Sunday 25 February 2018

Blackrock's conveyor belt keeps rolling out the stars

Hugo Kean and team-mates celebrate Blackrock College’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup final against Clongowes Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Hugo Kean and team-mates celebrate Blackrock College’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup final against Clongowes Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Manchester United's 'class of '92' will always be renowned for the amount of home-grown international players that were produced.

In schools rugby terms, Blackrock College's dream team of '96 stands alone as the blueprint of what the schools game has become in this country over the last two decades.

As the curtain is drawn on the glittering careers of two of the five Irish internationals that were produced in the school that year, it is, perhaps, fitting that several of Blackrock's current crop are heading for similar heights.

Leo Cullen was an integral part of the school's success in 1996, while a certain Brian O'Driscoll never quite forced his way into the reckoning.

Blackrock beat Newbridge College 37-3 in the '96 Senior Cup final, which added to their previous year's success – an 8-3 win over Clongowes.

There are plenty of parallels that can be drawn between that era and the current generation – their double Cup success being just one of them.

Last year, a slender three-point victory (23-20) over St Michael's put an end to a barren four-year run for the school and they followed that up with a 22-17 success over Clongowes back in March.

In the 1996 decider at Lansdowne Road, Bob Casey (future London Irish captain and Irish international) ran 'Rock's line-out and Cullen manned the scrum from No 8.

There was no room in the starting XV for a fresh-faced O'Driscoll, who had yet to find a position on the pitch having fluctuated between scrum-half and fly-half.

Starting tomorrow, Leinster will begin their fond farewell to two of their most loyal servants but the 'class of 2014' allows plenty of cause for optimism.

Blackrock's successful Senior Cup campaign this year had everything. Clongowes came mightily close to dethroning what will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest ever schools sides, but in the end 'Rock's guts and determination saw them claim their 68th title.

Coincidentally, in the same year that Ireland's greatest ever No 13 hangs up his boots, Blackrock appear to have produced another in a seemingly never ending conveyor belt of talent.

Jack Power was one of 'Rock's standout players this season. A hugely exciting, raw talent, Power is aggressive, quick, strong and above all else – a leader.

Power starred in last year's team from full-back and his late try in the final wrote himself into Blackrock's history books.

A year later, his rapid rate of development is evident. A switch to outside centre allowed him to thrive as he led the backline with style and gusto.

It is unfair, however, to single out Power as being the star of the show because, in truth, players like Hugo Kean (hooker), Jeremy Loughman (prop) and Nick Timoney (No 8 and captain) are all future stars lying in wait.

Add to that, the fact that 'Rock have also won back-to-back Junior Cup titles, they will remain the dominant force in Leinster schools rugby for some time yet.

As two of Blackrock's most famous sons call it a day, the school and Irish rugby as a whole can be safe in the knowledge that many of the 'class of 2014' are primed for similarly successful careers.

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