Four back-row greats recall their schoolboy memories
Noel Mannion, Brian Robinson, Anthony Foley and Shane Jennings tell Tony Ward how their formative years set them on the road to glory and reveal the players and games that shaped them
WHAT SCHOOL DID YOU ATTEND?
SHANE JENNINGS: St Mary's College, Rathmines.
BRIAN ROBINSON: Cambridge House Boys School, Ballymena.
ANTHONY FOLEY: St Munchin's College, Limerick.
NOEL MANNION: St Joseph's College, Garbally, Ballinasloe.
EARLIEST MEMORIES OF SCHOOL'S RUGBY?
SJ: Watching my brothers play in Donnybrook for the school when I was a young kid. Great days with my family and the school cheering on the team and singing the school songs.
BR: Wondering why the ball wasn't round and having no idea what all the rules meant. I battled with my passion for soccer until I was 14/15 and then fell in love with rugby.
AF: In first year going to my first Senior Cup game in Thomond Park.
NM: My first schools final as a first-year 'chaw'. We won. Back then we had friendlies against Blackrock, Rockwell and Roscrea. Great days.
MOST MEMORABLE SCHOOLS MATCHES PLAYED IN?
SJ: SCT game v Belvedere College in 1999. [Which he modestly omits to mention he scored the breathtaking winning try from 50 metres in injury time - TW]
BR: Cambridge House 10 Coleraine Academical Institution 3. Final of the Subsidary Schools Cup. Massive win for a small school against one of the big boys. It was great to play at Ravenhill.
AF: I captained St Munchin's to a Junior Cup title in 1989.
NM: First Round Senior Year v the Bish.
MOST TALENTED SCHOOLBOY OPPONENT?
SJ: Denis Leamy [Rockwell] or Gavin Duffy [Roscrea].
BR: Millar [Ballymena Academy] was a very impressive schoolboy player".
AF: Dominic Crotty [CBC] and Brian Begley [Crescent Comprehensive].
NM: Joey Marlbourough and Tommy Conneely of the Bish [St Joseph's, Galway] and Noel Fairbanks of Sligo Grammar.
SCHOOLBOY HEROES IN YOUR OWN SCHOOL?
SJ: Probably my brother Karl and his team that won the Senior Cup in 1994. I was a young and impressionable 12-year-old boy that thought this was the same as winning a RWC!
BR: We were a very young school. Dean McCartney [Ireland 'A'] and Jamie Smith [Ulster] went on to play at the top level.
AF: Seamus Liston, a back-row forward who was a colossus of a man and from my knowledge the only man to play both Junior and Senior Cup rugby in the same season.
NM: Johnny Colbert [fine No 10], Paid Finn [tough No 8]. And before my time, Ray McLoughlin, Mick Molloy and Ciaran Fitzgerald.
DO THE SCHOOLS STILL HAVE AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY IN IRISH RUGBY?
SJ: Of course they do, as do the clubs and local communities. I started playing my rugby with Knocklyon in the Community Games, against Gav Duffy playing with Ballina, and then with the mini rugby in Lansdowne RFC and St Mary's College RFC. From then it was on to St Mary's College in Rathmines, all of which helped me develop and enjoy the game.
BR: Irish Schools is the heartbeat of Irish rugby. I hope it remains the central pillar in youth development. A controlled environment with education and learning as the core driver for player development.
AF: Yes. The level of preparation, development and habits players form are all hugely important and beneficial for those looking to forge a career in professional rugby. At the same time it's important we look after the players involved as they are very young and impressionable, so expectations need to be managed.
NM: Absolutely. I think the Union and four professional clubs should be more proactive in schools development.
ONE WORD TO SUM UP THE GAME IN THE SCHOOLS?
BR: Passionate, enjoyment - take your pick.
AND THE SENIOR CUP WINNERS THIS YEAR IN YOUR PROVINCE WILL BE?
SJ: St Mary's College, Rathmines.
BR: As Coach of Campbell College I have one option: Campbell College.
AF: St Munchin's College.
NM: Garbally thereabouts with Marist, Grammar and Summerhill.
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