Friday 20 October 2017

Tony Ward's School-by-school Guide to Leinster

Tim Schmidt, son of Ireland head coach Joe, in action for Terenure College against Belvedere last year.
Tim Schmidt, son of Ireland head coach Joe, in action for Terenure College against Belvedere last year.
Sean Coughlan of Blackrock loses his jersey in the tackle to Roscrea’s Ciaran Gaffney in last year’s semi-final
Mark Fogarty of St Mary’s in action against CBC Monkstown during last year’s Senior Cup first round game at Donnybrook

BELVEDERE COLLEGE The suspicion is that it might just prove a year too early, but the signs are that, on the back of some outstanding JCT performances in recent times, the next serious assault on the ultimate prize by the Great Denmark Street school is fast approaching.

Hard to believe, I know, but it is already five years since Thomas Sexton brought the much revered cup back north of the Liffey for the last of the 10 outright successes to date.

So, what of the SCT class of 2014? Well, with 10 back from last year's squad – beaten by last year's favourites Terenure – hopes are high that this particular group could wreak some significant havoc in the coming weeks.

Seasoned campaigners Phil Werahiko and Simon O'Donnell oversee a Belvedere squad backboned by Leinster representative forwards in Rory Litchfield and Jack Hutchinson, as well as outstanding skipper James Doyle. Both Litchfield and Hutchinson are equally at ease whether selected at hooker or alongside Doyle and James McGauran in a particularly formidable back-row.

In addition to hooker/No 8 Hutchinson, props Barry Lysaght and Liam Browne are also back and available for duty.

Behind the scrum Mark White and Ciaran Clifford will have key roles to play, while Tom Keane, Adam Foy and Sean McCullagh also return from last year's highly competitive matchday squad.

The opening round of this year's rolling draw sees them paired with beaten league quarter-finalists Wesley College. If they can take the Ballinteer School's scalp, then anything is possible thereafter.

They may not have what it takes to go the whole way, but certainly they represent one clear and obvious threat that other heavyweights will want to avoid until the penultimate stage at least.

COACHES: Philip Werahiko (Head), Simon O'Donnell, Stephen Gibbons, Andrew Goodman, James Collins, Robert Doyle (physio).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Terenure (13-7) in first round.

SQUAD: Keith Boucher, *Liam Browne, Killian Byrne, Jack Clarke, Eoin Cleere, *Ciaran Clifford, Stephen Cole, Tom De Jong, Fionn Dillon-Kelly, *James Doyle (captain), Gavin Duff, Richie Duignan, Brian Egan, Brian Farrell, Conor Feeney, Hugh Fenlon, *Adam Foy, Simon Foy, Hugh Gaine, James Griffin, Jack Higgins, Andrew Hines, Shane Hourihan, James Hurley, *Jack Hutchinson, Jesse Iredale, Conor Jennings, Niall Jennings, Mannix Jordan, Sean Keane, *Tom Keane, Rory Litchfield, Sean Long, *Barry Lysaght, Cormac Marrie, Dan McCaffrey, Cathal McCarthy, Andrew McClean, Cameron McCrum, *Sean McCullagh, *James McGauran, Oscar McGrath, Robert McGreevy, James McKeown, Senan McNulty, Ed Meade, Eoin Molloy, Jordan Mulvaney, Greg O'Kelly, Fiachra O'Meara, David O'Neill, Aidan Peate, Callum Peate, Eoghan Quinn-Nealon, Mike Sweeney, Niall Turley, Peter Wade, *Mark White, Conor Wynne-Walsh.

BLACKROCK COLLEGE

Of their 67 wins to date, the Charlie Rock-led success in 2013 was one of the sweetest. I am on record as reporting last year's final against St Michael's as one of the best, if not THE best in the history of the competition. It was that good. But what made this 'Rock win extra special was that in both the semi-final (against Roscrea) and final, the school all the others have to go that extra mile to beat had to do just that to stay alive themselves.

A relatively young side did former Dream Team winner and head coach Peter Smyth proud.

Now, 12 months on, normal service is resumed as no fewer than 16 of that extended squad, including 11 of the matchday 23, are back, albeit as reluctant pre-tournament favourites.

For skipper and No 8 Nick Timoney it represents his third Senior Cup campaign in-a-row. He is but one of 10 representative players in another hugely powerful Williamstown squad.

Hooker Hugo Kean, props Dane Fitzpatrick and Jeremy Loughman, locks David O'Connor and Jack Dwan, back-rowers Timoney and Conor Oliver as well as halves Joey Carberry and Sean Kearns, plus exceptionally talented full-back Jack Power, have all represented Leinster at either U-18 or U-19 level this season.

Athy native Carberry has the unique distinction of representing the province wearing both nine and 10. Second-rower O'Connor is a younger brother of Ireland U-20 lock Alan, now contracted to Ulster Rugby, while 2013 Junior Cup winning out- half Conor Dean (son of St Mary's, Leinster, Ireland and Lions out- half/centre Paul) is already centrally involved at senior level as back-up to former CBC out-half Kearns.

Indeed, it will be the Monkstown School first up as 'Rock look to make it back-to-back success for the first time since that Barry Gibney Dream Team of 1995/96. CBC won a close friendly (17-15), but anything other than a 'Rock win will be a major surprise.

COACHES: Peter Smyth (Head Coach), Brian Savage, Gareth Pickering, Tony Smeeth, Daniel Moore, Seamus Toomey, James Fitzsimons.

LAST YEAR: Winners.

SQUAD: *Dane Fitzpatrick, *Jeremy Loughman, *Evan Holland, Michael Reidy, Ross Casey, Richie Mouatt, Emmett Burns, Jack O'Keefe, *Hugo Keane, Joe Horan, Peter Shannon, Geoff Moylan, Eric Olden, Mark O'Neill, *David O'Connor, *Cian O'Dwyer, *Jack Dwan, Dan Mullane, Jeff Burke, Buti Sashi, Robert Breen, *Nick Timoney (captain), Conor Oliver, Caelan Doris, Roghan McMahon, Eoin Fanning, James Cullen, Hugo Burke, *Tristan Brady, Ruairi O'Farrell, Sean Joyce, *Sean Kearns, *Conor Dean, James Fennelly, *Ian Kinsey, Sam Colgan, Joey Carberry, *Dillon Coghlan, Evan O'Sullivan, Daire Brady, *Zach O'Hagan, Hugo Keenan, Bryan Mollen, *Joe O'Hehir, Ronan Kelly, James McGowan, Stephen Kilgallen, Colm McEvoy, Dan Mahoney, *Jack Power, Oisin Brady, Gavin Killgallen.

CASTLEKNOCK COLLEGE

Now under the steady guidance of former Connacht and London Irish hooker Adrian Flavin as Director of Rugby, Castleknock are in good hands.

Colin Townsend is coach to a squad that enjoys strong and healthy links with Coolmine RC. The head coach selects from a squad that includes no fewer than 13 back from last year's cup unit beaten by St Michael's in the opening round and that 10 of those were starters.

Older readers will find it hard to believe that it is just one year shy of a half century since Ralph Ince and the victorious team of 1965 took the coveted trophy back to west Dublin for the eighth and last time. There have been two losing final appearances since – in 1976 under Paul Loughran and 1983 with Joe Fogarty as captain.

So, what is in store in 2014 for skipper and Meath minor footballer Jack O'Sullivan and this experienced squad? The entire three-quarter line and all but two of last year's starting pack are available for selection again. That is a pretty solid foundation by any standard.

Darragh Scanlon, Sean O'Heir, Eoghan Murphy and Kyle Dixon have all represented Leinster this season while the multi-talented Dixon, along with lock forward O'Sullivan, James Cullen and Cathal Bermingham are all members of the Royal county minor Gaelic Football squad.

And not to be outdone, the Dublin minors are also represented, albeit through hurling in the guise of Colin Lynch.

'Knock topped their pool in the league before bowing out to Roscrea (11-8) in the semi-finals. In the first round of the cup, they will meet the other beaten league semi-finalists St Andrew's, who already hold the psychological upper hand having taken the spoils in an early-season friendly between the schools.

COACHES: Colin Townsend, Dara Fallon, Darran Shiels, Ronan Fallon, John McCole, Adrian Flavin.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael's (14-3) in first round.

SQUAD: Geoff Brookes, *Tadgh Hanlon, *Zaran Butt, *Jack O'Sullivan (Captain), *Darragh Scanlon, Darragh Moran, *Niall O'Riordan, Colin Lynch, Donal McConville, Dara Friars, *Sean McEntaggart, Sean Vodden, *Cian Doddy, *Sean O'Heir, Ciaran Fagan, Carl Keogh, *Eoghan Murphy, Bilal M'Uazzam, *Anthony Healy, Richie McHugh, Paddy Peters, John Cassidy, *Kyle Dixon, Jonathon Deane, Luke Mellett, James Cullen, Gavin Murray, Adam Tallon, Cathal Bermingham, *Conor O'Shea, *Mark McQuillan, Luke Reilly.

CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY SCHOOL

For those familiar with Bird Avenue – and for many of us that is for more years than we care to remember – the facilities at the Clonskeagh venue, home to CUS, had become dated.

I guess spartan would be a reasonably fair way of describing the facilities in more recent times. Well, not anymore.

In September, past pupil (and international cricketer), Eoin Morgan cut the ribbon as Catholic University School unveiled its new state-of-the-art sports pavilion which has been funded by the Marist Fathers. It is as well geared to meet modern day demands on the inside as it is aesthetically pleasing to the local environment.

It's timing is appropriate as the long standing work of men such as Kevin Jennings, Stephen Tonge and current Director of Rugby (former St Mary's flanker) Rory O'Connor comes to fruition. Crucially, the Leeson Street school has been building from the bottom up.

Whether in the U-13 Central Schools competition (of which they were the inaugural winners back in the late eighties), or the Section B Junior (U-16) and Senior (U-19) Leagues, CUS has become a significant force. Although narrowly failing to qualify for the knockouts in a highly competitive Senior Section B they managed to take the most significant scalp in the guise of Gonzaga.

I emphasise significant because, quite apart from the Ranelagh school being a league powerhouse, the same two look destined to meet in the Vinnie Murray Cup semi-finals, with a place in the Senior Cup proper and a tilt at King's Hospital the prize on offer.

To that end, Simon Dodd calls on a squad with some 12 seasoned campaigners from last year's Vinnie Murray defeat to St Andrew's. Luke Trench is captain of a group that began the season with a lot of promise, including a good win over Belfast Royal Academy (BRA).

However, injury within a relatively small squad has taken its toll.

That said they are a committed group coming together at the right time. One thing for certain is that the winners of the eagerly awaited clash with Gonzaga will have earned the right to both a Murray Cup final appearance and that Wednesday's meeting with KH at Lakelands.

COACHES: Simon Dodd, Matt Brown, Gary Beresford-Miller and Mere Baker.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Andrew's (11-0) in first round of Vinnie Murray.

SQUAD: *Luke Trench (captain), *Sean O'Hara, *Darragh O'Neill, Sam Butler, *Roberto Macari, Dave Byrne, Iarlaith Doherty, Hugh O'Connor, *Brendan Darcy, Donal McCarthy, Matthew Coppinger, Charles Piquet, *Enda Kelly, Lorcan Garvey, Cormac O'Cleirgh, *Cian O'Curry, Adam McCarthy, *James McCusker, Tom Newman, *Gary Power, *James O'Kane, Mark Doyle, *Stephen Tarpey, *Matthew Butler, Louis McConkey, Mark Kelly, Hugh Murray and Max Lacken.

CBC, MONKSTOWN

At the draw in early December one could not but have the utmost sympathy for the Monkstown school when both junior and senior sides were pulled out of the hat to face reigning champions Blackrock.

That said, having beaten 'Rock already in a friendly, they will not want for confidence or motivation. Add to that an experienced squad under Nigel Osbourne, with 15 of the matchday 23 that lost out narrowly to Newbridge in last year's quarter-finals still available.

Jack McGrath is captain to an experienced group with 18 of last year's squad back again. I suspect there will be a bit of extra spice by dint of the fact that former CBC out- half Seanie Kearns will be directing operations for 'Rock.

Needless to say, 1976 will forever hold a special place in the hearts and minds of CBC boys, present and past, everywhere. That was the year the incomparable Michael Mullen led Declan Murphy and the rest to the Holy Grail and that solitary Senior Cup success to date. There has been but one final appearance since. That came in 1984 when the Malcolm Mahon-led side lost out to Terenure in the final.

In 2008, with Shane Grannell as captain, they had probably the strongest CBC squad of all.

If the class of 2014 are to replicate the daring deeds of '76 they are going to have to do it the hard way. Having made the last eight in the league they will not want for confidence or desire, but given the quality of the first-round opposition we suspect it is a hurdle too high.

COACHES: Nigel Osbourne, John Campbell, Declan Keegan, John McLoughlin, Ryan Corcoran, Gerry Berry.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Newbridge (16-11) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Conor Byrden, Alec Byrne, Eoin Comerford, Andrew Conroy, Robert Courtney, *Cormac Cullinane, Cian Cunningham, Conor Dowd, *Alan Doyle, *Sean Doyle, Cian Gallagher, *Hugo Godson-Treacy, *Mark Hallam, *Joseph Halwax, *Dylan Hanney, *Brett Keaveney, *Victor Law, *Ben Mahon, Jack McAteer, *Eoin McCabe, *Colin McDonald, *Jack McGrath (captain), *Matthew McGrath, Louis Noone, Thomas O'Callaghan, *Kevin Patterson, *Sean Smyth, Shane Sweeney, Sean Tinney, *James Toale, Sean O'Donnell.

CISTERCIAN COLLEGE, ROSCREA

If 2008 was the one that got away on CBC, then 2013 will be remembered forever and a day as the year Roscrea could and should have taken their first Leinster Schools Senior Cup title. That they didn't owes as much to Blackrock's extraordinary resilience as any other factor.

Yes, they have gone further before – reaching finals in 1910, 1941, 1999 and as recently as 2011 – but last year's squad, captained by Rory Moloney, was by some distance the strongest in terms of depth and quality ever to come out of the Tipperary/Offaly school.

Having disposed of pre-competition favourites Terenure so convincingly, they then lost their way despite having an 11-point lead and the opposition (Blackrock) reduced to 14 men in the semi-final. Much like Ireland after losing to the All Blacks when within touching distance of victory, so too will the boys from Roscrea have nightmares in years to come about the one that got away.

So, 12 months on how are they recovering? Well, if the league is anything to go by, they are right back in there. Nowhere near as strong up front, but with key players from last year's backline still in situ, they continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

Marc Kelly captains a squad that includes 11 back from last year, with no fewer than 10 selected at representative level already this season.

Openside flanker Kelly along with blindside Matty Keane, scrum-half Dan Lavelle, full-back Tim Carroll and out-half Tim Foley have all represented Leinster with centre Dwayne Corcoran, wing Fionn Higgins as well as lock Rory Murphy and Dan Trayers lining out for Connacht. In addition, loosehead prop Alvaro Ferragut has represented the Spanish U-18 national side.

The loss of Peter Gavin, Rob Wharton, Sam Hastings, Corcoran and Trayers all to injury cost Roscrea dear in the league final won convincingly (43-10) by a rampant Newbridge College side.

Wharton also lines out with the Kerry minor footballers and Alan Tynan with the Tipp minor footballers, while for the highly-talented Foley, son of Cork All-Ireland hurling winner Mark, it's most definitely in the blood.

And with Newbridge again the opposition in the opening round, expect a humdinger when the teams clash on Wednesday at Carlow RFC.

COACHES: John Lillis (Head), Alan Tynan, Brendan McKeogh, Fergal Collins, Johnny Burns, Seamie Harty.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (23-20) in semi-final.

SQUAD: *Alan Tynan, Calum Quinn, *Dan Lavelle, *Dwayne Corcoran, *Fionn Higgins, Gavin Murphy, Joe Murphy, Sam Hastings, David Mackey, Joe Fox, Rody Ryan, Martin Phelan, John Kennedy, Danny Comerford, Cormac Phelan, *Rob Wharton, Morgan Whitley, Enda Farrell, Sean Kilgallon, *Tim Carroll, *Tim Foley, Cian O'Leary, *Dan Trayers, Daniel Ryan, Daniel Treacy, Ewan Robertson, *Marc Kelly (captain), Morgan Whitley, *Matty Keane, John Devine, Paddy McKeon, Kyle Cahir, *Peter Ennis, Michael Jordan, Peter Gavin, Ronan Nerney, Rory Murphy, Tommy Devine, Shane Culleton, Willy Ryan, Simon Meagher, Stephen Leo, Alvaro Ferragut, Liam Walsh and Tadgh Guihen.

CLONGOWES WOOD COLLEGE

No school plays their cards closer to their chest and no school manages to hit the main event so consistently under the radar.

Let me hold up my hands at this point and confess to being a massive fan of everything Clane and specifically how this great educational institution goes about its rugby business. That said, every so often the mask slips and word filters through of a Clongowes challenge over and above the ordinary. Well, whisper it, but 2014 is one such year.

Back in 2011 I watched – to borrow my own words from the match report at the time – "a gem of a game" between Blackrock and Clongowes. It was the JCT semi-final in which the eventual cup winners ('Rock) emerged victorious 22 -21 in a Donnybrook humdinger where the lead changed hands six times, with the same number of tries scored.

Either school could have made it through to that year's final against St Michael's. In the end 'Rock prevailed and deservedly took the U-16 trophy back to a resting place it knows well. Of the 46 players on duty that day all but 10 – five on each side – return at senior level. Well, with one slight modification and that is the presence in the 'Rock squad of a certain Ruairi O'Farrell, son of former Clongowes, Bective and Trinidadian legend Kevin and grandson of Brian, or BOF, as he was popularly known and one heck of a player – also for Bective and Trinidad – in his time.

But back to matters immediate and first up it's Kilkenny for Noel McNamara and a squad that includes 11 back from last year's unit beaten by Michael's in the quarter-finals. Cillian Burke, Fergal Cleary, Colm Mulcahy, James Lappin, Alan Hughes, Cian O'Donoghue, Stephen McVeigh, Will Connors and John Molony have represented the province, with all but Connors and Molony positioned behind the scrum.

Hughes and Cleary play minor football for Westmeath and Meath respectively, while Josh Pim is a European Three-Day Eventing gold medallist. Needless to say, they will deny it, but take it as read that the team to topple Clongowes will take some beating.

COACHES: Noel McNamara, Brett Igoe, Eamonn Jackman and Pat Kenny.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael's (21-13) in quarter-finals.

SQUAD: *Jake Kennedy, Nickolas Rinklin, Charlie Carroll, Patrick Moore, *Cillian Burke, John Molony, Hugo McDermott, Donal Mongey, Graham Murray, Dan O'Leary, Mick Kelly, Brendan Nulty, Tim Burke, *Will Connors, Dan O'Mahony, Fionnan Madden, Cormack Gillick, *Conor Gleeson, Billy O'Regan, Conor Neary, Jonathan Sullivan, Mark Jones, Cian O'Connell, *Cian O'Donoghue, Michael Silvester, *Josh Pim, Eric Tyrell, Darragh Kiely, *Bill Carroll, *Stephen McVeigh, Tadgh O'Carroll, *Colm Mulcahy, Dan O'Mahony, Jonny Glynn, Gavin Hegarty, James Lappin, John O'Brien, *Fergal Cleary (captain), Peter Stapleton, Alan Hughes, Jonathan Inglis, *James Lyons, Michael McDermott, Conor Godson, Rowan Osborne and Shane O'Carroll.

GONZAGA COLLEGE

For Gonzaga and vastly experienced coach Bobby Byrne, it's been a relatively unfamiliar route to this year's competition proper. Such has been the consistency of competitive performance by the Ranelagh school that making the league play-offs, and with it a place in the main knockout cup, has been almost an annual formality.

Three-time league winners and runners-up to powerful Roscrea in the 2013 decider, the UCD Director of Rugby can call on 12 of last year's matchday squad beaten by eventual winners Blackrock in the opening round.

Despite having an interrupted season through injury, centre and skipper Andy Marks is the lynchpin of the side and one of two Leinster representative players, along with loosehead prop Eoghan Byrne.

In addition to Marks and Byrne, Ross Barry, Alex Dillon, Roddy Fitzpatrick, Jack Kerrigan, Marco McVey, Oscar O Cleirigh, Kevin O'Connor, Gordon Rumley, Fintan Ryan and Matthew Sheehan are all available again for selection, while Tim Mays, brother of David and son of former Leinster and Ireland lock Kevin, is the last in that particular rugby dynasty for now.

All going according to early season form, it should be a Gonzaga/CUS Vinnie Murray semi-final, with the winners taking the Qualifier 1 slot and with it, a head-to-head with King's Hospital in the opening round.

Much like the backdoor system, successfully in operation in Gaelic games, the 'B' schools cup offers the opportunity to gain momentum as well as knockout conditioning. With that in mind, KH will be taking nothing for granted, nor should they.

COACHES: Bobby Byrne (Head), David Murphy, Ross Martin, Conor Kennedy, Niall Bevan and Oliver O'Brien.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (44-18) in first round.

SQUAD: *Ross Barry, Harry Brennan, *Eoghan Byrne, Killian Carolan, Conor Cosgrove, Darragh Coyle, Jayesh Daly Devereux, *Alex Dillon, *Roddy Fitzpatrick, Barry Goulding, Conor Gowing, Sean Holly, Conor Horan, Fiachra Keane, Rob Kelly, *Jack Kerrigan, Ross Layden, Jack McNamara, *Andy Marks (captain), Tim Mays, Ross McKeever, *Marco McVey, David Meenan, *Oscar O'leirigh, *Kevin O'Connor, JJ O'Shea, Nick Peters, *Gordon Rumley, *Fintan Ryan, Paul Ryan, *Matthew Sheehan and Kevin White.

KILKENNY COLLEGE

Once upon a time they were a dogged Section 'A' School. With much resistance, they made the step to Section 'B' and it's been onward and upward ever since. League winners in 2012 and four times cup semi-finalists Kilkenny College is now a very formidable force in Leinster Schools rugby.

Yet again they qualified for the knockout stages of the league (losing to Newbridge 26-8 in the quarter-final) and with it an automatic place in the Senior Cup, where they've pulled a really tough one in fellow boarding school Clongowes.

That clash at NUI Maynooth sees rival coaches Jeff Carter and Noel McNamara pit their wits against each other. Nothing unusual about that, you might say, except that since coming together to take charge of Leinster at U-18 in 2012/13 and U-19 2013/14, the province has enjoyed unprecedented success, playing the most attractive brand of rugby and culminating in an historic win over the Australian Schools at Donnybrook just before Christmas.

In a coaching context Carter has proved a revelation since taking control. Assisted by Gordon Rowe he oversees a squad with just a half dozen back from last year's matchday 23 beaten by 'Rock (22-8) in the quarter-final. Craig Miller captains the class of 2014 and includes Leinster representative players in prop Martin Mulhall and out-half/full-back Liam O'Sullivan.

Stephen Triggs is a brother of Mike, former SCT captain and Leinster U-20, while Hugh Roanldson is a brother of Craig, AIL winner with Lansdowne in 2013 and now contracted to Connacht where he shares the out-half duties with Dan Parks.

Brothers and former Wesley stalwarts Christopher and Alastair Pim have sons in Kilkenny and Clongowes respectively. Former Leinster skipper and teak-tough flanker Chris was, without doubt, was very unlucky not to play for Ireland. His son Sam, in addition to his rugby ability, is also an Irish pentathlete, while nephew Josh is a formidable three-day eventer.

Clongowes will be red hot favourites, but, rest assured, that under Carter, Kilkenny will be giving it one right good rattle.

COACHES: Jeff Carter (Head), Gordon Rowe, Tony Duncan.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (22-8) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Oisin Bradley, Liam O'Sullivan, *Craig Miller (captain), Jason Melbourne, *Martin Mulhall, Colm Varian, *Roy Stanley, James Bradfield, *Gavin Hastings, Dylan Kelso, *Sam Pim, Ben Deverell, Ian Atkinson, Nigel Smyth, Wesley Whiteford, Stephen Beattie, Adam Stephenson, Peter Sunderland, Steven Sunderland, William Oakes, Stephen Triggs, Fred Dyer, Ross Whitford, Anu Awonusi, Geoffrey Chapman, Blake Young, Jamie Bulfin, Hugh Ronaldson.

THE KING'S HOSPITAL

Beaten finalists under Cecil Seddall in 1907, Tom Stanley in 1951 and Ashley Cole in 1982, for Conor Spillane and the class of 2014, hope springs eternal that this will be the year the Palmerstown School finally goes the whole way.

Realistically that is unlikely, but with a forward tradition built on very solid footing, Matt Jarvis oversees a highly competitive group, including 10 back from last year's extended squad beaten by Newbridge in the opening round.

Tearaway flanker Spillane skippers a young side including just five sixth years and a season that started slowly, gradually gathered momentum and they had a highly encouraging second-place finish in the league Section 'B'.

While defeat to a particularly strong St Andrew's side followed in the last eight, the main objective of the season – a place in the main competition – was nonetheless, achieved.

The luck of the draw – carried out by Ian Madigan, Martin Moore and Isaac Boss – has been relatively kind with a game in the opening round against Qualifier 1, likely to be CUS or Gonzaga, although Skerries, The High School and Templeogue will each have something to say about that!

Having beaten both CUS and Gonzaga in the pre-Christmas league, hopes are high of a cup quarter-final place at least.

Tighthead prop Ntinga Mpiko is the star turn and lone representative player, having been centrally involved with the Leinster U-19s throughout the early part of the school year.

COACHES: Matt Jarvis, Aidan Tyrrell, Ciaran Donohoe.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Newbridge (12-5) in first round.

SQUAD: *Daniel Ables, Conor Murphy, *Ntinga Mipko, Finnian Shilling,*Conor Kerr, James O'Reilly, *Conor Spillane (captain), *Matthew Bursey, *Ronan Sharkey, Daniel Courtney, *Leo Morgan, *Will Potterton, *Rolus Olusa, Daniel Byrne, *Sam Dowds, David Smith, Tom Doyle, Sam Charman, Calum Petit, Edward McKeon-Silke, James Hogan, Rob Lawless.

NEWBRIDGE COLLEGE

ANY suggestions that the move from boarding to day school and all-boys to co-ed would send rugby in the Kildare college into decline have been wide of the mark. The oval code, is in fact, going from strength to strength. And while we dare not tempt fate, if pushed to pick one school geared towards upsetting the main stream dominance, then Newbridge College would be it.

The great work being done at underage level in the many clubs dotted around the county is being added to enormously by the well- oganised structure within the school. It is many years now (44 in all) since current Lansdowne president Micky Quinn, Paul Bowe (Tommy's dad), Stephen Tunney and the rest did their thing when knocking the 'Rock and bringing the much coveted trophy to Newbridge for only the second time.

The big breakthrough came in 1941, when Jack Deegan led the school to that historic success following a replay in which they beat fellow black and whites Roscrea 9-3. Yet it was 29 years later that the match defined by most as the biggest schools upset of them all – Newbridge 19 Blackrock 5 – took place.

All told, they have made it to eight finals, coming out on top twice, the most recent being in 1996 with Dermot O'Sullivan, Geordan Murphy et al on board when revenge was sweet for 'Rock and for Barry Gibney's all-conquering Dream Team.

Already Tom Brady's powerful crew, including no fewer than 16 back from last year's extended squad beaten by Michael's (21-17) in the semi-final, has bridged a 17-year gap (1996) when lifting the league title by virtue of a 43-10 win over Roscrea in the pre-Christmas final at Donnybrook.

With 13 of that group capped at representative level, including Conor Johnson, Tom O'Neill, Jimmy O'Brien, Jake Howlett, Matt O'Connor, Tom Treacy, Niall Delahunt, Richard Drumgoole-Maguire (who along with Chris Healy lines out for the Kildare minor footballers), Jonathan Phelan, Mark Sutton, Hugh O'Donnell as well as the skipper Brady for Leinster plus Cormac Nugent for Connacht, this is a group geared to challenge the best. Put simply, if you want a dark horse for 2014, this is it.

COACHES: Aaron Dundon (Head), Massey Tuhakaraina, David Brew, Derek Sherlock.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael's (21-17) in semi-final.

SQUAD: *Thomas Brady (captain), Robert Buckley, Ciaran Callan, Kevin Cleary, Eoin Collins, Paul Condon, Patrick Corbett, Cian Crowe, David Culliton, Robert Culliton, Patrick Corbett, *Joseph D'Arcy, *Niall Delahunt, Mark Delaney, Patrick Doran, Thomas Dore, *Conor W Doyle, Conor J Doyle, *Richard Drumgoole-Maguire, *Tom Dunne, Liam Farrell, *Barry Finan, James Healy, *Chris Healy, *Jake Howlett, Thomas Higgins, William Jennings, Conor Johnson, Niall Kearns, Brian Larkin, Oisin Larkin, Jack Lawlor, Austin Mahony, Jack Maguire, Matthew Marmion, Morgan Mooney, Patrick Morrin, *Cormac Nugent, Jimmy O'Brien, Shane O'Brien, Stephen O'Brien, *Matthew O'Connor, *Hugh O'Donnell, *Jack O'Neill, *Jonathan Phelan, Stephen Rigney, Shea Ryan, *Andrew Shanahan, Matthew Stapleton, *Mark Sutton, Sean Tracey, Thomas Treacy.

ST ANDREW'S COLLEGE

Over a 20-year period between 1902 and 1922, St Andrew's played in seven Senior Cup finals, winning four (the last in 1922). Perhaps, even more remarkable is the fact that in three of those finals they beat Blackrock College to the winners' podium.

Apart from a Junior Cup in 1909, success since has been limited to a Leinster Junior League title in 1996 followed by the Senior equivalent in 1999. Beyond that, the Booterstown trophy cabinet has been kept well stocked through exploits on the hockey field.

The class of 2014 is unlikely to add to the rugby lustre, but anyone who underestimates a particularly talented group of players does so at their peril.

Under David Boyd's stewardship and with the Dumbleton brothers – Ian and Peter – coaching, it is as talented a squad of players as has represented this once-powerful rugby school for some considerable time.

This time around, they reached the penultimate stage, when having finished second (to Newbridge) in the pool, they beat King's Hospital in the quarter-finals, before bowing out to the eventual winners (Newbridge) by a four-point (17-13) margin, having drawn 22-22 with the same opposition earlier in the group.

Leinster No 8 Greg Jones (son of ERC Media Officer and rugby journalist Mark) captains a squad that includes some 15 players back from last year. The big, powerful back-rower is one of two representative players, along with loosehead prop Andrew Porter (son of former Old Wesley centre Ernie), while scrum-half Danel Joyce has been involved as a member of the extended Leinster squad throughout.

Jordan Larmour and Jack Balbernie (brother of former SCT player Andrew) are current underage internationals in hockey and cricket respectively, while Ben Ingram is a son of former Andrew's and Wanderers stalwart David.

The draw has thrown up an interesting first-round clash with Castleknock. Andrew's took the spoils in an early-season friendly, but this time when they meet at Templeville Road on Wednesday, it's a toss of the coin on the day.

In a battle of the beaten League semi-finalists 'Knock may start marginal favourites, but it's a brave or foolish man who will back that hunch with any sort of conviction.

COACHES: Ian Dumbleton, Peter Dumbleton, Adam Griggs.

LAST YEAR: Did not qualify.

SQUAD: Ben Arrowsmith, Fionn Irwin-O'Hara, *Jack Balbirnie, Charlie Jermyn, *Gavin Beere, *Greg Jones (captain), James Black, *Kyle Jordan, *Lee Boorman, *Daniel Joyce, Ryan Bradley, Luke Judge, *Alex Brady, *Michael Kirk, *Jack Cassidy, Jordan Larmour, Alan Cavanagh, Paddy McCrodden, David Evans, Antoine Muller, Jack Farrelly, Alasdair Murphy, *Gary Fearon, Neil Murray, Andrew Fogarty, Ross Nicholl, Alfie Guy, Jamie Pearson-Evans, *Jonathan Guy, *Andrew Porter, Stephen Hayes, Nicholas Roche, *Daniel Hide, Alex Waller, *Darragh Higgins, Walter Wood, *Ben Ingram.

ST GERARD'S SCHOOL

Four league finals, embracing three titles in a row between 2009 and 2011, three cup semi-finals (2005, 2010 and 2011), Vinnie Murray and Fr Godfrey Cup success, a first Junior League title (this season), on top of a maiden cup semi-final run 12 months ago (v Belvedere) marks the new millennium as the coming of age of rugby at St Gerard's.

Not for a minute are we dismissing what went before. Anything but, and elsewhere in these pages, former St Gerard's headmaster and ex SCT manager Micheal McMullan records much more precisely the evolution of rugby in the Bray school.

Indeed, just recently I came across an article written by Paul Howard (aka Ross O'Carroll Kelly) in his previous life as a sports reporter for the 'Sunday Tribune' in the mid- eighties.

It read: "For the first time in over 15 years, St Gerard's have opted out of the Schools Senior Cup following a disastrous run of form. At no stage has the pack looked like holding its own, so it was decided that the team was not strong enough to compete against Leinster's top school sides."

Well, that was then when quality and quantity varied dramatically from year to year.

Now, though still operating off one of the smallest playing bases, the school situated on a Wicklow hill continues to box significantly above its weight.

This year's squad, under the enthusiastic watch of head coach Eric Miller and his assistant Brian Keegan, includes 11 from last year's crew beaten by Clongowes in the opening round.

Jack Ryan is skipper to a talented group, which includes representative players in centre Con Callan (Leinster and Ireland Schools), out-half Tommy Whittle (Leinster Schools) and Charlie Kenny (Leinster Schools squad).

The versatile Kenny has been injured since mid-term, but the signs are that he will be back on board come the main competition, should they make it through to face St Mary's in the first round proper.

Despite failing to qualify for the league play-offs, their Vinnie Murray position is a bit misleading, in that apart from the win over local rivals Pres Bray, they lost each of the remaining games by a single score.

St Mary's are one of the form teams going into this year's competition, but on all evidence to date, the Rathmines' school will need to be on top of their game to put yet another significant Gerard's challenge to rest. Anglesea Road on wednesday hould play host to a cracker.

COACHES: Eric Miller (Head), Brian Keegan and Rory O'Connor (Manager)

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Clongowes (30-6) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Jack Ryan (Captain), *Niall Byrne, *Tom Kenna, Mark Loughman, Barry Fitzpatrick, *Jack Dooley, Donal Smyth, *Daniel King, Aaron Cafferkey, Jake Maguire, Sean O'Reilly, Michael O'Toole, Cillian Doyle, *Charlie Kenny, Alan Symes, Matthew Looby, Ronan Delaney, Chris Orsmond, Pearse Kelly, *Tommy Whittle, Andrew Lynch, Robbie Toal Lennon, *Con Callan, *Adam Simmons, Mark Gallagher, Kyle McCarthy, *Mark Prendergast, *Hugh O'Connell and Daragh Shiels.

ST MARY'S COLLEGE

I think it's fair to say that one of the more disappointing performances in last year's cup campaign came from St Mary's. It wasn't so much that the Rathmines school lost to CBC in the opening round, but more the manner of that defeat whereby the Monkstown school won pulling up.

By half-time the writing was on the wall and the game effectively over as a contest.

But on the basis that you learn so much more when you lose, then, in a perverse sort of way, that experience will have done this present group, with some 12 players back from that humbling experience, ready to make good the loss.

Given the relatively small numbers, Mary's, despite five outright successes to date (the most recent in 2002) have long had to box above their weight to remain a consistent force.

They may not have what it takes to win out, but recent victories over Ballymena Academy and St Michael's have proved both timely and confidence-boosting. And whatever else, irrespective of who they meet along the way, a repeat of last year's disappointing performance is most definitely not on the SAMACORA agenda.

And if playing quality translates into coaching ability then in Shaun Berne, Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin it's an all-star cast.

Head coach Berne and assistant Jamie Cornett oversee a talented and experienced group this time round. Scrum-half Mark Fogarty (son of former Templeogue player and great Mary's stalwart Patsy) and three- quarter Terry Kennedy the Third, son of former Ireland international wing Terry, are the Leinster representative players thus far this season.

In addition, there is a litany of great family names long associated with St Mary's. Darragh Cogley is a grandson of Fred and son of Niall, both former RTE Heads of Sport.

Gareth Delany is a son of former out- half Paul, while John Delany is a son of former scrum-half Aidan. David Matthews is a son of former Regent House and Ireland flanker Philip, while Matthew Oppermann is a son of former winger (and current JCT coach) Paul and brother of recent Olympian Paul Jnr.

Gareth Delany, Ben Hoey, Mark Fogarty, Mikey Hoey and Tom Lynch have represented Leinster in cricket, while Delany and Ben Hoey have captained Ireland at various underage levels.

All bar Fogarty were members of the team that won the Leinster Senior Cricket Cup in 2013 for the first time since 1974, while Gavin Kenny is a member of the Dublin U-17 hurling panel.

The draw has been relatively kind as they face Qualifier 2. As kind a place as any to start.

COACHES: Shaun Berne (Head), Jamie Cornett, Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by CBC (24-10) in first round.

SQUAD: Daragh Cogley, *Conor Corcoran, Niall Curran, Gareth Delany, *John Delany, *Hugo Diepman, *Jack Duffy, Harry Dunne, Ruadhan Fanning, Hugh Fitzpatrick, Eoin Foley, *Jordan Finnegan, Michael Fitzgerald, David Flood, *Mark Fogarty, *Patsy Fogarty, Conn Harte-Bourke, *Ben Hoey, Mikey Hoey, Dan Hogan, Niall Hughes, *Terry Kennedy, Gavin Kenny, Michael Kinneen, Brian Mannion, *Keith Mannion, *David Matthews, Sean McCahill, Michael McCormack, James Nolan, *Matthew Oppermann, Brian O'Shea, John Ryan, David Sloan, Matthew Talbot, Thomas Tierney, Neil Walsh, Conor Watters, Conor Whelan.

ST MICHAEL'S COLLEGE

If the turn of the century and new millennium has marked one thing, it's the emergence of St Michael's as a serious force in schools rugby. Consistency in performance at junior is now being translated into a broadly similar level of consistency in the senior cycle by the Ailesbury Road School.

Of course, the disappointment of losing last year's thrill-a-minute final to near neighbours and great rivals Blackrock was immense, but Ross Molony and the band of 2013 warriors contributed every bit as much to that final as did the winners.

So much so, that had they and not 'Rock emerged victorious, I doubt there would have been a dissenting voice out Williamstown way it was that close.

And just to put this year in context, shortly before Christmas, along with a massive crowd (bigger than any single AIL attendance anywhere that same day) I watched the sister schools battle out another humdinger of a friendly at Williamstown.

For the record, 'Rock won 24-21, but the relevance was in the quality and a timely reminder just how good both Spiritan squads are yet again this year.

Flanker Charlie Cregan captains and former Ireland scrum-half Brian O'Meara coaches a Michael's squad that includes a dozen players back from last year, nine of whom figured in last year's final matchday 23.

James Bollard, Cregan, Max Deegan, Dave Duggan, Matthew Gilsenan (son of John and grandson of Matt – the only father and son combination to have filled the top office at Templeville Road to date), Adam Leavy, Eoin O'Neill, Alex Penny and James Ryan (son of former Roscrea, Lansdowne and Leinster flanker Mark) have all represented Leinster at U-18 or U-19 this season.

Yet again this year looks like they are going to have to do it the hard way with last year's pre-competition favourites Terenure first up. After that it's open season, but on the basis of yet another talent-laden group, they will take to the Donnybrook pitch safe in the knowledge that once again they are possessed of a squad more than capable of going the whole way.

COACHES: Brian O'Meara (Head), Emmet McMahon, Kieron Moloney, Andrew Burke, James Ruxton, Fionn Daly (physio), Dr John Ryan.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (23-20) in final.

SQUAD: Gavin Barrett, Joe Benson, James Bollard, Jojo Browne, Robin Cosgrave, Andrew Courtney, *Charlie Cregan (captain), Gavin Croke, *Max Deegan, Peter Dineen, Oisin Dowling, *Gavin Duffy, Robert Duffy, *Dave Duggan, Barry Fitzpatrick, *Matthew Gilsenan, Tom Glynn, Sam Griffen, Michael Heaney, James Hickey, Ronan Kelleher, Jack Kelly, Jack Kennedy, Tomas Killeen, Aidan Larkin, *Adam Leavy, Cathal McGettigan, Brian McGettigan, Ian McGrath, Harry McIntyre, Tom Molony, Rory Mulvihill, *James O'Connell, *Eoin O'Neill, Paul O'Connor, Milo O'Donahoe, *Oisin O'Meara, Evan O'Nuaillain, Max O'Shea, *Alex Penny, *Harry Redmond, Anraoi Rooney, *James Ryan, Harry Sandford, Matthew Scaife, Scott Smith, Karl Victory.

TERENURE COLLEGE

After all the hype in the build-up to 2013, it is a much more relaxed Terenure squad that takes the field this time around. Last year they were red-hot favourites in a red-hot year, this time, if not rank outsiders, they certainly arrive well under the radar and, if anything, in an even redder and significantly hotter year.

After a reasonable run-out and win over Belvo in the opening round at Donnybrook, they were then hit for six at Tallaght Stadium where Roscrea were worth every bit of their eventual three-point winning margin. Despite the obvious disappointment, the Terenure players and mentors were typically gracious in defeat. It wasn't to be their year which they accepted with great humility and moved on.

By contrast new head coach Dermot Blaney starts with a blank canvas, including as he does just four players back from last year's extraordinarily powerful squad. Significantly all four; scrum-half Tim Schmidt (son of Ireland coach Joe), hooker Andy Roche, lock Rob Lalor and back-five forward Mike Melia have represented Leinster at U-18 or U-19 already this school year.

Needless to say, Michael's will represent a gigantic challenge in the opening game, but given the disappointment experienced in Tallaght that February afternoon, the heat is now off as opportunity knocks, particularly for the returning four, to be in at the start of a new era for Terenure rugby.

I expect last year's beaten finalists to prove an opening hurdle too high, but 'Nure rugby is based on pride as much as anything else. Take it as read that if the first step is to be taken to a third senior final in-a-row then it is going to have to be earned the hard way. Take the 'Nure to perform but Michael's to prevail.

COACHES: Dermot Blaney (Head), Michael Shanahan, Robbie Sparks, Paul Haycock, Eddie Geraghty (manager).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Roscrea (13-10) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Andrew Roche, Ted O'Donohue, Jack Mullarkey, *Tim Schmidt, Owen Wigglesworth, Ferdia O'Brien, Karl O'Brien, Gary O'Reilly, John McCormack, Matthew Byrne, Rory Murray, Sean Bagnall, Lorcan O'Dea, Thomas Burke, Robert Sweeney, Cian Croke, Conor Seery, Michael Haddock, *Michael Melia, Jack Nolan, Luke Boland, Paddy O'Hare, Matthew Caffrey, John J O'Sullivan, Killian Carollan, John A O'Sullivan, Neil Hegarty, Conor Pender, Daniel Marshall, Evan Rowan, Cian Madden, Peter Twomey, Fionn Riordan, David Williamson, Paul Tonge, Adam Trimble, Jack Dignam, Sam O'Shea, *Robert Lalor, Jack Ward, Gavin Kenny.

WESLEY COLLEGE

Much like St Andrew's the golden years for Wesley rugby came early on. While the one outright win to date was achieved way back in 1898, the belief for Luke Madeley is the same now as it was for George Hamlet 116 years ago.

Indeed, buoyed by Vinnie Murray Cup success when beating Gerard's in the shadow final a year ago, this Ballinteer squad is high on confidence and ambition.

Already they have come through a tough league section to make the knockout stages and with it automatic cup qualification, where they've been given a difficult enough draw against sleeping giants Belvedere College first up.

Carl Hosford (a pretty slick No 8 in his schoolplaying days at St Andrew's) and Iain Wallace oversee a squad with no fewer than 13 back from last year's crew, beaten by an exceptionally strong Roscrea side in the opening round, before going on to regroup and eventually take the Vinnie Murray Cup for the first time.

They lost ever so narrowly (28-26) to Roscrea in the league quarter-final in early December, having already accounted for Kilkenny, Gonzaga and CUS en route to the knockout phase. In addition, they lifted the early season Graham Cup when beating Belfast Royal Academy (BRA), Rainey High, Banbridge and Grosvenor High.

Tighthead prop Padraig Cullen has represented Leinster U-19s, while multi-talented skipper Madeley has also led the Leinster U-18 hockey side to the inter-provincial championship this season as well representing Ireland at U-16 and U-18 levels.

But for now all attention is focussed firmly on Belvedere and the black and white juggernaut coming their way in Donnybrook on Tuesday.

On all available evidence they are more than ready to meet that challenge head on – one of those days with everything to gain and little to lose, provided they demand of themselves the level of performance required. We suspect they will.

COACHES: Carl Hosford, Iain Wallace, Mark Kinlan, Patrick Collins, Stephen Harvey.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Roscrea (40-0) in first round.

SQUAD: *Adam Chandler, *Padraig Cullen, Daniel Paul, *Adam Garvey, Shane Carmody, *Jedd Pratt, *Stephen Dalby, *Kyle Fitzmaurice, *Daniel Kelly, *Jonathan Hopkins, Josh Brownlow, Andrew Nicoll, Jack Kennedy, Iain Pollock, Matthew Guest, Jack Maybury, Jack Corrigan, Eric Riumbau Soler, *James O'Donovan, *Luke Madeley (Captain), David Poff, *Gavin Hughes, *Andrew Scanlon, *Arran McDonnell, Daniel Gilmer, Tom Walsh, Adam Curry, Matthew Strong, Mark Crimmins.

Irish Independent

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