Could 2015 see the changing of the guard in schools rugby? Today there are contenders in all four schools cup finals who are vying to lift the trophy in their respective provinces for the very first time.
First up (kick-off 2.0), it’s Ard Scoil Ris fronting up to 25-time winners Rockwell in the Thomond Park Munster finale. For the Limerick north city school, it represents a third final attempt having lost out to Pres Cork (PBC) in 1996 and to cross-city rivals Crescent last year.
Skipper Ty Chan and goal-kicker with nerves of steel Conor Fitzgerald (pictured, brother of last year’s full-back and current Ireland U-20 winger Stephen) will be central to today’s outcome.
Victories over St Munchin’s (21-13), as well as pre-competition favourites CBC (18-16), and over that other Cork giant PBC (13-11) in the penultimate stage, sees James Hickey and Mossy Lawler well poised to engineer a right good tilt at pre-match favourites Rockwell.
The Cashel School by contrast will be seeking a third title from their sixth final in seven years. Coaches Mark Butler and Denis Leamy pick from a particularly strong group of players with talented out-half Bill Johnston steering their course.
Successive wins over Pres (16-14), St Munchin’s (14-6) and competition dark horse Glenstal (22-3) in the semi-final sees skipper Sean O’Connor well set to mount those steps, collect that much coveted trophy and, with it, outright title success number 26.
An hour later at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, RBAI and Wallace High (kick-off 3.0) go head to head for the third time on the biggest stage of all in Ulster.
In 2003 and 2007, the cup went the way of Institution while final defeats to Methody in 1989 and Regent House in 1994 sees back-rower Sam Moore and the Wallace class of 2015 more determined than ever to make this the historic breakthrough.
Victories over Ballyclare (11-3), Portora Royal (30-0) and, most significantly, Methody (12-10) makes the Lisburn School today’s final favourite.
Lewis McNamara and Inst will love that, bearing in mind a winning run that includes Royal School, Armagh (23-0), Regent House (36-0) and Coleraine in the semis (10-6). Something’s got to give, but for Wallace (yet to be beaten by another Ulster school) this could finally be their day.
Meanwhile, at the RDS (kick-off 4.0), Cistercian College, Roscrea come in search of that first Leinster title against powerhouse Belvedere in this unique black and white final.
All the pre-tournament talk was of St Michael’s, Blackrock, Clongowes and probably in that order, although Belvo, Roscrea and Newbridge (Junior finalists in 2012) were never off the radar.
Belvo will be contesting their 24th senior final, Roscrea their fifth in what will be the first decider between these two great rugby-playing schools.
Should Belvo succeed, it will put the Great Denmark Street school on 11 wins in the Leinster roll of honour and second only to ’Rock in the all-time pecking order.
Victory for Roscrea would mark, much like Ard Scoil and Wallace in Munster and Ulster, a ground-breaking first outright success.
To date, their run has been impressive, not least in disposing of cup holders Blackrock in the second round (17-14). Before that, it was Wesley (26-0) then that semi-final draw (8-8) and epic replay with Newbridge (20-19) in advance of today’s eagerly-awaited showdown.
Belvo have hit the ground even faster with Gonzaga (32-5), CBC (42-14) and, most satisfyingly of all, Clongowes (27-26) the victims to date. Dan Trayers (pictured) is the linchpin in a powerful Roscrea forward unit, with Tim Carroll, skipper Tim Foley plus halves Keith Kavanagh and Alan Tynan key performers.
For Belvo, balance is unquestionably the key characteristic to this year’s challenge. The spine of the team from Eoin Cleere, through James McKeown, Conor Jennings, Hugh O’Sullivan, Andrew Hynes and Tom De Jongh is mighty.
If both schools play to form, take Belvo to do it but unlike 2011, this Roscrea side has what it takes to turn history on its head.
The smart money goes with tradition but don’t rule out the possibility of a new name on all three trophies.
Rockwell v Ard Scoil Ris,
Live, Setanta Ireland, 2.0
RBAI v Wallace High,
Live, BBC 2, 3.0
Belvedere v Cistercian Roscrea, Live, Setanta Ireland, 4.0