Christians command respect in scramble for success
To borrow from Kevin Keegan, Limerick's five 'A' schools will be "loving it", but the smart money down south is going on a Tipperary/Cork domination for the third year running. In 2009 it was Christians (CBC) and last year Pres (PBC) getting the better of Rockwell in finals lacking any Limerick presence.
Certainly on the basis of national selection at underage level, this school year has been a relatively lean one for the Treaty City's emerging talent. In the context of the main event that is not necessarily a bad thing as it has meant Limerick schools have consistently been fielding teams close to maximum strength.
In two of the last three seasons the Junior Cup has gone to Shannonside, with Castletroy taking it for the first time in 2008 and Crescent for the fifth time last year. For the latter it is much too soon to expect a winning follow-on at Senior level, but for Castletroy their maturing charges should launch a serious assault in the weeks ahead. But if you want an outside bet (and not all that far outside) then try three-time winners in the noughties -- St Munchins.
Munster will again this year operate the dual qualifying round system. With just eight schools in the premier competition in Munster compared to 16 in Leinster, it is easier to operate.
Results can vary dramatically, as the last two years have shown. In 2009 for example, both finalists -- CBC and Rockwell -- lost their first qualifying round matches, whereas last year both eventual finalists -- PBC and Rockwell -- won each of their two qualifying matches convincingly.
CBC, PBC and Rockwell will start out as favourites and probably in that order. The Cashel school will set out in search of a third successive final appearance, with a preliminary qualifier against a 'B' school -- either Bandon or Midleton -- lying in wait.
Bandon upset Glenstal at this stage last year, but it is difficult to see them, or indeed Midleton, pulling the rug from under Rockwell. That would leave Rockwell facing St Munchin's, Ard Scoil taking on Crescent and CBC meeting Castletroy all on Wednesday, February 2. The final qualifying round one tie is scheduled for Sunday, February 6, when Glenstal and PBC go head-to-head.
Ard Scoil, Rockwell and CBC all field a big powerful pack, meaning a tough forward slog is guaranteed for Crescent, Munchin's and Castletroy. That said, Pres appear to be that bit too strong for the traditionally resilient Murroe opposition.
Beyond that, the make-up of the second qualifying round is difficult to call but I am taking Rockwell (provided they overcome Munchin's) and Christians to make the top semi-final and either Castletroy or Ard Scoil to make it through to face Pres at the bottom end.
After that, your guess is as good as mine but don't rule out the obvious all-Cork final at Musgrave Park come March 17. With the Leeside schools tied on 28 titles apiece, what a showdown that would be.
At the third attempt it could well be Rockwell's year, but at this distance the smart money is on Christians and who are we to argue with that?
Irish Independent Supplement