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Leinster Schools Senior Cup Squads

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Big carry: John MccKeon of Cistercian College Roscrea is tackled by Jed Jones, left, and Conor Kelly of Belvedere College during the Leinster Schools Senior Cup round one match at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Big carry: John MccKeon of Cistercian College Roscrea is tackled by Jed Jones, left, and Conor Kelly of Belvedere College during the Leinster Schools Senior Cup round one match at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

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JohnLuc Carvill of St Mary's College during the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup Round 1 match between St Mary's College and Terenure College at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

JohnLuc Carvill of St Mary's College during the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup Round 1 match between St Mary's College and Terenure College at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

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Ronan Shaw of Gonzaga

Ronan Shaw of Gonzaga

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Max Collins of Wesley College

Max Collins of Wesley College

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Liam Forster CBS Monkstown

Liam Forster CBS Monkstown

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Big carry: John MccKeon of Cistercian College Roscrea is tackled by Jed Jones, left, and Conor Kelly of Belvedere College during the Leinster Schools Senior Cup round one match at Energia Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Belvedere College

MANAGEMENT: Massey Tuhakaraina (Head Coach), Kenneth Knaggs, Aaron Dundon, Stuart Wheeler, David Hawkshaw, Conor Wynne-Walsh (S&C).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael's (16-15) in semi-final.

SQUAD: *Brian Bolger, Conor Bateman, Ben Bolger, Delaney Bowes, Paddy Bracken, Michael Carmody, Eric Carroll, Darragh Coan, Cameron Daly, James Dillon, David Dowse, Will Finnegan, *Hugh Flood, *Ben Foy, Josh Gavin, Michael Keegan, Cormac Grace, *Daniel Hawkshaw, *Zander Hayden, *Senan Hayes, Ollie Jones, *Conor Kelly, Ryan Keogh, David Lambe, Brian Leonard, Sean Leonard, Sean Lucas, *Eoin MacAdaimh, *Jack MacNeice, *Josh Maher, Cal Marrey, Ben McCabe, Finn McCarrick, Donnchadh McCarthy, Joe McGrath, *Hugo McPeake, Shane Meagher, Michael Moore, *Eoghan Murphy, *Simon Murphy, Harry Nolan, Donnacha O'Longaigh, Conor O'Driscoll, Daniel O'Driscoll, *Patrick O'Farrell, *Peter O'Farrell, *Dylan O'Grady, *Michael O'Hora, *Patrick Pentony, *Mikey Rock, *Jonathan Ross, Cian Russell, *Eoghan Rutledge, Harry Ryan, *Jonathan Sargent, Jed Tormey, Luke Tunney, Brian Walsh.

Back in 2005, newly-arrived principal Gerry Foley had barely settled in behind his desk when lo and behold his new charges delivered the most amazing year in the long and proud history of Belvedere rugby.

Fr Leonard Moloney had tirelessly paved the way, but no sooner had the former St Gerard's headmaster taken to his new role than the Great Denmark Street school was celebrating not one but both premier Leinster underage trophies. And, for the first time ever, both in the same year, just days apart.

The Belvo bar had been raised to new and unprecedented heights. Five finals and two more titles have followed since. It's worth bearing in mind that, prior to 2005, it was back in the halcyon days of Ollie Campbell, John Brennan and Ray Finn when the much-coveted senior trophy had last made its way across the Liffey. That was 1972, with Brennan as captain, following Dave Fegan's lead as successful skipper the year before.

As history now records, it was to be a full 33 years before that senior success was repeated. Well the sleeping giant has well and truly awoken, with Belvo back at the very top table alongside Blackrock, St Michael's and any other you care to name.

Enough to challenge the big two this time around? I'm not so sure, but certainly Massey Tuhakaraina in his second year as head coach oversees another highly-talented group of Under-19 players.

Former Belvedere SCT skipper and Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam-winning captain David Hawkshaw is again alongside Tuhakaraina, while former Leinster hooker and ex-Ulster scrummaging coach Aaron Dundon has joined to add another dimension to the coaching team.

All told, there are 22 back from last year's extended squad, of whom seven - Hugh Flood, Eoghan Rutledge, Simon Murphy, Conor Kelly, Jonathan Sargent, Daniel Hawkshaw (younger brother of David and a member of the talented family that includes Olympic-bound hockey star Sarah) and Dylan O'Grady - played in the narrow semi-final defeat to eventual winners St Michael's.

Flood, Rutledge, Hawkshaw, Sargent and O'Grady have all represented Leinster Schools at Under-18 level with Flood and Hawkshaw also called up to the Ireland Under-18 camp in 2019.

Michael Carmody, Cameron Daly, Cian Russell and Jed Tormey have all savoured Under-17 Leinster representation in the school year to date.

The draw sees St Mary's as the opposition in Energia Park on Tuesday. The winner of that tie could inflict more serious damage beyond that again. But whatever else, D1 is wide awake.

Blackrock College

MANAGEMENT: Justin Vanstone (Head Coach), Steve Lambe, Ben Manion, Shane Murray, Daniel Moore, Seamus Toomey, James Burke, Liam Turner, Evan O'Brien.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael's (16-10) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Scott Barron, Ben Brownlee, Jack Byrne, John Francis Campbell, Hugh Cooney, Ruairi Coyne, James Culhane, Harry Cullen, *Matthew Cullen, Inigo Cruise-O'Brien, Jack Deegan, Sean Dempsey, Adam Dixon, Conor Duddy, James Fahy, Mark Foster, *Tom Gavigan, Sean Gilmore, Naoise Golden, Jack Grant, Tom Henderson, Liam Heylin, Jeff Kenny, Ethan Laing, Michael Lowey, Louie Maguire, Stephen Maher, Fionn McArdle, Gus McCarthy, Patrick McCarthy, Paddy McGowan, *Rory McGuire, Michael Moloney, Ruben Moloney, David Molony, Liam Molony, *Mark Morrissey (Captain), Shane Murray, Cian O'Brien, Oscar O'Brien, Charlie O'Carroll, Patrick O'Connor, *Hugo O'Malley, Jude O'Reilly, Thomas Quinn, Zach Quirke, *Aaron Rowan, Adam Simpson, Alex Simpson, *Sam Small, David Walsh, Matthew Wood and Jamie Yarr.

Such is the rivalry between Holy Ghost (Spiritan) giants Blackrock and St Michael's that any year in which the near neighbor does better is one best forgotten.

So while describing 2019 as an annus horibilis would probably be stretching it, losing out to Michael's in both competitions - with the Ailesbury Road school then going on to secure both trophies for only their second double ever - made it particularly difficult for the previous year's double winner to swallow.

Rest assured, there would have been little sympathy elsewhere in the province. Blackrock College continues to set the standards, but the once-little-brother school down the road has become formidable opposition in its own right.

For all the Williamstown success - 69 Senior Cups, 51 Junior Cups embracing 27 doubles - Blackrock maintains standards of discipline and on-field behaviour that cannot but be admired to the point of envy for all others.

It is also worth recording that for all the success in terms of silverware, and yes we accept there will always be a player fall-off post-school, the contribution of these two great educational institutions to Leinster and Irish rugby has taken the game in this country to new levels of competitiveness and success. And I defy anyone to argue otherwise.

Yet again this year, both schools lead the way with a whole host of underage players set to make their mark in the Academies and professional game going forward.

In 2017 it took a replay to separate the sides in the Junior Cup final (31-17 after 7-7). No fewer than 21 of that matchday 23 are back on duty for Blackrock at Under-19 again now. Blackrock took the pre-Christmas 'friendly' but there was just a kick of a ball between the sides.

Justin Vanstone is again the hugely-influential head coach to a multi-talented squad that includes eight back from last year's beaten quarterfinalists.

It includes Leinster Under-18 players in front rowers Scott Baron and Rory McGuire, lock Mark Morrissey who captained the provincial side in the Summer with David Walsh at No 8, Michael Moloney at scrum-half and Tom Henderson on the right wing.

Hugo O'Malley, who also returns from last year, played loose head for Leinster Under-19s in the summer programme and scrum-half Matthew Cullen was also involved.

For all the success in the early days, taking nine of the first 11 senior titles between 1887 and 1897, that winning appetite is as insatiable this century as it was back then.

Since the turn of the millennium there have been nine more finals, including six wins, the last in 2018 under Liam Turner when depriving Hawkshaw and Belvedere (35-12) of a first ever three-in-a-row.

Both supremely-talented centres and opposing captains at the RDS that day have moved on to backbone Noel McNamara's Grand Slam-winning Under-20 side of 2019. Turner, like Hawkshaw across town, has been added to the Blackrock coaching ticket for 2020.

The draw has not been kind, with last year's beaten finalists Gonzaga, the reigning league champions, first up on Sunday January 26.


Castleknock College

MANAGEMENT: Adrian Flavin (DOR), Jeremy Staunton (Head Coach), Peter O'Donnell, Darran Sheils, Cathal Bannon, Jack Hurley, Rio Fallon (Physio), John Stack (S&C), Brian Flaherty (S&C) and Mick Aughey.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Gonzaga (26-24) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Adam Malone, *Alec Birnie, *Alex Creedon, Alex McCormack, Alex Watson, Ben Bislin, *Ben Griffin, Ben Jacobs, Ben McGloin, *Ciaran McCarrick, Conor Delaney, *Conor Duggan, *Conor Dunne, Conor Mahon, Daniel Niland, Davinn Quinn, Donnagh McCarrick, Eoin Leen, *Ethan Keogh, *Fergus Stanley, *Fionn Gibbons, Gearoid Quinn, Greg Spillane, *Ian Bermingham, Ian O'Donoghue, Jack Collins, Jack Fennessy, Jake Rooney, James Duffy, John Ozoani, *Louis McDonough (Captain), *Luke Callinan, Mark Healy, Matt Keohane, Matthew Maguire, *Michael Byrne, Oran Kirby, *Stephen Callinan and Will Hennessy.

We don't want to overplay the 'sleeping giant' card but everything that Belvedere represented through history and tradition prior to 1972, so too did Castleknock. It started with their first cup win (with Michael Thornhill as captain) in 1913 to that last sortie up the victory steps (by Ralph Ince) in 1965.

In 1920 'Knock became only the second school (after Blackrock) to do the much-coveted Junior and Senior double. Indeed, up to and including '65, the Chapelizod school was far and away the greatest rival to the south Dublin school with eight outright successes and another 13 senior final appearances to that point. At JCT level too Castleknock ran parallel with Belvo' - second only to Blackrock.

Since that 12-8 cup success over Blackrock some 55 years ago they have made it through to the St Patrick's day showdown just twice losing to CBC in 1976 and then to De La Salle Churchtown in 1983. Leinster rugby needs a strong west Dublin presence and traditionally that underage resilience had come from 'Knock.

The arrival of ex-pros Adrian Flavin (Director of Rugby) and Jeremy Staunton (Head Coach), in both teaching and coaching capacities, made for a timely boost. Certainly under the Flavin/Staunton influence signs of light are beginning to appear at the end of this seemingly never ending dark tunnel.

With Ireland Under-18 cricket international Louis McDonagh as captain, former Galbally, Munster and Leicester stalwart Staunton selects from a squad that includes 15 players back from last year.

It includes Leinster representatives in John Ozoani at Under-17, Centre Fionn Gibbons at Under-18 (with Leinster as well as the Ireland schools and clubs) while at Under-19 Ben Griffin is a member of the current Ireland squad.

To that add Dublin minor football stars in Alex Watson and Jake Rooney. All combined it has made for an encouraging league run embracing automatic cup qualification and with it a place in the knockout stages of the league.

Success in the quarter-final over CBC (44-12) was followed by the disappointment of defeat to Cistercian College Roscrea (22-14) at the penultimate stage pre-Christmas.

But now opportunity knocks for revenge with the same two schools paired to meet at Energia Park in the opening round on Monday next (January 27).

There will be no sleeping giant re-awoken in 2020 but seeds of consequence are being as the Flavin/Staunton impact continues to gather momentum.

Christian Brothers College, Monkstown

MANAGEMENT: Ian Dumbleton (Head Coach), Ronan O'Donovan, Aindriu Conroy Lennon, Thomas O'Callaghan and Amy Dunne (Manager).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Clongowes (38-10) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Liam Forster (Captain, pictured below), *Conor Anderson, *Sean Cronin, Mark Newman, James Newman, *Seamus Flannery, Louis Whelan, Alex Lee, Jamie Balmaine, Conor Eivers, Calum McCoy, James Brindley, Michael Donnelly, *Jonathon McCann, *Eoin Quinn, Conor Lehane, Sam Cassidy, Sam Montayne, *Ewan Watson, Peter Duffy, *Hugh Ross, Jack Reynolds, *Robbie Browne, Diarmuid O'Suillebhain, Ruaidhri O'Hanlon, Sean Comiskey, Harry O'Neill, Charlie McLoughlin, Joseph German, Ben Hickey, James O'Donoghue, Liam Carley, Ben Clarke, Oscar Moloney, Hugh Bourke and Marcus Ryan.

He may be a product of a certain Jesuit school on the other side of town, but no one individual is more synonymous with Christian Brothers College, Monkstown than Michael 'Skinner' Mullen. Skinner had captained both Junior and Senior rugby teams while a student at Belvedere in the 1950's where he developed a significant centre partnership alongside one AJF O'Reilly in midfield.

Dad Michael Senior featured at midfield on the Mayo football team that beat Wexford in the 1925 All-Ireland final and then lost the title following an off-the-field controversy and no the curse hadn't even been heard of back then!

Skinner's son, Michael Junior, played in the 80's and his mighty kick of a dead ball from distance earned him a scholarship to the US in American football.

I think it significant that to this day rugby and athletics continue to be the main sports at the school as Mullen cleverly tapped into the athletics arena to rugby's benefit. Jurgen Whyte was All-Ireland triple jump champion that unforgettable cup winning year of '76 while the Keogh brothers Michael and Brian, Michael Cryan, David Sharpe (sprint relay), Alan Jordan (hammer) as well as Ken Sullivan and Eugene O'Connor (pole vault) were also prominent track and field athletes. Alongside Phil Conway at Belvedere and PJ Smyth (significantly ex-CBC) in Thomond College now UL Mullen was part of triumvirate way ahead of its time. PJ (a huge influence on yours truly on a personal level) is sadly no longer with us. Having been brought up within yards of the front gate PJ was a very proud CBC man irrespective of a rugby playing career that took him through UCD, Bective Rangers and eventually on to Garryowen.

But times move on as well and today due to the never-ending work of Conor Montayne (another family name synonymous with the school) CBC consistently punches above its weight. As chairman of the Leinster Schools committee but more particularly as former coach and current games master Montayne is to CBC in the new Millennium what Mullen was back in the day. And I don't make that comparison lightly.

Declan Murphy was skipper to the glorious class of '76 while Malcolm Mahon (yet another great CBC family name) was in the vanguard for that last final appearance in '84. To Liam Forster is bestowed the honour of captain in 2020 while Ian Dumbleton (an outstanding back row forward in his school playing days at St Andrews) is now Head Coach. Dumbo coaches as he played with passion and intelligence in equal measure.

He picks from a squad that includes some 10 players back from last year, one of whom - Eoin Quinn - has represented Leinster at Under-18. The competitive season started with a loss to Newbridge in the league back in October. Yet a split of two wins and two losses in addition to a draw against St Andrews saw them through to a quarter final defeat at the hands of Castleknock - enough for a place in the Senior Cup for 2020.

A particularly strong Newbridge side will make for formidable first-round opposition at Energia Park on Friday next (Jan 31), but as the school motto guarantees 'Certa Bonum Certamen' they will fight the good fight.

Cistercian College, Roscrea

MANAGEMENT: Alan Tynan (Head Coach), Darin Classen, Tyrone Elliot, Michael Harding, Rob Cassidy (S&C) and Brian Murphy (Physio).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Belvedere (34-19) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Adam Dunne, Adam Lambkin, Adam Kennedy, Adam Nash, Aaron Coughlan, *Bill Burns (Captain), Brien Culliton, Canice Crosby, Carlos Griffin, Cillian Lawlor, *Conall Bird, Cian O'Meara, *Dylan Keane, Eoghan Matthews, Eoghan Brennan, Fionn McWey Fingleton, Gearoid Ryan, *Jack Gilligan, Jack Ormond, Jacob Faughnan, Jamie Byrne, Jamie Ryan, James Dunne, Jack Lupton, James Tully, *John McKeon, *Martin Fallon, Manus Heenan, Matthew Sheedy, *Oisin McCloskey, Oscar Gilligan, Rory Power, Ronan Conneally, Ryan Moran, Riley Canavan, Sam Murphy, Sean Cullen, Sean Frawley, *Shane Mallon, *Shane Connolly, Takechi Oh, Tom Comerford and William Conroy.

If 1976 is the magical number for everyone associated with CBC then 2015 will forever find itself etched in Cistercian College minds - present pupils and past. I remember later in that same year being asked to say a few words by former Roscrea, Lansdowne and Leinster flanker Mark Ryan as president of the Dublin branch of the CCR PPU at a cup-winning celebration in honour of that history-making squad.

It was only in the course of the evening it registered just how small the numbers attending the school located on the Offaly/Tipperary border. At that point there were 185 registered pupils. Mind you had the then president decided to send his own son (a certain James) to the alma mater just how stronger again might that particular group have been. The mind boggles! I jest, of course, but it does make you think given a pack that already contained Fineen Wycherley, Mattie Keane, Simon Meagher, Dylan Murphy and Dan Trayers while Sean O'Brien (the Connacht version) had just left.

I think it fair to say that just about everybody outside of Belvedere basked in that inaugural success in 2015. Between 1910 and 2010 there had been three final appearances. Paddy O'Connell led the side (which lost after a replay to Blackrock) in 1910 with Brendan Flanagan the skipper in '41 (also losing after a replay but this time to Newbridge) and John Phelan leading the charge in '99 (to another defeat by 'Rock).

Yet in this decade alone there has been three more final appearances with Conor Finn (2011), Tim Foley (2015) and Meagher (2016) the captains against Clongowes, and Belvedere respectively.

There have also been Senior League wins in 1995, 2002, 2006 and 2015 (making the latter a double year at Senior).

So, to Bill Burns the honour of leading CCR into this latest cup campaign. Already they have made it through pre-Christmas to the Senior League final only to lose to another particularly strong Gonzaga outfit (24-0). Burns is the son of former Birr, Clongowes, UCD, Lansdowne, Leinster and Barbarians' great Willie. Dad was a no-nonsense round the field hooker in the Sean Cronin mould but much more liberal on the vebals!

The player at the heart of those great 2015 and 2016 years is now Head Coach. Alan Tynan is well versed in the skills of game management and the Munster Academy/Young Munster player is putting those skills to the test in an environment with which he is most familiar at Roscrea.

Having just squeezed through to the knock-out stages in fourth place Tynan and Burns did particularly well to take it on to another league final. Burns is captain to a squad that includes representative players in centre/wing Shane Mallon and tight head Shane Connolly for Leinster at under-18. Out-half Dylan Keane (a brother of Dan who scored in the 2015 final win), lock Martin Fallon and blindside flanker Adam Nash have represented Connacht at Under-18 while Fionn McWey Fingleton has played with the Leinster Youths at No 8.

Mallon has also played minor football and hurling with Leitrim while openside flanker Oisin McCloskey has a Leinster medal won with Meath minor footballers. Hooker John McKeon has played minor hurling with Kildare and Jamie Byrne minor football with Longford. Scrum-half Sam Murphy is a member of the Ireland Under-18 golf team. Mix all that together and with 10 back from last year hopes are high of repeating the league win (22-14) over Castleknock. That clash takes place in Energia Park on Monday next (Jan 27).


Clongowes Wood College

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

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Gonzaga (22-19) in semi-final.

SQUAD: Michael Behan, Stephen Black, Culann Carbery, Eddie Carr, John Carroll, James Coonan, Eoghan Cumbers, Barry D'Arcy, Oisin Devitt, *Barry Dooley, *Calum Dowling, Evan O'Boyle, Harry O'Neill, Ruairi O'Regan, Hugh Reddan, Charlie Reilly, Adam Reynolds, James Ruddy, *Sean Sexton, Derick Sholarin, Michael Spillane, *David Wilkinson, George Fitzpatrick, Killian Fitzpatrick, Cameron Gallagher, *Chris Grimes, Hugh Hogan, Jack Kearney, Charles Kedde, Ben Keogh, Johnny Kiely, Peter Lane, Rory MacGabhann, Andrew Matthews, *Diarmuid McCormack, *Luke McMahon, Rory Morrin, Tom Mulcair, Louis Murray, Harry McGoey, Peter Maher, Aran Mannion, Hugh Wilkinson and Leo Dowling.

Unlike CBC in '76 and CCR in 2015, it would be wrong to associate CWC with a specific year…. and yet. And yet the temptation is there to associate 1978 as the one in which all in Clane changed, changed utterly.

Bear in mind it had been 52 years (we're now in Castleknock territory) since Clongowes first and only win under Jim Egan (in 1926) to that point. Many finals followed with defeats in '27, '28, '36, '49 and '53 before '78 came around. And the three names most closely associated with that win? Skipper Greg Dilger, assistant coach (at that time) the late great Vinnie Murray and the main man back then Fr Michael 'Mocky' Sheil.

Just recently I read a tribute most appropriately penned by the brilliant fly-half and on-field general to that side. Written in celebration of the 40th anniversary of that second breakthrough and in celebration of Mocky's 80th birthday Dilger wrote: "I guess when your school hasn't won a Senior cup in 52 years it is not surprising that you become somewhat conditioned to losing gracefully, but the main reason 1978 was SO dramatically different was down to the arrival in Clongowes of one Michael Sheil SJ.

"Unlike another well-known manager in the round ball game Michael never dared to call himself the 'Special One', but there is no doubt that he was. He always refused to accept praise for the 1978 cup win without sharing it with his good friend Vinnie Murray. Vinnie played a major part in our success and went on to lead Clongowes to even more Senior cup success before he sadly passed away in 1999. Not surprisingly Vinnie would always say that Michael Sheil taught him everything he knew about rugby."

Great men inspire great deeds and in Vinnie and Mocky Clongowes were blessed to have two of a special kind. Since '78 the Kildare school have contested 16 more finals winning six. And while 'Rock, 'Michael's and Belvo' represent consistency personified Clongowes are up there alongside on an annual basis.

So it is to Pat Kenny as Head Coach and one cut from the same cloth as his esteemed coaching predecessors (with Noel McNamara another of that ilk) that responsibility lies to insure standards are maintained. Rest assured there is little ambiguity in that key regard. Assisted by Athy's finest in Joe Carbery Snr and with Leinster Under-19 hooker Calum Dowling as captain they select from a squad including seven back from last year.

Other representative players include Luke McMahon (Leinster Under-18) plus representatives of the West in Connacht Under-19's Evan O'Boyle and Diarmuid McCormack. Provincial captain McCormack has also represented Ireland at Under-18. In addition Rory Morrin is a member of the Mayo minors (and scorer of the winning goal in the All-Ireland semi-final v Dublin) with Michael Spillane another dual player lining out with the Kildare minors.

Flanker McCormack and hooker Dowling along with fellow front rower Barry Dooley and fly-half David Wilkinson represent a determined quartet back from last year's losing semi final to Gonzaga.

It's a tough draw to start with traditional rivals Terenure first up at the Energia on Wednesday next, January 29. An opportunity to recall that never to be forgotten St Patrick's day all of 41 years ago when the same schools clashed, but a day in which Dilger topped Matt D'Arcy on a 19-6 score line.

A special match and outcome engineered by The Special One.

Kilkenny College

MANAGEMENT: Peter Swanepoel (Head Coach), Wesley Carter, Liam Caddy, Colm Maloney and Stephen Gray S&C).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by St Michael's (52-10) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: Craig Chamney, Harry Dawson, Scott Neale, Adam Shirley, Brian Atkinson, Darragh O'Reilly, Chris Reynolds, Jake Caldbeck, James Cooper, Bob Landers, Ross Jacob, Josh Treacy, Noah Pim, Josh Akanji Murphy, Fiach O'Byrne, Stephen Fennel, Joshua Coyle, Liam Foot, Conor Campion, Charlie Tector, Tom Donald, Dan O'Neill, Adam Strong, Ryan Strong, Andrew Strong, Mathew Hodgins, Jonathan Crossley, Greg Edogun, Jake Dunne, Cillian Birney, David Kavanagh, Tom Kavanagh, and Sam Treacy.

If memory serves me right it was back in the mid-to-late 90s when the idea was first mooted of Kilkenny making the jump from the developmental Section A of Leinster rugby to the much stronger and far more competitive Section B. We'll not suggest the leap was made 'dragging and screaming' but certainly there was an element of reluctance. Suffice it to say common sense prevailed, the opportunity grasped and this great rugby school in the heartland of hurling country has never looked back since.

Again I am open to correction here but I can recall at least four occasions in the intervening years when the most recently recognized Section B school has made it through to the last four. Of course, the immediate goal is to follow in the footsteps of Roscrea (winners for the first time in 2015) and Gonzaga (inaugural finalists in 2019) in making its case on the biggest stage of all.

Rugby has been central to extra-curricular life on the Castlecomer Road since the move in 1989 and for very many years in John Street before that again. Earnest Ridgeway, Bob Agar, Eric Campbell, Bill Tector and Alan Doherty have all worn green at the highest level while Robin Copeland, Craig Ronaldson and Shane Delahunt represent the latest generation through the professional game.

Kevin Clayton was coach and Russell Armstrong captain (with James Morrow the organizer in chief in the background) to that outstanding breakthrough squad that went where no Kilkenny Senior side had been before. In a semi final that could have gone either way Clongowes squeezed home (on their way to a sixth title) 19-17. Just a kick of the ball in it as Kilkenny battered the Clongowes' line in the dying minutes.

Central to that historic first appearance at the penultimate stage were the skipper himself, midfield partner Colin Peavoy as well as forwards Philip Ryan and Kevin Stanley in a robust but typically mobile Kilkenny pack. And dare one suggest that had Leinster Schools scrum-half Richard Jones not been forced off through injury at the half-time break a very different scenario might have unfolded.

The next semi was just 12 months on (in 2001) when losing to Terenure but with Rory Deverell, Peavoy, Gary Greene, Greg Jacob, Jones as skipper, Gary Roe, Bruce Thompson, Jeffrey Harvey, Stuart Holland and Raymond Gee completing back to back semi final appearances.

But perhaps the greatest result in the school's history to date was to come in 2007 when with former pupil now teacher Jeff Carter the inspiration (and I don't make that assertion lightly) the quarter final outcome from Donnybrook (following a replay) read Kilkenny 14 Blackrock 13. Carter was and is to Kilkenny what Vinnie Murray and Noel McNamara have been to Clongowes - a very special breed of coach. Ronaldson was at out-half in that particularly resilient side with Ben Horan the skipper in a powerful pack that included an outstanding No 8 in Tim Dukelow as well as current assistant coach the equally-inspirational Wes Carter.

St Michael's, on their way to a first title success, proved a semi-final hurdle too high as indeed they did again in 2012 when Delahunt was the inspirational leader with Jeff Carter again the outstanding coach to a Kilkenny squad that also lifted the Senior League title for the first time.

Pieter Swanepoel, the coach who created history when guiding Roscrea to that maiden cup success in 2015, is now at the Kilkenny helm. He coaches a moderate-sized team through a typical high-tempo style of Castlecomer rugby. Under-18 interprovincial and Ireland schools out-half Charlie Tector is the fulcrum of a side which boasts Offaly inter-county footballers in twin brothers Ryan and Adam Strong. In the pack Josh Akanji Murphy is a particularly strong and dynamic runner.

A really positive performance against Wesley in the league augurs well for the cup when the sides come together at Energia Park on Thursday next (January 30).

Gonzaga College

MANAGEMENT: Declan Fassbender (Head Coach), Martin Fenlon, Stephen McVeigh, James Kenny, Craig Ronaldson, Ken Murray (Manager), Dr Peter Meagher and Conor Gavin (Medical), Chris Coburn (S&C) and John Farrell.

LAST YEAR: Beaten finalists (28-5) to St Michael's.

SQUAD: *Arthur Henry, *Brian Barron, *Max Colgan, *David Kennedy, *Simon Wilson, *Ronan Shaw (pictured below), *Tom Cullen (Captain), *Ethan Duffy, *Harry Colbert, *Hugo Fitzgerald, *Seamus Carroll, *Michael Whelan, James Corr, Patrick Grimley, Conn Phelan, Tom O'Donnell, Hugh Kennedy, Tom Barry, Cian Crowe, Fred Devlin, *Spencer O'Connell, Callum Murphy, Charlie Owens, Eadbhard O'Callaghan, Euan O'Riordan, Freddie Fitzpatrick, *George Kenny, Hugh Lynn, Jack Browne, *Jamie McNulty, Jude Casey, Luke Miller, Ronan Mooney, Seb Condon, Harry O'Connell, Hugh Ryan, Daniel Shanu, Luke Hassett, Charlie Thomson, David Colbert, George Morris, Hugo Neville, Luke O'Callaghan, Noah Maguire, Marcus Phelan and Tomas Noone.

There was a time when Gonzaga, in cup terms, might best have been described 'a minor irritant'. A risky scrap to be avoided, but manageable. Well dream on. The Sandford Road school has got its act together big time and Dublin 6, while once a three-way street with Templeogue alongside traditional heavyweights Terenure and St Mary's, is now that again thanks to Gonzaga's emergence (I'll resist temptation to say re-emergence) as a powerful force alongside St Marys and the Nure.

Indeed, any school that can boast coaches of the quality of Bobby Byrne, Declan Fassbender, John Murphy, Martin Fenlon and George Naoupu given the combined knowledge has to be in a good place on a regular basis. It is also significant that former Kilkenny College stalwart and driving force Craig Ronaldson has joined Fassbender's back-room staff.

Last year represented the big breakthrough as the Fassbender-inspired SCT led by Jack Barry made it through to the St Patrick's Day final for the very first time. In that final they came up against a St Michael's squad that even by their own admission represents the Ailesbury Road school's 'Dream Team'. For all the talent in abundance coming through in recent years this is without doubt the squad with the greatest strength in depth at this level.

For Barry Gibney and the 'Rock 'Dream Team' of the mid-90s read Will Hickey and this 'Michael's unit now. It is in that context that the Gonzaga breakthrough in 2019 must be measured. Four from that cup final starting line up - hooker Hugo Fitzgerald, tighthead Ronan Shaw, out-half Harry Colbert and left wing Brian Barron are back on board again. So too cup final day replacements Arthur Henry, Max Colgan, Simon Wilson and George Kenny.

Those eight finalists plus seven more from the extended squad in 2019 make for quite a platform ahead of this year's cup assault. Already the Leinster Senior League trophy is in the Ranelagh trophy cabinet for the second year running and for the third time in the last four finals all of which the green and whites have contested.

Both Terenure and Mary's have fallen on lean times with neither school making the final this past decade. And while neither of these great rugby playing schools will view Gonzaga's success in getting to that stage as a one-off equally it is imperative they recognize the powerful force now making D6 very much that three way street for what it is.

Hugely committed Gonzaga men like Kevin Whirdy and Noel McCarthy kept the competitive element for so long, but the Byrne/Fassbender era has seen it move on to another level again. Unfortunately, for Tom Cullen and the class of 202,0 the draw has been far from kind. Michael's apart, 'Rock in the opening round is as tough as it gets.

Cullen leads that squad with 15 returnees including Leinster Schools representative players in utility forward Henry as well as hugely influential out-half Colbert. Last year's beaten quarter finalists are again hungry for success. Two years without a title is an eternity in the 'Rock vocab. They will not underestimate the ever- growing force that is Gonzaga one iota. It has the makings of a sizzler to set it all under way when the sides front up at Energia Stadium on Sunday next (January 26).

Newbridge College

MANAGEMENT: Johne Murphy (Head Coach), Henry Bryce, Jonathan Newsome (coach/manager), Adam Coyle and Cathal Murtagh (coach/S&C).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Belvedere (31-7) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: *Zia Ahmed, *Gavin Begley, Lucas Berti, *Sebastian Berti, Luca Borgonovo, Richie Brophy, *Sam Cahill, Adam Connelly, *Donal Conroy, Mark Dennis, *Luke Dunleavy, Conor Ennis, Pierce Fata, *Shane Fata, *Jamie Gaire, Fiachra Galvin, *Connor Halpenny, Gavin Hoolihan, Kieran Kelly, *Marcus Kiely, *Cormac King, *Donough Lawlor, Christopher Leech, *Peter Leavy, *Diarmuid Mangan, Niall Majury, Harry Masterson, Connor McAtameny, *Conor McGroary, *Geoff McNelis, *Josh Murphy, *Patrick O'Flaherty, *Fintan O'Malley, *David O'Sullivan, Hugh Prendergast, Sam Prendergast, Harry Rigney, *John Shanahan, James Sheedy, Daniel Silke Fetherson, Patrick Stapleton, *Evan Swan and Benjamin Watson.

You reap what you sow and certainly that adage applies to Newbridge where an increasing emphasis on development at Junior (Under-16) has seen an increasing competitiveness when the senior cycle comes around. Former Newbridge schoolboy and ex-Munster and Leicester star winger Johne Murphy has taken over as head coach in his alma mater and also at Newbridge Rugby club.

Home is where the heart is and for the former St Mary's SCT backs coach this move makes for the perfect fit. Newbridge boast two outright successes to date. In 1941 with Jack Deegan as captain and again in 1970 when that quiet, shy out half by the name of Quinn inspired the Lillywhite school to success over Paul Waldron's hotly fancied Blackrock side at Lansdowne. The 19-5 scoreline made for what remains to this day the biggest cup final upset of all and yes there have been a few of them along the way.

In 1996 and the last final appearance of the eight to date Dermot O'Sullivan was captain to a side that included Paul Noble, James Ferris and Geordan Muphy in a particularly talented Newbridge outfit.

Unfortunately for O'Sullivan & Co revenge was sweet for the side dubbed the 'Rock 'Dream Team' which came of age on the day in producing their best performance by far in that halcyon time for Leo Cullen, Barry Gibney, Peter Smyth, Ciaran Scally and the rest. And yes, it is true that one Brian O'Driscoll was amongst the replacements as Tom Keating, Dave Quinlan, Magic Johnson & Co cut loose on a 37-3 winning margin.

Murphy is coach and Marcus Kiely captain to a group well laden in experience given that some 21 members of last year's extended squad are back on board again. Kiely is along with Donal Conroy a member of the Leinster Under-19 squad in 2019 while centre Lucas Berti, lock Diarmuid Mangan and No 8 Donough Lawlor have lined out for the Leinster Under-18s over the summer inter-provincial series.

Both Mangan and Lawlor are members of the Ireland Under-18 extended squad with Kiely likewise positioned on the national Under-19s. Powerful No 8 Lawlor is more than a chip off the old block. Dad Phil of Newbridge, Naas, Bective, Leinster and Ireland fame is the current Leinster Domestic Development Rugby Manager and in terms of talent spotting and player development is as passionate now in his administrative role as he was when in his playing pomp.

Alongside and a very definite link with the side of '96 is Josh Murphy nephew of former Leicester Tigers and Ireland full back Geordan Murphy. While other dual talented players include Kildare football minors Adam Connelly and Fiachra Galvin.

Newbridge, like Gonzaga and Roscrea, are consistently in the shake up for the league and this year was no different. They finished top of the group winning four games out of five before being overturned somewhat unexpectedly (22-20) courtesy of a late Roscrea converted try in a highly competitive quarter-final.

They will start out as favourites against CBC at Energia Park in the 1st round tie on Friday next (January 31). Expect that tag to be justified.

St Gerard's School, Bray

MANAGEMENT: Jason Emery (Head Coach), Philip de Barra, Gordon Shaw, Rory O'Connor (Manager), Sami Dowling (S&C) and Sally Ann Hudson (medical).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Newbridge (17-11) in first round.

SQUAD: *Saul Fitzpatrick, Christian Manning, Darragh McCaul, Ben McCauley, *Ollie Newsome, *Conor Pickering, Scott Younger, Ben Hogan, *Ralph Ledwidge, Max Merren, Ken O'Grady, *Aidan Long (Captain), *Thomas O'Connor, *Joshua Watson, *Oscar Hayes Restan, *Patrick Burke, Jack Cullen, *Matthew Whelehan, Max Cleary, *Freddy Happonen, Tim Wilkinson, *Craig Kenny, James Kennedy, Callan O'Reilly, Benjamin Lambert-Owen, *Jake Brodeur, *Cormac Long, *Brian Glass and Callum Desmond.

He hails from West Belfast and while he disguises it well hurling is his first love. That said the passion of former St Gerard's Headmaster Micheal McMullan for sport in general and rugby in particular is infectious. A few words he penned at the time of making way for current incumbent Tom Geraghty captured the mood of the moment and the optimistic attitude toward the game in the school.

"When I first arrived in St Gerard's I was greeted with the proud proclamation that we had just won the Thirds League (this was in 1976 and we had no sixth years until the following year). Still tall oaks from little acorns and all that and I certainly knew that I had arrived in a serious rugby playing school. Within a year we were playing in the Leinster Senior Cup and have continued doing so for every year since bar one.

"After a few near misses in the cup and its various subsidiaries we eventually won our first trophy - the Herculean efforts of John Carlos (who sadly passed away before Christmas) and Fergie Nolan paid off on March 21 ,1982 with the winning of the Leinster Senior Plate. These are the words of the scribe of the time describing our win" (and no it wasn't TW) "Then with only five minutes remaining Eoin Gallagher collected another well won scrum ball on the half way line. The ball reached right wing Conor Smyth, who delivered an inch perfect pass to full back Ivan Power. Power then proceeded to bring the crowd to its feet with a scintillating run along the right flank. As he dived over to score the match winning try, every St Gerard's supporter and player raised their arms in jubilation as referee John West blew the long awaited final whistle. St Gerard's had won."

Celebrations lasted well into the night at the home of Mr and Mrs Gallagher!

The point of this little message, however obscure, is to emphasise just what participating in the premier underage competitions in the province means to ALL the schools involved and not just to the heavyweight pre-competition favourites. To a small school like 'Gerard's competitive participation is everything and immense pride is taken most particularly when that objective is achieved through the league in mid to late November. From Conor Jennings in 1987 through to Freddy Happonen now the conveyor belt of schoolboy interprovincial players has been consistent with ex-Wanderers' flanker Jennings the first schools international and Jack Conan the first to represent the school at the highest level of the game.

And yes, much like Kilkenny College, there have been semi final years with three in this millennium alone - 2005, 2010 and 2011 to be precise. While four Senior League titles in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2017 makes for a pretty rich return in the competition outside of the cup that defines each rugby year.

A quarter-final defeat to a much superior Wesley side left this year's league hopes in tatters as Gonzaga deservedly went on to make it back-to-back league success. Jason Emery is again head coach and oversees a squad that includes some 15 back from last year's extended panel. Aidan Long is captain to a talented group which includes Leinster representative players in hooker Happonen at under-18, Ollie Newsome, Thomas O'Connor and Callan O'Reilly at Under-17 while Conor Pickering was part of the Irish Under-18 touch rugby team in 2018.

Backs coach Phil de Barra performs a similar function with the Leinster Ladies Senior team as assistant to Ben Armstrong. Ken O'Grady has lined out at under-20 level for the Wicklow county footballers while Daragh McCaul plays with Cuala. Head boy Ben Hogan is a nephew of former Terenure, Leinster, London Irish and Ireland scrum-half and captain Niall.

Templeville Road will again provide the venue for the opening round tie against Vinnie Murray qualifier two - most likely one from Kings Hospital, St Fintan's or CUS although the winner of Salesian College, Celbridge and St Mary's CBS Enniscorthy might have something to say about that. Either way the it will be one of three ties down for decision on Thursday next (Jan 30).

St Mary's College

MANAGEMENT: Steve Hennessy (DOR), Jamie Cornett (Head Coach), Mark Sexton, Darren Duffy, Derek Dowling, John Wynne, Luke O'Dea and David Dunne.

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Terenure (13-5) in 1st Round.

SQUAD: *Adam Sloan, *Adam Mulvihill, Alex Shortle, Andrew Gibbons, Barra O'Loughlin, Cillian Cusack, Cody Dwyer, Conor Tracey, *Daniel Leane, Daniel Martinez Dunn, Daragh Gilbourne, Euan Feeney, Garrett O'Moore, Greg Monaghan, Hugo Massey, Jack Lundy, Jack Reidy Walsh, Jamie Grace, John Kennedy, *John Carvill (Captain), Kieran Ryan, Louis McGauran, Louis Moore, Matthew Black, Matthew Gallagher, Matthew O'Shea, Max Svejdar, Michael Sinclair, Peter O'Beirne, *Robert Nolan, Robert O'Connell, Rory Gilbourne, Ross Moore, *Senan Devereux, Tom McEniff and Will Sparrow.

In 2011 a small group of dedicated St Mary's past pupils led by former Leinster, Ireland and Lions wing Denis Hickie and former PPU president Peter Cosgrove met with school representatives to offer their help to ensure the school could carry the proud rugby and sporting traditions of the college into the 21st century. So, with two key objectives in mind plans for Pitch Project 2020 were set in place:

1) To assist the school in delivering a well resourced, organized and modern programme for coaching rugby safely at all levels and age groups in the college while preserving the school ethos with respect to how the sport is coached and played by school pupils

2) Work with the school to realise a significant sport and recreation amenity that could be used all year round by the students of both the Senior and Junior School for all sporting activities offered today and in the future at St Mary's.

Just before Christmas the official blessing took place and a new 4G state of the art artificial grass carpet pit was unveiled. For generations of boys the front pitch or 'front field' as we called it was our theatre of dreams. It was there, through friendly matches from Under-8's and Under-9's up plus the internal Holy Childhood leagues (still going to this day) that our dreams and aspirations were formed. I can still recall my first competitive game on that hallowed sloping sward as we faced the might of what seemed a gigantic De La Salle Churchtown Under-9's at the time - at least the Salle striped jersies seemed to have that effect!

With transition to the Senior school came the daily Kenilworth trek. It bothered us not an iota as the Square back then had three pitches surrounding Fr Barry's precious cricket area. There were also tennis courts (watched over by Fr D'Arcy) and basketball courts the preserve of Fr Cyril Byrne. To us it was a sporting mecca with the 20-minute walk to training an insignificant price to pay.

That said the front field was where our dreams were formed. Where our sporting aspirations were solidified into something much more substantial as we moved onward and upward through the ranks. Denis (cup-winning captain in '94) and Peter (class of '81) deserve enormous credit for their ceaseless dedication for the best part of a decade to this cause with the ultimate winners the boys and coaches present and still to come through the gates. With the last Senior final appearance in 2008 and the last win (Michael Ryan as captain) some five years before that again it's been a fallow time at the Rathmines Road end of D6.

But there is a light and it has been provided by the JCT of 2018. Eighteen players from that cup final 23 (beaten by 'Rock 24-14) have been named by coach Jamie Cornett on the SCT squad for the upcoming campaign. Much like St Munchins (JCT winners in Munster the same year) this could prove a senior campaign just a little bit too early.

John Luc Carvill (son of referee John) is skipper to a squad with only six back from last year, but backboned by fifth years from the J finalists in '18. Included is outstanding No 8 Adam Sloan (son of Junior School Games-master and former school and club first team full back Ray). Sloan, like his dad is a talented footballer, but is not shy at getting down and getting dirty. So too Jack Lundy captain to the Dublin minor football team in 2019.

In addition eight of the squad have been involved with the Leinster Under-17 training programme. These include Darragh Gilbourne, Ross Moore, Alex Shortle, Peter O'Beirne, Conor Tracy, Daniel Leane, Louis McGauran and Matthew O'Shea.

Former St Munchin's College and Munster full-back Steve Hennessy is Director of Rugby and aside from Johne Murphy moving to Newbridge he can call on the same backroom staff as last year with the addition of Mark Sexton (brother of Jonathan) for Murphy and Luke O'Dea as well while former De La Salle, St Mary's and Leinster prop Derek Dowling will again provide scrummaging skills to mix with the best.

It's a tough opener to start with Belvedere set as favourites but for this developing 'Mary's squad it's all about performance. Deliver that and anything beyond will look after itself.

St Michael's College

MANAGEMENT: Emmet MacMahon (Head Coach), Andy Skehan, Sam Griffin, Ian O'Kelly, James Ruxton, Fionn Daly (Physio), Tadgh Forde (Physio), Dr John Ryan and Ronan Joyce.

LAST YEAR: Winners.

SQUAD: Zach Baird, *Cameron Baird, *Lee Barron, Michael Barron, Dan Barron, Sam Berman, *Conor Booth, *Jack Boyle, Josh Brown, *Niall Carroll, *Chris Cosgrave, Adam Daly, Josh Egan, Sean Egan, Danny Fehily, Nathan Gallagher, Tim Gilsenan, *Jack Guinane, Fintan Gunne, *Zach Harrison, JJ Hession, *Will Hickey (Captain), *Eddie Kelly, Dylan Mackey, Henry McErlean, Killian McMahon, Charlie McNamee, *Hugo McWade, James Nicholson, Timmy O'Connor, *Simon O'Kelly, Callum O'Reilly, Senan O'Shea, Conor O'Tighearnaigh, *James Power, Ben Quigley, Dylan Rogan, Luke Russell, Dylan Ryan, Mikey Sadlier, Paddy Sherwin, Matthew Sherwin, Cian Taheny, JP Tiernan, Matthew Victory, Daniel Whelehan, Jeffrey Woods, *Stephan Woods and David Woods.

I have a confession to make. I have long been and continue still a closet St Michael's fan. Nothing whatsoever to do with the multiplicity of talented players the school is channeling into Leinster rugby via the underage academy nor indeed is it the relative success that has been enjoyed in recent years. I say relative because the return in terms of silverware is still not remotely close to the quality they have been churning out particularly in more recent times.

No, my grá relates to the manner in which teams - some strong but many not so - have attempted to play the game over the years. The seeds to the extraordinary conveyor belt we are now witnessing were laid back in the not so bountiful times and by Noel Turley and Conor Coakley in particular. Paul Barr, long back on Leeside, is another whose contribution particularly down the ranks was massive. David Carrigy in many and varied roles was another whose enthusiasm and positivity particularly in times of adversity should never be understated while Greg McWilliams was another who contributed so much before, like Carrigy, moving on to a more highly-profiled stage. For the record, Carrigy is now the Head of Development and International Relations at World Rugby while McWilliams has long moved on from St Michael's to become assistant coach to Gary Gold with the US Eagles and is now set to take up the reins at the new Rugby United Major League franchise in New York after a most productive spell in Yale University along the way. With Emmet McMahon and Andy Skehan at the vanguard in recent years those refreshingly innovative standards at underage have been maintained.

Just three SCT titles in 2007, 2012 and 2019 is scant reward for the standards set in recent years. It also sees them trailing 'Rock, Belvo' Terenure, 'Knock, Clongowes, 'Mary's and 'Andrew's in the merit order. And yet they have already passed Belvedere, Castleknock and Terenure in becoming the only school in the province outside of 'Rock to do the much-coveted double of Junior and Senior in the one year more than once (2012 and 2019).

'Rock are particularly strong at Junior again this campaign so a second successive double seems a big ask but if ever opportunity knocked to make it back to back at senior this is it. For the 'Rock 'Dream Team' of '95 and '96 read this 'Michael's Team of '19 and '20. They have already had the pre-Christmas cage rattled with single point defeats to 'Mary's and to 'Rock (the latter for the Noel Turley Memorial trophy). However, when push comes to shove, this squad has the talent and strength in depth to go the whole way.

It includes 14 of the 15 starters and 18 of the 23 against 'Rock in the 2017 Junior final. Will Hickey was skipper of that victorious squad and injury aside looks set to lead a particularly talented group with 14 back from last year's extended winning panel and 13 of the cup final day 23. And lest anyone thinks we exaggerate the 'Dream Team' bit then look to no fewer than 17 players involved with Leinster (at Under-18/19) and four with Ireland (Under-18) to boot.

These include hooker Zach Baird, lock Cameron Baird, hooker Lee Barron, flanker Conor Booth, prop Jack Boyle, out-half Niall Carroll, utility back Chris Cosgrove who can quite literally cover every position from ten to fifteen, back-five forward Jack Guinane, scrum half Fintan Gunne, Winger Zach Harrison, No 8 Will Hickey, back three Eddie Kelly, centres Hugo McWade and Simon O'Kelly (already a double medal winner at Junior and Senior just like dad Brian at Terenure), wing Callum O'Reilly, lock Conor Ó Tighearnaigh and blind-side flanker Stephen Woods.

Barron, Boyle, Cosgrave and Hickey the four to have lined out with the national side at Under-18. Obviously much will depend on the rolling draw but all things being equal it is difficult to look beyond this 'Michael's group at full strength and full tilt. The draw has been kind to start with Lakelands the venue on Thursday, January 30 and Vinnie Murray qualifier 1 the opposition. Beyond that it's going to take some team in some form to stop them.

Terenure College

MANAGEMENT: Dan Parkinson (Head Coach), John English, Peter O'Malley, Peter Shaw, Ri Elers, Dr Bill Twomey, Risteard Byrne and Mike Murphy (Medical).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Gonzaga (19-11) in quarter-final.

SQUAD: Darragh Brooks, *Adam Byrne, Rory Byrne, Fionnan Church, Harry Colclough, Harry Cullinan, *Sean Daly (Captain), *Alex Dempsey, Killian Dennehy, *Barra Dignam, Cuan Doyle, Jack Doyle, TJ Duran, *Tommy Farrelly, Yago Fernandez Vilar, Ethan Holohan, *Patsakorn Kidd, Oisin Lydon, Mattie Lynch, *Matthew McGetrick, Liam Nolan, Harvey O'Donoghue, *Ciaran Owens, Ben Redmond, Max Russell, Dean Saunders, Sean Sarsfield, Alex Smith, Yegor Spellman and *Jack Whelan.

I'll not labour the point but the landscape is definitely changing somewhat in D6 and D6W whereby the 'Mary's/Terenure duopoly is now under serious threat from Gonzaga. That, in itself, is no bad thing as this part of the metropolis, with 15 cups between them to date, (10 to Terenure and 5 to St Mary's) is badly in need of another. Bear in mind it is now 17 years since the much-coveted trophy last resided in this neck of the woods and that was in 2003 when Terenure and St Mary's actually met in that final with David Cazabon taking the cup back up the Templeogue Road on a 3-0 scoreline.

Having to close the Junior school has certainly made life more difficult for one of the indisputable giants of Leinster rugby. As one brought up on that junior school rivalry from knee high to a grasshopper the advantage of having that early competitive exposure to the game is more easily understood.

Terenure will continue to be a force at underage, as will St Mary's but the absence of the premier trophy for the best part of two decades has to be a concern and if not it should be.

As coincidence would have it the three Dublin 6 schools were drawn together in the opening two rounds last year and significantly it was Gonzaga the last of the three standing as the Ranelagh school made its own history when reaching a first-ever final.

And as with St Mary's facing Belvedere in the opening round, for Terenure it is Jesuit opposition too in the guise of Clongowes and a potentially dangerous Clongowes' squad at that. Dan Parkinson is again head coach to a Terenure squad with nine back from last year's match day 23 beaten by Gonzaga in the last eight.

Adam Byrne, Alex Dempsey, Barra Dignam, Tommy Farrelly, Patsakorn Kidd, Matthew McGetrick, Ciaran Owens and Jack Whelan represent the eight returning and with McGetrick selected for Leinster at wing and Kidd included at full-back/centre for the Ireland Under-18 group. These two quality backs will be central to Terenure's fortunes in the upcoming campaign.

Other notable footballers and dual code players include Harry Colclough who lined out with the Dublin minors in 2019 while Mattie Lynch has been named on the Dublin minor football panel for 2020. And could there possibly be a Terenure team without Dr Bill Twomey looking after the medical welfare? I read current club skipper Patrick Thornton (son of Des) recently describe this amazing stalwart and exceptional club player thus: "I would like to make a special mention of our very own Dr Bill Twomey. His level of expertise, commitment and generosity to both club and school holds no bounds." Sentiments we echo to the full.

Unsurprisingly, there is also an interesting link between St Michael's centre Simon O'Kelly (Junior medal in 2017 plus Senior in 2019) and the O'Kelly clan another of the great Terenure rugby playing families. Simon's Dad Brian was out-half and place-kicker on the cup winning Terenure JCT in 1978 and then the winning SCT of 1980 two years on. To make it even sweeter still both of those 'Nure victories were over 'Rock. Simon is also a nephew of another Terenure rugby playing great in Brian's brother, Kevin. It makes for a unique father son double double and one unlikely to be repeated again.

So it will be winner-takes-all, in a very much on-the-day affair when Terenure and Clongowes come head-to-head at Energia Park on Wed next (January 29).

Wesley College

MANAGEMENT: Patrick Collins (Head Coach), Adam Curry, Andrew Egan, Iain Wallace and Richard Andreucetti (S&C).

LAST YEAR: Beaten by Clongowes (7-21) in first round.

SQUAD: *Jack Atkinson, Alex Bucheli, Daniel Campbell, Reid Cockerill, *Max Collins (pictured below), Morgan Collins, *Peter Costello (Captain), Scott Cronin, Jamie Crooks, Thomas Dunne, Gabriel Dunne, Toby Durham, *Timmy Elliott, *Jack Fish, Jamie Fish, *Luke Fitzpatrick, *Daniel Fives, *Adam Galbraith, Tom Geoghegan, *Chris Gilmer, *Hugh Grant, Ryan Jones, *Jamie Metchette, Kameron Moran, Adeola Ogunyemi, Liam O'Neill, Tadgh O'Neill, Fola Ojewale, *Oisin Spain, Sean Verdon, *Kyle Wallace.

Seven final appearances to date, with the last in 1935 when Buddy Polden's side went under to Blackrock. Indeed, the previous year too with Charlie Preston the captain, it was 'Rock again the insurmountable stumbling block at the final hurdle. But the biggest year of all and the one etched in Wesley rugby history is, of course, 1898 when George Hamlet led his charges over that winning line.

Hamlet, a teak-tough forward destined to go on and represent Ireland at the highest level alongside two other members of that ground-breaking Wesley team. Winger William Hinton (later to be capped at full-back) and out half Trevor Robinson (double try scorer in the 15-0 final win over High School) the others to make it to the very top.

Hamlet, Hinton and Robinson were three of 14 Wesley players capped prior to 1945. It was to be another 51 years before the next Wesley international emerged but this was one destined for the top from early in his career. Eric Miller was quite simply the best all-round forward I had or have seen at underage level, although Anthony Foley in his time at St Munchin's was also in that exceptional bracket.

And, of course, in more recent times Wicklow's finest in the shape of Josh van der Flier has been added to that list. For one school to produce two Test flankers of that quality speaks volumes for rugby and player development out Balinteer way. Former Glenstal Abbey and Sandford Park senior coach Patrick Collins is again the main man.

Some of his great predecessors in the main coaching role include former Ireland cricket international Mike Halliday, who was followed by now retired vice principal and High School cup winning captain from 1973 Don Lewis. Between them Halliday and Lewis kept the game afloat despite the counter-attraction of hockey. Having any two team sports running parallel is virtually impossible. Admirable in theory, but complex in the extreme in reality.

Another name synonymous with rugby in Wesley is Hosford, with four brothers from the one family - Walter, Henry, Adrian and Tommy - leading the Seniors in that final school year. Walter then went on to become the driving force behind rugby at St Andrew's and much like Halliday was mainly responsible for the game's survival.

So to the class of 2020 sees Collins selecting from a squad that includes 13 back from last year. Captain Peter Costello is one of those and is joined by Leinster Under-17 players in centre Adam Galbraith and back-rower Oisin Spain. Galbraith is also a Leinster and Ireland Under-18 hockey representative while Kameron Moran is the Leinster and Ireland hockey goalkeeper at Under-16.

It is a potent mix and strong pre-Christmas form saw them top the pool section before beating St Gerard's (28-14) in the quarter-final before but then being outplayed (34-3) by another particularly powerful Gonzaga unit in the semi- final. The draw has been tough in so far as Kilkenny were the only team to beat them in a high scoring encounter (45-24) in the league. That said hopes are high that revenge will be high on the menu when the sides meet in Energia Park on Thursday next (Jan 30).

Irish Independent