Alex Moore and Adam Burke.
ST GERARD'S, BRAY
Voted Powerade School of the Year in 2010 and with 10 of last year's league-winning cup semi-finalists back in tow, hopes are high for another good showing from the Bray school this year.
The draw has been kind compared to last year, although with the Murray Cup Qualifier 2 (most likely against CUS or CBC) first up, a gargantuan struggle at Stradbrook is guaranteed.
Ireland U-18 out-half Stevie Crosbie (brother of Jody and grandson of former Ireland golfer George Crosbie) captains a squad which includes Ireland U-19 No 8 Jack Conan as well as Leinster U-19 scrum-half Conor O'Rourke.
Although undefeated in qualifying for the league semi-final, they were held by both CUS and Kilkenny (who topped the group) along the way. A narrow defeat (10-8) to Blackrock in the first ever visit by a full 'Rock Senior team to Gerard's augurs well.
Centre Jett Desmond is a brother of Zach, who captained the 2005 team to the school's first semi-final against 'Rock at Lansdowne Road. Flanker/ centre Steve Hackett-Delaney has represented Wicklow boys in underage soccer, while Conan and David Symes have lined out for the Wicklow underage Gaelic football teams at U-16 and minor level respectively.
If they can remain injury free then a run to the semi-final and perhaps beyond seems a realistic aspiration. That said, Eric Miller, Crosbie, Conan and the rest will be looking nowhere beyond Stradbrook on February 2.
Coaches: Eric Miller (head), Shaun McCarthy, Damian Hall and Micheal McMullan (manager).
Last year: Beaten by St Michael's (15-6) in semi-final.
Squad: *Dylan Simmonds, Conor Shiel, Ian Byrne,*Jett Desmond, Rob Martin, *Simon Smith, *Steve Crosbie (Capt), *Conor O'Rourke, Darah Callan, Jack Roberts, *Stephen Hackett-Delaney, David Symes, Charlie Sherry, Hugo Wojnar, Keith Carroll, Daniel Morgan, Jamie Mooney, Robert Myler, Niall Smith, Jurgen Steinbach, Killian McNeive, Rory Cafferky, Simon Wilson, *Jack Conan, Jack Prendergast, Aran Maguire, David Murray, *Oisin O'Neill, *Rufus O'Brien, *Stephen King, Ryan Connell and Sean Fenelon.
ST MARY'S COLLEGE
They would describe their season to date as having been up and down, but with Mary's it tends to be generally more up than down.
They performed particularly well in an early-season tournament in Gloucester, finishing runners-up (on a 10-3 score line) to the red-hot Bristol Academy. Ten Irish schools representing all four provinces took part in that event, with the Rathmines school going closest of Bandon Grammar, Belvedere, Crescent Comp, Glenstal, Colaiste Iognaid, Sligo Grammar, Dalriada, CBC, Cork and Terenure.
Ireland U-18 lock Jerry Sexton (brother of Ireland out-half Jonny) captains a squad that includes 10 back from last year's unit which were beaten narrowly (10-9) by eventual winners Clongowes in a feisty semi-final.
Sexton and loose-head Gerry Gallivan have both represented Leinster, while also included are Matthew Andreucetti (son of former Mary's hooker Alberto and nephew of centre Paul), Conor Corcoran (son of RTE radio commentator Michael), Ben Matthews (son of former Ireland skipper Phillip) and Tomas Young (son of former Mary's prop Tom). Hugh McDonnell has also represented the Irish schoolboys at cricket.
'Remember 2000' is the guarded message on every Mary's player's mind ahead of the eagerly awaited clash with Kilkenny. In the quarter-final that year the Russell Armstrong-inspired Kilkenny put Conor Queenan, Ciaran Potts and Co to the sword 16-13.
Forewarned is forearmed, but Kilkenny are well up for a repeat.
Coaches: Brian Moore, Rodney O'Donnell, Matt D'Arcy and John Wynne.
Last year: Beaten by Clongowes (10-9) in Semi-Final.
Squad: Matthew Andreucetti, *Cillian Barden, Tiernan Barrett, Jeff Blackburn, *Eoin Boyle, Stephen Campion, Tim Conway, Conor Corcoran, Stephen Corcoran, Brendan Daly, Sean Daly, *Cian Delaney, Philip Dix, *Eoin Farrell, Mel Farrell, Andrew Ferris, Peter Fitzpatrick, *Gerry Gallivan, Andrew Godfrey, Ian Hall, Mark Hayden, Ian Hickey, Aidan Kernan, Jack Levins, Eoin MacMathuna, *Ben Matthews, Sam McDonald, *Hugh McDonnell, Rory McPhilips, Lucas Moran, Donal O'Brien, *Stephen O'Carroll, Jack O'Mahoney, Mark Reynolds, *Ian Robinson, *Jerry Sexton (Capt), Conor Sheridan, Luke Talbot, Rory Tisdall, Jack Walsh and Tomas Young.
ST MICHAEL'S COLLEGE
Senior finalists three times in the last five years and Junior finalists for the last four running, yet Michael's have only one outright success ( 2007) to show for it.
Despite all the disappointments, the one certainty is that the Ailesbury Road school has now a level of competitive consistency which is the equal of any other in the province.
That lone Senior Cup win fails to reflect the ultra-competitive force that St Michael's now are. And once again this year they have a squad oozing talent. Hooker Andrew Murphy, blind-side flanker Dan Leavy and scrum-half Luke McGrath caught the eye in the recent U-18 international against England at Donnybrook. These three, plus centre Rory Kavanagh and wing Mark Corballis, have represented Leinster at U-18/U-19 level this season. The all-action Leavy is one of four -- along with Ross Byrne, Cian Kelleher and Rory O'Loughlin -- still in the Leinster U-17 developmental set-up.
The hugely influential McGrath (nephew of former Ireland flanker and ERC chief executive Derek) is captain of a squad that includes eight back from last year's very impressive beaten finalists.