Monday 22 April 2019

Leinster Schools Senior Cup squads

Belvedere College in action against Newbridge College during round 2 of last year’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Belvedere College in action against Newbridge College during round 2 of last year’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Gavin O’Brien of St Mary’s College being tackled by Josh Dixon of Blackrock College during last year’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-final. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Belvedere College

MANAGEMENT: Massey Tuhakaraina (Head Coach), Conor Jennings, David Hawkshaw, Conor Wynne-Walsh (S&C), Eoghan O’Sullivan (Physio), John Broderick, Kenneth Knaggs, Max Kearney, Stuart Wheeler and Valentine Tauamiti.

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LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (35-12) in Final.

SQUAD: JP Beggy, Mathew Berney, Rory Birthistle, Brian Bolger, *Conor Cagney, Darragh Coan, *Aaron Coleman, *Cillian Cosgrave, Callan D’Arcy, Odhran D’Arcy, Theo Dempsey, James Dillon, *Rory Dwyer, Cian Fitzgerald, Hugh Flood, Ben Foy, *Mateusz Galinski, *Matt Grogan, Daniel Hawkshaw, Bill Jennings, Jed Jones, Conor Kelly, Conor Kelly (there are two Conor Kellys), Milo Kilroy, David Lambe, *Justin Leonard, *Patrick Lysaght, Eoin Mac Adaimh, Jack McNeice, Ben McCabe, Donnchadh McCarthy, Ben McDonald, Joe McGrath, Hugo McPeake, *John Meagher, *Cailean Mulvaney, Eoghan Murphy, Simon Murphy, Gavin Murray, Harry Murray, Calum Nylon, Kevin O’Connor, David O’Donohoe, Daniel O’Driscoll, Patrick O’Farrell, Peter O’Farrell, Dylan O’Grady, Eimhin O’Neill, Jacob O’Regan, James O’Sullivan, Patrick Pentony, David Porter, Cian Rogers, Alexander Ross, Jonathan Ross, Eoghan Rutledge, Harry Ryan, Jonathan Sargent, *Alex Soroka, Eoin Sullivan, Andrew Synnott, Fiachra Tuckey, Luke Tunney, Dylan Venner and Cormac Yalloway.

Good things come to those who wait. If ever that adage applied, it is to Belvedere College. Frozen out between 1972 and 2005, there have now been seven final appearances including four outright successes since that long-overdue breakthrough in ’05.

Between 1968 and 1973 there were four finals and three wins, with Ben Gormley, Dave Fegan and John Brennan the successful captains in ’68, ’71 and ’72 respectively. In 2005 it was Robert Carson at the helm, with Conor Colclough the JCT leader as the Great Denmark Street school completed the coveted double for only time in their history.

Despite losing the final in 2002 to a St Mary’s squad that included Jonathan Sexton in its ranks (and just for the record, with the outcome that day on a knife-edge at 7-6, on came the same Monsieur Le Drop as an under-16 with just minutes remaining to seal the deal for Mary’s with a drop goal in that final, nail-biting phase) the performance of the David O’Brien-led side marked the beginning of the golden phase for Belvo rugby.

There have been seven finals and four more successes in the 13 years since, marking the new millennium as the golden generation to wear black and white. Brennan, Ray Finn, Ollie Campbell etc provided the inspiration but with four successive finals in the past four years alone, this truly is a pinch-yourself time for everyone associated with rugby at the north city school.

As the quest for title number 13 gets under way, Massey Tuhakaraina, who succeeds the incredibly successful Phil Werahiko (now departed to pastures new at Kuban Rugby in the Russian Professional League) as head coach, can call on ten of last year’s extended cup final day squad including starters Aaron Coleman, Conor Cagney and Matthew Grogan, replacements Mateusz Galinski, Patrick Lysaght and John Meagher as well as Justin Leonard, Cailean Mulvaney, Alex Soroka and Andrew Synnott.

Coleman, Grogan, Leonard and Soroka have all represented Leinster at under-18 while Cagney and Mulvaney have been involved with the provincial under-19s in 2018. Daniel Hawkshaw and Bill Jennings are brothers of Senior medal winners David and Conor respectively, with the latter two now key members of the coaching staff assembled by Director of Rugby Andy Wood. Flanker Coleman and lock Soroka are part of the current Ireland under-18 Schools Training Squad. Piece all that together and it makes for another formidable Belvo challenge on the way.

Blackrock College

MANAGEMENT: Justin Vanstone (Head Coach), Gareth Pickering, Steve Lambe, Shane Murray, Daniel Moore, Seamus Toomey, Tony Smeeth, James Burke, Liam Turner b and Evan O’Brien.

LAST YEAR: Winners.

SQUAD: *Ross Barron, Scott Barron, *Ed Brennan, John-Francis Campbell, Niall Comerford, John Corless, Ruairi Coyne, James Culhane, Matthew Cullen, Tom D’Arcy, Adam Dixon, Evan Downey, Stephen Dunne, Matthew Farrell, *David Fitzgibbon, Matthew Flynn, Tom Gavigan, Sean Gilmore, Jack Grant, Tom Henderson, *Liam Heylin, *Gavin Jones, Jeff Kenny, John Kirby, *Jack Loscher, Michael Lowey, Stephen Maher, Conor McAleer, Joseph McCarthy, Ronan McGoldrick, Rory McGuire, Killian McQuaid, *Luke Mion, Michael Moloney, David Molony, Mark Morrissey, Shane Murray, *Sean O’Brien (Captain), Charlie O’Carroll, Patrick O’Connor, *Hugo O’Malley, Cameron O’Neill, Jude O’Reilly, Charlie Reilly, Chris Rolland, Aaron Rowan, Cathal Ryan, Adam Simpson, Sam Small, Ben Wallace, David Walsh, Ben White and Matthew Wood.

They won their first in 1887, beating Farra School in the final, and followed it up with inaugural back-to-back success when beating Rathmines School in the 1888 decider. Blackrock College don’t do things by half. No stone is ever left unturned in the search for Schools Cup success. The groundwork is laid in Willow Park, and let nobody tell you otherwise, as this time around the Williamstown school start out as favourites (nothing new there) but in pursuit of title number 70 and the first back-to-back since 2013-14.

Justin Vanstone has proved an inspirational coach at Junior and Senior for ’Rock at underage level since beginning his involvement with the under-16s. Indeed, I think it highly significant that of the Junior Cup-winning squad in 2016, coached by Vanstone, every player from that starting 15 that beat St Michael’s (8-3) bar prop Liam Marshall is still there. That’s 14 of the starting 15 plus six of the eight replacements, making for 20 of the Junior Cup-winning 23 plus John Kirby all now in sixth year and available for this Senior Cup defence. We’ll deal with the Michael’s stats in the appropriate place, but even at this distance and with due respect to the other 14, draw depending, it is difficult to look beyond the closely located Spiritan Colleges making it through to their first final showdown since 2013. That was a cracking final, taken by ’Rock and aptly named skipper Charlie (Rock) 23-20 at the RDS. Leinster lock Ross Molony led the vanquished Michael’s side.

Centre Gavin Jones was skipper of the victorious ‘J’ in 2016, with lock Sean O’Brien (one of two starters in the 2018 senior final alongside No8 Ed Brennan) taking up that responsibility at under-19 level. In addition, Luke Mion, Hugo O’Malley, Jack Loscher, Ross Barron and Jones make for seven with cup-winning medals set for the title defence now.

Skipper O’Brien represented Ireland schools last Easter as well as playing against Australia in the recent underage international at Energia Park. Brennan, Jones and David Fitzgibbon represented Leinster under-19s during the summer, while O’Malley lined out at loosehead for the Leinster 18s in the summer programme.

Brothers Ross and Scott Barron will, fitness permitting, be in the side together. Scrum-half Ross was back-up to Louis O’Reilly last year while Scott started at tighthead on the all-conquering JCT cup-winning side of 2018. And there is a third brother, Greg, playing on this year’s JCT too.

David Molony is a cousin of last year’s Senior Cup-winning hooker Sean Molony, as well as the aforementioned Ross of Michael’s and Leinster fame. Chris Rolland is the nephew of former ’Rock scrum-half and arguably our greatest ever referee, Alain, and a son of another ex ’Rock stalwart Phillipe. Luke Mion is the son of former two-time Senior Cup-winning captain Jonny Mion (a rare and outstanding feat with Denis Cussen, Larry McMahon, Garret Gill and Barry Gibney – all Blackrock – the other four).

Ben Wallace is a son of Henry Wallace and nephew to British and Irish Lions Richie, Paul and David. Young Ben is a member of the greatest Irish rugby family of the lot in my book. While Killian McQuaid is a younger brother of Conor McQuaid, scrum-half on the Clongowes cup-winning team of 2011.

Blackrock are once again the pre-tournament favourites and justifiably so.

Castleknock College

MANAGEMENT: Jeremy Staunton (Head Coach), Adrian Flavin (DOR), Peter O’Donnell, Darran Sheils, Richie Allen, Jack Hurley, Ro Fallon (Physio), John Stack (S&C), John McCole (S&C), Brian Flaherty (S&C) and Mick Aughey (Analysis).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (46-20) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: Adam Doherty, *Adam Malone, Alec Birnie, Alex Connolly, Alex Creedon, Ben Griffin, *Benedict Culliton, *Ciaran McCarrick, Ciaran O’Flynn, Conor Duggan, Conor Dunne, Conor Mahon, *David Slupko, Ethan Keogh, Evan Boyle, *Evan Chester, *Fergus Stanley, Finn O’Neill, Fionn Gibbons, Ian Birmingham, Jack Considine, Jack Leach, Jack Roche, *James Wallace, Jonathon Olden, Jordan McMahon, Kieran McMenamin, Lennon Bracken, Leon Morris, Louis McDonagh, Luke Callinan, Matthew Ryan, Max Gerhardt, *Max Mellett, Max Rogers, Michael Byrne, Owen Ntekim, Paul McMenamin (Captain), Sean O’Reilly, Sean Peace, *Stephen Callinan, *Stephen Quinn.

We don’t want to mount too much pressure, but under Adrian Flavin’s leadership as Director of Rugby and with Jeremy Staunton as Head Coach things are stirring out Chapelizod way. The experience as former professionals that Flavin and Staunton bring to the cause of one of the longest-established rugby-playing schools in the country cannot be underestimated.

No one is expecting instant miracles but signs are of a sleeping giant – eight titles at Senior and Junior (including that one and only double in 1920) – gradually awakening. Already this season a very young team has made it through to the Senior League Final, for the first time since 2012. It has provided a timely boost in confidence, given that the league campaign through Section A made for a 50-50 return but crucially a fourth-place finish behind Newbridge, Pres Bray and Roscrea in that order.

Despite losing to Roscrea and Newbridge they were tight games, as indeed was the draw with Pres. With that fourth-place finish came cup qualification and a place in the last eight of the league. What followed was hugely uplifting, with knockout wins over Section B winners Kilkenny (13-11) in the quarter followed by a an even more encouraging performance when beating the Bray school (25-15) in the semi-final.

Gonzaga proved a hurdle too high, with the Ranelagh school deservingly taking the title on a 19-7 scoreline. As the demon draw would have it, the league finalists will now meet in the opening round of the cup at Castle Avenue on Wednesday next.

Again, ’Knock will run out as underdog on the day. That in itself is no bad thing. It’s now 53 years since that last cup win when Ralph Ince made his way up the steps to collect the trophy at Lansdowne. Indeed, the last final was in 1983 under Joe Fogarty as captain when losing to De La Salle in what was the golden period for Churchtown rugby.

There was one other final appearance, but that too ended in heartbreak when, with Paul Loughran as captain, they lost to CBC in the Monstown school’s only win courtesy of a lone Bernard Moloney penalty. Packy Derham, Willie Sexton (Jonny’s uncle) and Loughran were just some of the stand-out players on a particularly strong Castleknock team.

It is now about small steps. To that end, former Garryowen, Munster and Ireland star Staunton will look in particular to skipper and backrower Paul McMenamin, centre Fionn Gibbons (fourth-year), scrum-half Louis McDonagh and lock David Slupko. Gibbons and Max Mellett have both been involved with Leinster and Ireland Clubs and Schools, while McDonagh has lined out with Leinster Schools under-18s. In addition Alec Birnie, Ciaran McCarrick and Luke Callinan have been with the provincial under-17 squad. The pack also includes a significant presence in Kieran McMenamin, twin brother of Paul. The smart money will be on Gonzaga to advance to round 2 but as the play-offs in the league have shown, anything is possible with this enthusiastic ’Knock group.

Cistercian College Roscrea

MANAGEMENT: Alan Tynan (Head Coach), Darin Claasen, Tyrone Elliott, Dermot Dunne, Rob Cassidy (S&C), Brian Murphy (Physio), Anne Harrington and Stephanie England (Medical).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Mary’s (32-29) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: Adam Dunne, Adam Lambkin, Adam Kennedy, *Ben Murphy, Ben Whelehan, Bill Burns, *Billy Foley, Brien Culleton, Brian Bergin, Canice Crosby, Carlos Griffin, Christian Fehily, Cian Quinn, Cillian Lawlor, Conor Power, Conall Bird, *Darragh Tynan, *Darragh Loughnane, *Diarmuid Kilgallen, Dylan Keane, Eoghan Matthews, Eoghan Brennan, *Gavin Meagher, *Jack Matthews, *Jack Egan, Jack Gilligan, Jack Ormond, Jacob Faughnan, Jamie Byrne, James Dunne, *Jerry Cahir, *Joe Cronin, John McKeon, Keith Roberts, *Lucas Culliton (Captain), Lorcan McDonald, Martin Fallon, Manus Heenan, Matthew Barry, Oisin McCloskey, Oscar Gilligan, Ronan Conneally, *Ronan Loughnane, Ryan Moran, Riley Cavanagh, Sam Feely, Sam Murphy, Sean Cullen, Sean Brien, Sean Frawley, Sean Liffey, Shane Mallon, Shane Connolly, Takechi Oh, Tom Comerford, William Conroy and Zack Whelehan.

If patience has been a virtue in Belvedere, then where stands black-and-white rivals Roscrea? For Cistercian College the wait began with that first final qualification in 1910. Paddy O’Connell was skipper of that Mount St Joseph side beaten in a replay by Blackrock (6-0) after a scoreless draw.

 If coming within a whisker of lifting the trophy for the first time created an appetite then the hunger was destined to last, with just two more finals before the close of the century. The second came when losing to Newbridge (9-3), also in a replay, after a scoreless draw first time out and then in 1999 when again losing to ’Rock (19-7). Brendan Flanagan and John Phelan were the losing captains in ’41 and ’99 respectively.

Fast forward to the new millennium and between 2011 and 2017 they made three finals, including that golden year of 2015 and the big breakthrough. Not even the most ardent Belvo supporter begrudged Tim Foley and Roscrea that 18-11 win.

After 105 years of waiting, the win was very special. While failing to even make the final two years before in 2013, I would argue that squad (beaten by Blackrock in the semi) were the strongest ever to represent the school.

Had they succeeded it would have made for four finals and I firmly believe two outright wins in five years. Either way, it has proved an extraordinary period in Cistercian College rugby history.

Revenge was sweet for Belvedere 12 months on when Brian Egan’s multi-talented side comprehensively outplayed Simon Megher and the rest in 2016. Now three years on and the schools again come head to head, but this time in the opening round in Energia Park on Thursday next.

Munster Academy member Alan Tynan was very much in the vanguard of that 2015 success when he wore the No 10 shirt and four years on he is Head Coach of the 2019 squad.

He oversees a group that includes 12 players back from last year’s squad pipped (32-29) in a humdinger of a quarter-final by St Mary’s. Lucas Culliton is captain and, as son of Ronnie and grandson to the legendary Gerry of Leinster and Ireland fame, continues the proud Culliton family tradition and its association with Roscrea.

The latest in the Culliton dynasty is but one of four Roscrea players to represent Connacht this season at under-19, with Ben Murphy, Diarmuid Kilgallen and Gerry Cahir the others. In addition, Dylan Keane and Martin Fallon have represented Connacht at under-18.

To that add Leinster representative players Gavin Meagher and Shane Connolly at under-18 plus Shane Mallon and Bill Burns at under-17 and Conall Bird representing the Leinster Youths. Burns is the son of ex-Clongowes, Lansdowne and Leinster hooker Willie, while other talented players include Darragh Loughnane (grandson of former Tipperary hurling great Francis), Billy Foley (son of Cork All Ireland hurling winner Mark and brother of 2015 CCR cup-winning captain Tim) while Tipp under-20 hurler Darragh Tynan is a younger brother to 2015 outhalf and current Head Coach Alan.

Meagher is also a member of the Tipp minor football panel, with John McKeon a talented hurler with the Kildare minor squad. A solid league showing resulted in a joint second-place finish alongside Pres Bray before losing out to eventual winners Gonzaga (25-7) in the quarter-final. It is a young squad rich in sporting talent and one certainly guaranteed to be highly motivated, given the first round opposition. However, Belvedere will be favoured to repeat the win when last the sides met in the premier knockout competition.

Clongowes Wood College

MANAGEMENT: Pat Kenny (Head Coach), Daryl Maxwell (DOR), Joe Carbery, Gavin McDowell (S&C), David Lyons (Physio), Dr Jim Ryan and Stephen O’Hara (Manager).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael’s (22-13) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Tom Gilheany, Eoghan Cumbers, *Patrick Dowling, *Tom Coghlan (Captain), *Ryan McMahon, *Conor Duff, Evan O’Boyle, Luke McMahon, *Calum Dowling, Tom Power, Michael Behan, Jack Hilliard, Hugh Lonergan, Ethan Noone, Pete Kiernan, *Gavin Dowling, Tom Mulcair, Diarmuid McCormack, *Barry Dooley, Eddie Carr, *Calum Doyle, Killian Fitzpatrick, Milo Cruise O’Brien, Jack Kearney, Sean O’Grady, Harry Radmall, Tadgh Dooley, Ross MacGoey, *David Wilkinson, Hugo Philipps, Mark Galvin, Michael Spillane, Christopher Grimes, Harry Arkwright, Josh Early, Flyn Kiernan, *John Maher, JV Cummins, Sean Sexton, *Joe Carroll, Ross Doogan, Luke McDermott and Finn Adams.

Perhaps it came all too easy back in 1926 when Jim Egan led the school to Senior Cup success at the very first attempt. It seemed a doddle as further finals followed immediately in 1927 and 1928. Three more were contested, all against Blackrock, between 1936 and 1953 inclusive before the one-hit wonder tag was finally removed in 1978.

That was the year when Mocky and Greg waved their magic wand and weaved that magical competitive spell so synonymous with the Clane school ever since. Most of the credit goes to Fr Michael Sheil as coach and Greg Dilger as captain for seeing Clongowes back to becoming the extraordinarily consistent force they have been to this day.

It is now almost 40 years since that 52-year gap between ’26 and ’78 was finally bridged. Significantly in the four decades since, CWC have contested 16 finals, winning six for a running total of eight and lying joint fourth (with Castleknock) in the overall Roll of Honour behind ’Rock, sister college Belvedere and Terenure in that order.

It is testimony to the competitive consistency ingrained once Mocky and Greg did their thing. And yet there is some concern down Kildare way that they haven’t really pushed for outright success in the last five years. They undoubtedly reached their zenith by way of those back-to-back titles of 2010 and 2011 with the strongest squad in depth ever to represent the school. It included players of the quality of brothers Bryan and Edward Byrne plus a back row of Nick McCarthy (then wearing No6), skipper Conor Gilsenan and No8 Jordan Coghlan, while in reserve they could boast Peadar Timmins, Max McFarland and Sebastien Fromm.

The beaten finalists in 2012 and 2014 did come close against Michael’s and ’Rock respectively but failure to register at least a final appearance this year will mean an entire cohort of students from first to sixth year will have gone through the educational system without pushing for that vital extra-curricular ingredient called rugby success.

Michael’s again proved the stumbling block in the 2018 quarter-final and this time around it’s Wesley College in Energia Park next Wednesday first up. Pat Kenny takes over as Head Coach from Brett Igoe, with Joe Carbery (dad of Munster’s Joey) assistant coach alongside Director of Rugby Daryl Maxwell. Tom Coghlan (cousin of Jordan, now playing for Nottingham) is captain of a squad that includes a dozen back from last year. There are also two sets of brothers in Ryan and Luke McMahon as well as Barry and Tadgh Dooley, while cousins John Maher and Gavin Dowling complete the family aspect.

Five – David Wilkinson at outhalf, hooker Calum Downey, loosehead Barry Dooley, flanker Tom Gilheany and full-back Tim O’Brien – have represented Leinster under-18 Schools, with Coghlan, Ryan McMahon and John Maher lining out for the province at under-19. Diarmuid McCormack supplies the Connacht presence as part of the western province’s under-18 squad as well as Ireland at that level. Maher has also been involved with the Ireland underage sevens.

Add to that Stephen O’Hara’s role as Leinster under-18 Schools Manager plus Joe Carbery as the province’s under-18 clubs coach and it’s clear that the pieces are in place to launch that much-needed assault on outright success this season. Much will depend on the draw and in avoiding the big Spiritan two, but at this distance, along with Terenure, we are looking at a potential dark horse.

Gonzaga College

MANAGEMENT: Declan Fassbender (Head Coach), Oliver O’Brien (Manager), Martin Fenton, James Kenny, Stephen McVeigh, Ken Murray, Dr Peter Meagher and Conor Gavin (Physio).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Belvedere (11-10) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: Max Barlow, *Jack Barry (Captain), Tom Barry, Brian Barron, Marcus Boggan, James Breslin, Jack Browne, Seamus Carroll, Conor Carson, Louis Clarke, *Harry Colbert, *Max Colgan, *Jack Connolly, *Jack Coolican, *Tom Cullen, Harry Dempsey, Ethan Duffy, *Hugo Fitzgerald, Ben Flynn, *Henry Godson, Sean Grimley, Luke Hammond, Conor Hennessy, *Arthur Henry, Tom Higgins, David Kennedy, George Kenny, *Colm Kirby O’Briain, Tadgh McEvoy, Jamie MacNulty, David Madigan, Ralph Meagher, *Karl Morgan, Patrick Morgan, Spencer O’Connell, Robert O’Donovan, *Fergus O’Hoisin, *Frank O’Grady, Rory O’Kennedy, Oisin O’Leary-Deane, Oscar Rogers, Canaan Ryan D’Alton, Dan Scanlon, Ronan Shaw, Sean Sheehy, *Liam Tyrrell, Luc VanCauwelaert, JJ Walsh, Michael Whelan and Simon Wilson.

With the greatest of respect to Templeogue College, Dublin 6 used to be the preserve of St Mary’s and Terenure. With 15 title wins between them (10 to ’Nure and 5 to Mary’s) it was their patch, with the area rivalry (Rathmines Road v Templeogue Road) the only show in that part of town.

Gonzaga is no new kid on the block and while they have still to reach a final, never mind get their hands on that Holy Grail, the Sandford Road Ranelagh school is very much part of what is now a real three-way rivalry.

Probably the most constructive development in Leinster Schools Rugby (running almost parallel to the onset of professionalism) was the introduction of the Senior League for Section B Schools (as they were then known) outside of the top six. It was instigated by St Paul’s College, Raheny, in the early to mid-Nineties and has more than stood the test of time.

Despite lifting the Junior League in its second year (1996) it was to be another decade (season 2005/06) before the Senior title made the same trip up Eglinton Road from Donnybrook. In the interim, eight other schools (including St Michael’s in 1998) took the trophy that is second only to the Senior Cup itself in terms of underage importance.

Indeed, in the first seven years of its existence the competition boasted seven different winners with the tidal boost in confidence for the post-Christmas Cup lifting all boats. For the record there have been 12 different winners since 1994. Now not a year goes by without Gonzaga having a say in the spoils. They were in three finals between 2005 and 2007 (winning two) and again between 2017 and 2019 in three more (again winning two and only losing out to St Gerard’s in injury time in the middle final of this latest three).

Gonzaga now, year on year, make for three significant Jesuit contenders and not just the obvious two courtesy of Belvedere and Clongowes. So League winners again this year (having beaten Castleknock 19-7 in the pre-Christmas final) it will be the same west Dublin opposition to begin the cup assault for 2019.

A giant psychological step was taken when qualifying for the last four in 2017 before losing out to Blackrock in the penultimate phase. The ripple effect of that measured success is being felt now as Lansdowne stalwart Declan Fassbender can call on 14 players back from last year’s extended match-day squad that was pipped by eventual finalists and great Jes rivals Belvo (11-10) in the opening round.

Skipper Jack Barry is the stand-out individual and the Leinster under-18 flanker and provincial captain is one of three representative players along with wing Arthur Henry (also Leinster under-18) and hugely influential scrum-half Jack Connolly, who has lined out in the same position for Leinster at under-19.

Fergus O hOisin (back on the wing again from last year) is a brother of Osgar O hOisin, who made his Davis Cup debut for Ireland in February 2018 against Denmark. Barry leads a squad high on confidence, winning six of the seven league games despite going down to Kilkenny 18-22 in Pool Section B. Consecutive wins over Roscrea (25-7), Newbridge (24-22) and ultimately ’Knock (19-7) sees the green and whites nicely poised for lift-off at Castle Avenue next Wednesday.

Kilkenny College

MANAGEMENT: Pieter Swanepoel (Head Coach), Wesley Carter, Liam Caddy, Stephen Gray (S&C) and Roger Thomas (Physio).

LAST YEAR: Did not qualify.

SQUAD: Sean O’Sullivan, *Craig Chamney, *Scott Neale, Sam Treacy, Stephen Young, Joshau Akanji-Murphy, *Darragh O’Reilly, Brian Atkinson, Noah Pim, Jake Caldbeck, *Keagan Bradley, Dylan Watchorn, *John Rogers, Glen Culbert, Ross Jacob, *Chris Reynolds, *Harry Stacy, *Dan Thompson (Captain), *Luke Kerr, Geoff Power, Joshua Coyle, *Charlie Tector, Adam Strong, Ryan Strong, Success Edogun, Greg Edugon, *Andrew Ross, Jonathan Crossley, *Willie Seale, *Matthew Hodgins, Craig Cantwell and Finlay Grace.

Outside of eventual winners Gonzaga, the most impressive team I watched in the pre-Christmas Senior League was Kilkenny. Factor in the win over Gonzaga (22-18) and if I were a betting man, at that stage my money would have been on Kilkenny to go the whole way despite the same two teams finishing level on points at the completion of the pool.

As it turned out, Gonzaga got stronger and better as sudden death kicked in whereas Kilkenny lost their way (11-13) against eventual finalists Castleknock in the quarter-final. Kilkenny, along with St Gerard’s and Gonzaga, represent the three automatic qualifiers for this year’s Senior Cup not to have tasted outright success. What can be guaranteed is that it will be anything but a soft ride for heavily backed St Michael’s in the opening round.

Kilkenny will put it up to the Ailesbury Road school in Round 1 on Tuesday next. Given the coaching combination of Pieter Swanepoel (Head Coach to Roscrea in the breakthrough year of 2015) and Wesley Carter (ex-Leinster Schools S&C) assisted by Liam Caddy, this is one so-called mid-ranking school that will not want for organisation and self-belief on the day.

In 2012 they lifted their one and so far only Senior League title when beating Gonzaga in that year’s final. The Shane Delahunt-led side went on to reach the Senior Cup semi-final that year pushing eventual winners St Michael’s (led by one Dan Leavy) all the way (3-13) in a bruising penultimate tie.

It was the second time reaching that exalted stage, with Delahunt following in the footsteps of Ben Horan who had captained the red and blacks to the 2007 semi five years before. Again it was Michael’s who proved the stumbling block (22-0) over a Kilkenny side that included a certain Wesley Carter in the second row as well as Craig Ronaldson at out-half.

The class of 2019 will be led by Dan Thompson and includes 13 back from last year’s inexperienced group beaten by Wesley in the Vinnie Murray Cup quarter-final. I think it also highly relevant that both Thompson and Matthew Hodgins missed the League quarter-final defeat to ’Knock through injury.

The squad includes two sets of brothers in twins Adam and Ryan Strong and the speedy Edugons – Success and Greg. Success also spent last summer training at Bolton and has the offer to go again.

John Rogers is involved with the Laois football squad, with the Strong brothers lining out for Offaly while Charlie Tector is a member of the developing Davy Fitz hurling army at Wexford. All told it is a relatively small but immensely talented group that despite the complexity of the draw will see them push the 2012 winners all the way.

Newbridge College

MANAGEMENT: Niall Smullen (Head Coach), Henry Bryce, Jonathan Newsome (Manager), Niall Kane and Cathal Murtagh.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Belvedere (23-7) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: Zia Ahmed, Gavin Begley, Sebastian Berti, *Sam Cahill, *Daniel Caulfield, *Muiris Cleary, *Donal Conroy, Killian Corless, *David Cudmore, Gerard D’Arcy, *Jack Doyle, Luke Dunleavy, Shane Fata, Jamie Gaire, Connor Halpenny, *Oisin Halpin, Craig Hanly, *Jack Hannon, David Higgins, *Bill Kavanagh, *Marcus Kiely, *Cormac King, Cian Lawlor, Donough Lawlor, *Peter Leavy, Diarmuid Mangan, *Conor McGroary, *Geoff McNelis, *Mark Moynihan, Andreas Murphy, Josh Murphy, *Jordan Nolan, *Dan O’Connor, Patrick O’Flaherty, Fintan O’Malley, Sean O’Neill, Finn O’Reilly, *Zack O’Reilly, David O’Sullivan, *Luke Rigney (Captain), Rob Scully, *John Shanahan, *Tom Sheedy, *Cormac Stopes, Evan Swan, *Daire Timmins and Jake Zebedee.

It was early in 1966 when the Dominican College in Newbridge first hit my sporting radar. I was in transition from junior school to first year in St Mary’s when our Senior Cup team (which we all knew to be particularly strong that year) came up against Newbridge in the St Patrick’s Day decider.

We also learnt in the build-up that, like us, they too had a single outright success although theirs went back much further (1941) than ours just five years before (1961). The excitement in the build-up to that game was palpable. We knew they had knocked the ’Rock in the semi-final and any team that does that in any year has the right to dream the dream.

My abiding memory, quite apart from the cup coming to Rathmines for only the second time, was of the white Newbridge jerseys with the black shoulders. They were so cool, so different. And of course that chant ‘over the ridge, Newbridge’. I’m not exactly sure when it was first adapted, but it rings loud to this day.

Gracer (Tom Grace) was the star turn and went on to represent UCD, St Mary’s, Leinster, Ireland and the Lions in a hugely distinguished career. I’ve never asked him but I bet losing that ’66 final ranks with the biggest disappointments of few in that outstanding career.

Jack Deegan was skipper of that history-making side of ’41 that included Leinster underage representatives in lock Sean McAuliffe, scrum-half Hugh Barker, Naas flanker Billy Brophy as well as the captain himself. For all of them, winning that cup was undoubtedly the highlight of their respective careers.

And then came ’70, when Quinny’s side (that is the irrepressible Mick Quinn, of course) caused the biggest shock in the history of this great competition when comprehensively beating red-hot favourites Blackrock (19-5) in the final of that year.

They were Newbridge heroes one and all, but Celsus Toye, Stevie Tunney, Foster Kerrison, Paul Bowe (Tommy’s dad), John Kerin, Jim O’Meara and Quinnyn were just some of the key players on that history-making side.

So to Luke Rigney and the class of 2019. The powerful skipper is the son of Des, another of that great Rigney sporting dynasty which includes uncle Brian the former Leinster and Ireland lock. Indeed I recall Buccaneers winning a Connacht Senior Cup in the late ’90s with the brothers Rigney making up half the pack. And that didn’t include former Laois hurling great Niall.

Rigney has already been at the forefront of the charge through the League, with this talented squad topping the section by eight points from second-place Pres. Five straight wins from five was followed by an impressive quarter-final win over defending champions St Gerard’s (17-5) before losing out to a last-minute penalty in a semi-final humdinger against eventual winners Gonzaga (22-24), a tie that could so easily have gone either way.

Incidentally, revenge was sweet when Newbridge took the Junior League crown by beating Gonzaga (26-24) in a pulsating under-16 finale. Niall Smullen is again Head Coach and has a particularly talented group with which to work, including Leinster under-18 representative Donough Lawlor.

The draw sees St Gerard’s again the knockout opposition in the opening round scheduled for Templeville Road on Wednesday next.

Presentation Brothers College Bray

MANAGEMENT: Maurice Logue (Head Coach), Joe Duffy, Olan Savage (S&C), Stewart Gilbert (S&C), Eoghan Gantly (Manager) and Seamie Kyne (Physio).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Newbridge (36-0) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Darren Magee, *David Maloney, Michael McCarthy, Daniel Gavin, Cian Butler-Shortt, Eoin Murray, *Ronan Dobra, Sam Kearney, Jack Treacy, Jamie Mulhearn, Charlie O’Donoghue, *Ryan McDonald, Chris Lawless, *Callum McNulty, *Sam Graham, Jack Hogan, *Ben Murphy, Killian Bourke, Stephen Corry, *Mick O’Gara (Captain), *Peter Ford, Robert Houlden, *Jordan Mortell, *Sam O’Dowd, Andrew Crocker, Cathal Eddy, *Sean Fleming, *Jack Gallagher, *Josh Pyper and Indi St Clair-Kenny.

With 14 players back from last year’s extended match-day squad, I know Mick O’Gara and the rest of this talented SCT group (the best to come through the school in several years) will be the first to hold up their hands and admit they got it badly wrong and failed to do themselves justice in that opening encounter with Newbridge 12 months ago. This year the challenge is even harder again, but we’ll come to that anon.

There’s no doubt that Pres have struggled to maintain the standards set in the past. Bear in mind it wasn’t too long ago that under the tutelage of Simon Doyle (ex-Pres and Greystones, son of the legendary Jim Doyle and brother to former Leinster and Ireland scrum-half Tony as well as Pres and ’Stones No8, Mark) and Brother (Jimmy) Canice that Pres were in the JCT shake-up most every year. There were four finals, including three wins between ’81 and ’90 with the last three titles of five coming in ’85, ’88 and ’90.

One more final followed in 2004 when, with Richie Murphy as coach, Pres lost out to ’Rock (21-5) in the final of that year. The Ireland kicking coach and hugely valued tactical advisor to Joe Schmidt was also skipper and inspiration behind the last Pres cup success at either level in 1990.

And in that same cup-winning campaign he became the only captain to lead the Putland Road school to success in a cup match over Blackrock. His own superb try paved the way for victory that day. All of which has a parallel relevance, given ’Rock are their formidable opponents in the opening round.

That tie is down for decision on Monday at Energia Park. The potential correlation with ’90 doesn’t finish there, as driving the good ship Pres is a certain Ben Murphy. One position closer to the action than his dad all those years ago, but the current Leinster and Irish Schools scrum is a chip off the old rugby block in every way.

He is but one of four key representative players in an experienced squad back from that disappointing day in Donnybrook against Newbridge. Irrespective of the quality of the opposition this time round, the theme in the build-up will centre on unfinished business.

In addition to the influential Murphy the other representative players include skipper and centre O’Gara (Leinster 19s), wing three-quarter Josh Pyper who along with Murphy is currently involved in the Ireland under-18s school squad, while full-back Sam O’Dowd (Leinster 18s) completes the representative quartet.

O’Dowd is also a talented hurler, lining out with Wicklow champions Glenealy. Hooker David Maloney captains the Garden County minor hurling team and was Wicklow Minor Hurler of the Year in 2018. Second row Sam Kearney starred for the Wicklow minor football team at full-back in last year’s run to the semi-final, which included an historic win over the Dubs along the way. Wing Jack Gallagher is another talented dual sportsman also lining out for Wexford Youths FC.

One other link with great times past comes through Jordan Mortell, grandson of former Ireland great and consummate gentleman Maurice Mortell Snr. Both Maurice Jnr and Mark wore the white jersey with pride in the footsteps of their famous dad.

Needless to say, ’Rock will again be red-hot favourites but with the experience of 2018 still cutting deep, this is a Pres squad on a mission. A second-place finish in the league before losing out to Castleknock in the semi highlights the potential. They will need to play out of their skin, but the talent is there and I suspect they will.

St Gerard’s School Bray

MANAGEMENT: Jason Emery (Head Coach), Phil de Bara, Rory O’Connor (Manager), Sami Dowling (S&C), Sally-Ann Hudson (Physio) and Roisin Byrne (Physio).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (19-17) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: Aaron Baker, Harry Begley, Richard Bisgood, Jake Brodeur, Paddy Burke, *Charlie Byrne, *Robert Byrne, *Thomas Cahill-Hannigan, *David Carroll, *Luke Concannon, Michael Connelly, *Jack Dempsey, Conor Diamond, *Niall Dooley, Brendan Farrell, *Marc Finn, Jack Finnegan, Brian Glass, Tommi Happonen, Fredi Happonen, *Oliver Haydock, Oscar Hayes Reston, Stuart Jackson, Jack Kennedy, Johnny Kennedy, James Kennedy, Craig Kenny, Josh Kidd, Aidan Long, Max Merren, Stephen Morris, Jeremy O’Donovan, Luke O’Reilly, Conor Pickering, *Oliver Soper, *Ben Watson (Captain), Josh Watson and *Rory Wilson.

The 2005 season represented a pivotal year in St Gerard’s rugby history. A giant psychological step was taken when beating Terenure in the quarter-final to make it through to Lansdowne and the semi for the first time. Unfortunately a Blackrock side boasting Niall Morris, Luke Fitzgerald, Vasya Artemiev, Ian Madigan, David Moore and led by powerful No 8 Darren O’Reilly proved a hurdle too high.

That ’Rock team, although eventually beaten by Ian Keatley, Eoin O’Malley, Cian Healy, Cathal Pendred and an equally strong Belvedere unit captained by Robert Carson, was coached by Tom Geraghty, who later that year was to become Headmaster of the school against whom he had plotted so meticulously to overthrow on its greatest rugby day to that point.

Now some 13 years on and the Gerard’s principal has ensured that the seeds sown that March day have been nurtured ever since. I think it would be fair to describe the period that followed between 2009 and 2011 as the most fruitful and even more productive again. They may have been but toddlers in first year in ’05, but the impact on the likes of Josh Glynn, Ryan O’Loughlin, Dylan Simmonds, Jett Desmond, Steve and Jodie Crosbie, not to mention a certain Jack Conan, was immense.

The ’05 squad had also paved the way when reaching the League Final ( beaten by Gonzaga) for the first time. Between ’09 and ’11, with Jordan Egan, Josh Glynn and Stevie Crosbie the successive captains, three titles in a row made their way up Thornhill Road.

In every respect it was a bountiful period and yet the class of 2018 led by Ethan Baxter almost bettered that again when lifting the league (reversing that ’05 result against Gonzaga in the final) before beating eventual winners Blackrock everywhere but on the scoreboard in the cup quarter-final. A James Tarrant drop goal in the dying minutes turned a 17-16 deficit into a 19-17 victory. ’Rock were untouchable in the two rounds after that but it could all have been so very different.

Baxter along with Max O’Reilly, Cormac Foley, Ben Watson and Charlie Byrne represented Leinster, with the versatile Foley very much the star turn in both League and Cup campaigns. Watson is back again in midfield (one of 12) and captain of this year’s talented squad along with back-rower Byrne also Headboy and a class act both on and off the field. Rory Wilson is another big performer and he too is involved with the province and specifically the under-19s. Byrne, Wilson and Thomas Cahill-Hannigan make for a particularly strong back row, while Ollie Haydock if fit is coolness personified when kicking off the tee. Other standout performers include hooker Robert Byrne and versatile back-three player Jack Kennedy, with the latter probably the most improved individual over the course of the season to date.

Enough to beat Newbridge? Only time will tell and we’ll know that answer shortly. Haydock shipped a bad injury in the League quarter-final down in Newbridge (and is still a doubt) which was deservedly taken by the home team 17-5. The Cup is a different dynamic entirely, with two-time winners the fully justified pre-match favourites. However, I know they won’t be counting too many chickens just yet down Kildare way.

St Mary’s College

MANAGEMENT: Jamie Cornett, Johne Murphy, Darren Duffy, David Dunne, Derek Dowling, John Wynne and Steve Hennessy (DOR).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Blackrock (42-15) in semi-final.

SQUAD: *Elliot Massey, *Craig Walshe, Adam Mulvihill, Fionn O’Sullivan, *Ian Wickham, *Joe Nolan, JohnLuc Carvill, *Niall Hurley, *Eoin Franklin, *Adam McEvoy, *Adam Martin, *Max Whelan, *Michael McEvoy, *James Dooley, *Eoin Carey, Daragh Nulty, Matthew Black, Michael Connell, Daniel Leane, Harry Matthews, Will Sparrow, Andrew McEvoy, Adam Sloan, Senan Devereux, James Tynan, Eaun Feeney, Louis Moore, Max Svejdar, Barra O’Loughlin, Robert Nolan, Jack McSharry, *Josh Coolican, Garret O’Moore, Joseph Walsh and David Martinez-Dunn.

The Sixties still represents the golden period of St Mary’s College rugby with Senior Cup wins in 1961, 1966 and 1969 (also beaten finalists in ’67). As a child of the Sixties, I was at the school to experience all but one of those finals so I think you can put two and two together and confidently deduct the impact those successes had on this wanabee back then.

The Hickie brothers – Denis and Tony (Denis Jnr’s dad) – Peter Boylan (he of gynaecological fame), Dermot ‘Seagull’ Byrne, Henry Russell Murphy (son of Henry Russell Snr and dad of minister Eoghan), John Moloney, Robin Bailey, Seamus Deering, Paul Andreucetti, Liam Grissing, Johnny Caffrey, Derek Jennings and Eddie Wigglesworth were just a smattering of the quality in the school at that time.

It was impossible not to be influenced by these guys and their achievements. Future Ireland internationals Moloney and Deering were my own special heroes, so you can just imagine the thrill of eventually lining out alongside my teenage idols and at the highest level. Indeed both Mary’s greats captained Ireland teams in which I played in my time.

Were they always destined for the top? Yes, is the simple and obvious answer given they were so good at underage. The conveyor belt didn’t finish there but it did slow down, with just two more Senior titles in 1994 with Denis Hickie Jnr the captain and again in 2002 led by Michael Ryan and including Jonathan Sexton in the ranks.

There have been many near misses along the way, with runners-up medals in 1943, ’46, ’67, ’74, ’77, ’03, and ’08. Twelve finals, five wins and so many internationals and Lions is an impressive return from what still remains one of the smaller all-boys schools in the province.

There is naturally concern that it is now 16 years since the last outright success and a decade since that last final when Richie Bent’s side lost by the narrowest of margins (11-10) to Thomas Sexton and Belvo at the RDS.

To that end, 2018 was an important year. There was no silverware but Mary’s were Senior semi-finalists and Junior runners-up – beaten by ’Rock in both competitions – which represented a big step in the right direction. Now 12 months on, Jamie Cornett and Johne Murphy are again in charge of a Rathmines squad that includes 13 back from last year’s beaten semi-finalists. Niall Hurley is again in the middle of the back-row but as captain this time around. The talented all-rounder has also lined out with the Meath under-17 football team.

Other starters in last year’s semi include wing Eoin Carey, younger brother of Myles now making his way at Templeville Road and centre on the seniors two years ago. Lock Ian Wickham will be playing in his third campaign with the senior squad with talented scrum-half Adam McEvoy (son of former school and club player Arthur).

John Luc Carvill is a son of referee John, with Adam Sloan (outstanding in last year’s JCT run to the final) son of Junior School gamesmaster as well as former school and club full-back Ray. Sloan the elder has been central to rejuvenating cricket in the school (Fr Barry would be proud) and to that end Fionn O’Sullivan has represented the Southern Schools team while Sloan Jnr, Wickham and Barra O’Loughlin played in last year’s senior cricket final.

All told it is a young squad with many of last year’s outstanding Juniors making the transition to Senior now. Sloan, O’Loughlin, Senan Devereux, Robert Nolan, Eaun Feeney, Adam Mulvihill, Daniel Leane, Matthew Black and Sean Kennedy have all been involved with the Leinster Summer Programme for under-17s.

The draw has been less than kind at both Senior and Junior, pairing great rivals Mary’s and Terenure against each other. Not the tie of choice for either school but one certain to set the pulse racing when these two great rugby nurseries get it all under way at Energia Park tomorrow afternoon.

St Michael’s College

MANAGEMENT: Emmet MacMahon (Head Coach), Andy Skehan, Sam Griffin, Oisin O’Meara, James Ruxton, Fionn Daly (Physio), Sean Farrell (Physio) and Dr John Ryan.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Belvedere (20-19) in semi-final.

SQUAD: Cameron Baird, *Lee Barron, Michel Barron, Joey Boland, Conor Booth, *Jack Boyle, *Niall Carroll, *Chris Cosgrave, Brian Cuddy, Luke Dunne, Danny Fehily, Luke Fehily, *Finn Finlay, *Jonathan Fish, Nathan Gallagher, *Rob Gilsenan, Tim Gilsenan, Robbie Griffin, Jack Guinane, Zach Harrison, *Mark Hernan (Captain), *Will Hickey, Caelan Kelleher, *Eddie Kelly, Hugh McGovern, *Mark O’Brien, Timmy O’Connor, Oran O’Donnell, Simon O’Kelly, Callum O’Reilly, Senan O’Shea, Conor O’Tiernagh, James Power, Ben Quigley, Dylan Rogan, Luke Russell, Dylan Ryan, Paddy Sherwin, *Andy Smith, Cian Taheny, Rohan Van Den Akker, Ben Victory, Hugo Wade, Jeffrey Woods and Stephen Woods.

There was a time when St Michael’s role was purely that of preparatory provider to sister college Blackrock. Much like official Junior School Willow Park, St Michael’s ensured the best of emerging talent was ready to join with Willow at Williamstown. Those days of talent identification in the Blackrock cause are long a thing of the past. What we have instead, with due respect to St Mary’s and Rockwell, is the biggest rivalry between Spiritan schools.

In any given year now it is difficult to look beyond ’Rock and/or Michael’s as outright favourites for the ultimate prize at underage level. This year it is no different. While much will depend on the rolling draw, both schools appear well ahead of the rest for 2019.

’Rock took the November friendly played in St Michael’s 30-27 but back in September in the Methodist College 150th Anniversary Tournament held in Belfast for the Eric Lindsay Memorial Cup, it was Michael’s who emerged at the top of the pile, beating ’Rock in the final from a high-class field that included Crescent, Rockwell, CBC Cork, Glenstal, Belvedere, Clongowes, ’Rock and Michael’s in addition to Methody and all the top Ulster schools.

The contribution of Michael’s to provincial and Irish rugby at the highest level in recent years has been quite exceptional. However, the trophy return does not reflect the work being done on the ground or more pertinently the quality and quantity of players consistently emerging, most particularly in recent years.

Last year’s semi-final defeat to Belvo at the death (19-20) having led by 16 points (19-3) going into the final quarter really hurt. Great credit to the then reigning champions for the dramatic comeback, but it shouldn’t have happened.

No one knows that better than Emmet McMahon, Andy Skehan and the rest of the returning coaching staff. Maybe I’ll qualify that. The players – of which there are 12 back from last year’s extended semi-final squad – will have felt the disappointment that day even more. Senior finals don’t come easy and that lesson has certainly been absorbed by Mark Hernan and the class of 2018/19.

Flanker Hernan (son of former Roscrea and St Mary’s RFC flyer Ray) was an outstanding captain of the Michael’s Juniors in 2016 who were beaten by ’Rock (8-3) in the under-16 final of that year. He leads another multi-talented Michael’s squad littered with representative players.

Prop Jack Boyle, hooker Lee Barron, lock Jonathan Fish, flanker Jack Guinane, No 8 Will Hickey, scrum-half Rob Gilsenan (the latest in that great family line), out-half Niall Carroll, centres Simon O’Kelly and Chris Cosgrave (mark that name) as well as back-three players Zach Harrison and Eddie Kelly (brother of Leinster Academy player Jack) have all represented Leinster at under-18 this season while prop Finlay Finn, full-back/wing Mark O’Brien and wing/centre Andy Smith have represented Leinster at under-18 and under-19.

Fish, Cosgrave, O’Brien and Smith have also been involved with the Ireland under 18 schools with the latter two also called up for 7’s duty. Put simply there is another cohort of emerging ‘Michael’s talent heading Leinster Rugby’s way.

But before that is the collective driving need to modify the Roll of Honour somewhat. The two titles won to date are nowhere near reflective of the talent and potential produced year on year by this great rugby-playing school. That defeat to ’Rock and an early season draw with Clongowes (11-11) apart, it’s been a case of winning all the way. However, the lesson from last year still rankles. Kilkenny will come with all guns blazing but if the mindset is right, this Michael’s outfit has what it takes to go the whole way.

Terenure College

MANAGEMENT: Dan Parkinson (Head Coach), John English, Philip Smith, Patrick Thornton, Conor Pender, Peter Shaw, Ri Elers, Risteard Byrne and Dr Bill Twomey.

LAST YEAR: Lost to St Michael’s (25-13) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Aaron Deegan, Adam Byrne, *Adam Dunne, Alex Dempsey, Alex Smith, Andi Ciobanu, Barra Dignam, Ben Redmond, Charlie Harpur, Ciaran Owens, Conal Cunningham, Conor Hayes, Conor McIlwaine, *Dan Byrne, Dean Saunders, Ethan Holohan, Fionnan Church, *George Morgan (Captain), Harry Colclough, *Henry Roberts, *Jack Cooke, *Jack Townsend, Jack Whelan, *Josh Keegan, Kenneth Harmon, Kyle Keegan, *Levi Vaughan, Liam Nolan, Luke McNamara, Matthew McGettrick, Oisin Lydon, Patasakorn Kidd, Peter Larkin, *Ross McInnes, *Sam McCoy, *Sean Daly, TJ Durran, Tom Cadell, Tom Ruane, Tom Farrelly and Yegor Spellman.

Is it possible to have mixed feelings about a cup draw? You either like it or you don’t. Well, not if you are a player, coach, pupil or supporter of Ternure or St Mary’s. A cracking atmosphere is guaranteed to launch this great competition tomorrow, but for those centrally involved it is a mix of excitement and apprehension.

When you are brought up on the ’Nure-Mary’s rivalry you learn early that you are part of something special.

Both coaching teams will relish the challenge but equally it is a knockout tie in the opening round they could well do without. The need to hit the ground running is obvious; beyond that, the demands of the occasion will do the rest.

For Terenure, like St Mary’s, it’s been a while now since that last SCT title of the ten to date. It was 2003 when Gary Byrne kicked the only penalty for a 3-0 win over cup holders and near neighbours St Mary’s. Alex Dunlop was acting captain for the injured David Cazabon that day while Paul Nash led a Mary’s team including Johnny Sexton at out-half as well as current Irish team video analyst Vinny Hammond in the match-day squad.

Like Mary’s in ’08, Terenure have been to one final since in 2009 when the Padraig Forde/Des Thornton-coached side led by Robert Duke lost out (18-9) to Jordi Murphy and a Blackrock team that included other future professional players in Denis Buckley, Dylan Fawsitt, Brendan Macken and Andrew Conway.

 The coincidence is striking: last wins for each back to back in ’02 and ’03, with last appearances on the big day also back to back at the RDS in ’08 and ’09. Perhaps I’m revealing a little bias here, but the game in the province needs both of these great rugby-playing schools competing at the top on a regular basis.

The responsibility for charting a course to the RDS on St Patrick’s Day 2019 falls to new Head Coach Dan Parkinson along with skipper George Morgan (son of 1984 cup winner Ian). Morgan is one of 12 players back from last year’s squad beaten by Michael’s in a highly competitive opening match.

Vice captain Jack Cooke (Leinster under-19) is one of four representative players along with Aaron Deegan (also under-19), Matthew McGettrick (Leinster under-18), and Levi Vaughan (under-18). The versatile Vaughan, who can shift between hooker and prop, is also involved with the Ireland under-18 squad.

Sean Daly is son of former Terenure ‘S’ player Ian, while a soccer link comes courtesy of Jack Townsend, nephew of former Republic of Ireland midfielder and captain Andy.

We don’t want to impose the dreaded hex, but early season form has been good with highly satisfying results and performances against a number of the high-ranked schools. Knockout in the white heat of Donnybrook is a different animal entirely, particularly when the opposition is wearing the blue shirt and white star.

They drew (7-7) earlier in the season but whichever side emerges tomorrow will grow enormously in confidence. If that is to be Terenure, then along with Clongowes I would deem them the main threat to the big two.

Wesley College

MANAGEMENT: Patrick Collins (Head Coach), Iain Wallace, Adam Curry, Andrew Egan, Carl Hosford and Nicholas Johnston (Manager).

LAST YEAR: Vinnie Murray Cup winners in 2018 beaten by Roscrea (22-19) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Sam Illo, Daniel Molina, Jack Fish, Daniel Gilmer, Idanesi Momoh, *Peter Costello, *Jamie Kavanagh (Captain), Hugh Grant, *Jack Brownell, Alfred Oropo, Kyle Wallace, Andrew Clarke, Morgan Collins, *Daniel Dooley, Oisin Spain, Stephan Van Breda, *Ross Chandler, Daniel Fives, Adam Walker, *Jack Atkinson, Jack Glennon, *Jamie Vard, Max Collins, Sean Verdon, Tim Elliot, *Leon Sutton, *Henry O’Hagan, *Luke Fitzpatrick, Adam Galbraith, *Adam Campion, *James Metchette, Zach McMullan, Karl Jones and *Scott Doyle.

Having missed out on automatic qualification through the League in 2018, Wesley went on to do the next best thing when beating King’s Hospital (35-27) in a thrilling Vinnie Murray Cup Final. For good measure they then added the Fr Godfrey (under-16) cup, beating Kilkenny (33-10).

No one, least of all Head Coach Patrick Collins and his management team, will be losing the run of themselves. That double achievement will be kept in perspective, but as a springboard to 2018/19 it was just what the doctor ordered. The enthusiasm and confidence generated has already been reflected through a solid League campaign culminating in automatic cup qualification this time round.

Who dares to speak of ’98? For Wesley, then based in the city centre, 1898 was the magical year. That was the year the cup came to Leeson Street for the only time, when future Ireland international George Hamlet had the honour of lifting the trophy.

Over 120 years on and it’s Jamie Kavanagh leading the charge for the now Balinteer-based school. In the early years of the Senior competition (Blackrock won the first in 1887) Wesley were consistently there or thereabouts, reaching the final on seven occasions between 1891 and 1935, finishing runners up 1891, ’95 and ’96 (all to ’Rock) and again after the turn of the century in 1914, ’31 and ’35 (the last two final defeats also to the Williamstown school).

Wesley has produced some outstanding representative players down the years, with Josh van der Flier the most recent full Ireland international to represent the school. Along with the 48-times capped British and Irish Lion Eric Miller, there are not too many schools can boast successive back-row forwards of that quality. Only injury to Miller deprived the ’93 Ray McIlreavy-led side (Junior Cup finalists in 1990 beaten 9-6 by Richie Murphy and Pres Bray) from reaching a first Senior final since Buddy Polden’s side in 1935.

There has been one significant success in the interim, courtesy of the Senior League pennant making its way to Ballinteer in 2000. And there have been encouraging signs through the pre-Christmas League too. Wins over CBC and St Gerard’s resulted in a third-place finish followed by a strong showing despite going down (20-15) to Pres in the quarter-final.

It’s a tough opening draw (against Clongowes) on Wednesday. Kavanagh is one of 14 players back from last year’s extended Vinnie Murray Cup-winning squad. The talented hooker has also represented Leinster at under-18, as has fellow front-rower Sam Illo. Prop Illo is also a member of the Ireland Schools Training squad.

In addition, Jack Atkinson and Luke Fitzpatrick both represented Leinster under-18s against Canada while Oisin Spain and Daniel Gilmer lined out for the province’s under-17s against Munster and the USA. The Adams – Galbraith and Walker – have represented Leinster and Ireland at under-18 hockey while Henry O’Hagan is the son of Breffni ‘Bubbles’ O’Hagan, the former Pres and Greystones player and coach.

If Clongowes are to justify that dark horse tag, they will need to be at their best because you can take it as read that Wesley will deliver a performance worthy of the occasion.

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