Tuesday 24 October 2017

'Rock have talent to help make it a double double

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

There is a tendency to take the extraordinarily consistent success of Blackrock College for granted. A haul of 67 Senior Cup titles tells its own tale, but when when you add 48 Junior cups to their locker, there's no denying that the 'Rock is Ireland's premier rugby school.

There is, however, another record worth noting: only five schools have achieved the 'Leinster double' of Senior and Junior trophies. St Michael's became the most recent in 2012, with Belvedere joining that distinguished list in 2005, following in the footsteps of Terenure (1958) and Castleknock way back in 1925.

Here again, 'Rock lead the way, with a massive 24 'S' and 'J' doubles, with last year's somewhat unexpected success (at Senior anyway), the latest in an ever-expanding list.

However, as the great Brendan Mullin points out to me time and time again, "the school may have won many cups over the years, but this year's teams have won nothing yet."

Fittingly, Brendan's son Gavin (a centre chip off the old block) picked up his first schools' medal as a member of the all-conquering Rock juniors last year.

This time round, Rock will be chasing their first back-to-back double since 1986/87 and should Justin Vanstone and Peter Smyth's charges play to form, this goal is certainly attainable.

So, no pressure then as both title defences kick into gear.

The open draw has resulted in the four most fancied teams at junior level avoiding each other in the opening round.

'Rock (as with the seniors) begin the 2014 campaign against a nuggety CBC side. St Michael's and Belvedere (beaten finalists last year) front up to sister schools St Mary's and Gonzaga respectively, with both favoured to advance to the last eight.

Terenure, bolstered by a fair smattering of talented U-14, should also progress, although they will be wary of a 'banana skin' against Kilkenny College.

Beyond that, Clongowes should prove too strong for Pres Bray and League runners- up Newbridge should have the measure of Castleknock.

League winners St Gerard's (first title at this level) and beaten semi-finalists CUS (15-8 to Newbridge) will be favourites against Qualifiers 1 and 2 respectively (the Fr Godfrey winners and runners-up).

Much will depend on the roll of the dice after that, but on all available evidence it's going to take something special to prevent 'Rock ruling Leinster once again.

In Munster, the same system as at senior level will operate, with a qualifying round to be followed by the four first-round winners having home advantage against the four first-round losers in Qualifying Round 2.

Defending champions Castletroy College – winners of a second title when beating double-chasing Crescent 13-7 in the 2013 final – will face Limerick rivals St Munchin's, assuming the Corbally school accounts for the 'B' School qualifier.

It looks like Rockwell, CBC (although they pace Pres in the opening tie of qualifying round 1), Ardscoil Ris (despite meeting Crescent in the first qualifying round) and possibly St Munchin's who will come through.

Beyond that, it's all to play for, but I'll plump for CBC, PBC and Ardscoil in that order.

In Connacht, all signs point to a changing of the guard. Marist, having lifted a remarkable fifth Junior Cup title since entering the new millennium, will have their work cut out defending their crown as St Gerald's Castlebar and CBS Roscommon look to secure major provincial success for the first time.

Having beaten a resurgent Bish side in the pre-Christmas League final, the talented Castlebar squad are favourites to complete a double.

CBS Roscommon look to be their main threat.

BATTLE

Much, of course, will depend on the draw. In Pool A, Geralds and Sligo Grammar should battle it out for top spot ahead of Summerhill and Gort CS.

In Pool B, the Bish (St Joseph's Galway) and CBS will vie for pole position, with Clifden CS and St Muiredach's bringing up the rear.

In Pool C, Marist and Garbally appear to be ahead of Rice and the Jes, in what looks the most competitive pool of the three.

All told, it makes for an eagerly anticipated competition out west, with Gerald's and CBS Roscommon well positioned to go the whole way, leaving the Bish and either Marist or Garbally next.

And so to Ulster, where Campbell College will be defending their Medallion Shield crown following a 17-0 success over Wallace High, with the Lisburn school competing in their third final in four years at this level.

The early rounds have been completed, with new, non-cup schools like Ballyclare Secondary and Ashfield Boys High entering for the first time.

With Round 4 and the entrance of the heavyweights fast approaching, more seasoned campaigners like Grosvenor Grammar, Friends School Lisburn, Royal School Armagh, Ballyclare High, Dromore, Regent House, Dalriada and Sullivan Upper are expected to mix it with the top eight seeds.

The winner will almost certainly emerge from RBAI, Campbell, Wallace, Coleraine AI, Methody, Ballymena Academy, Down High and BRA.

Whisper it, but what are the odds on another double, with Methody primed to deliver Medallion and Senior Cup successes?

Irish Independent

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