I t'S FAIR to say that, in general, the old order still rules, with four of the most powerful schools in the country defending their respective provincial titles. Specifically. I am referring to Methody in Ulster, St Michael's in Leinster, CBC in Munster and of course Garbally College in Connacht.
However, there are definite signs of 'little acorns' through Glenstal (2018) winning in Munster, and Ardscoil Rís still hovering. Gonzaga reached a first final in Leinster last year, as of course did CBS Roscommon in Connacht. And for ASR down south, read Summerhill out west. In Ulster too, schools like Ballymena Academy, Wallace High, Limavady Grammar and Friends School Lisburn are all edging ever closer to a first Medallion title (under-16). The net is widening as the game increases in popularity nationwide.
It is not an easy path from Junior potential to Senior fulfillment, as Calasanctius College, Oranmore, Rice College, Westport and St Gerald's College, Castlebar will point to in the past decade alone. That is the challenge now facing CBS, who have already outmaneuvered the previous three by way of last year's historic breakthrough to a first-ever Senior Cup final appearance.
The trick is in striking while the iron is hot and putting the right structures in place for future development at the expense of immediate gratification. These goals are not mutually exclusive, but when a particularly talented group comes along in any school, it is important to tap into the positive ripple effect through the underage ranks.
This year's cup is extremely hard to call with defending holders Garbally, newly-installed league champions Sligo Grammar, plus last year's beaten finalists CBS all, I would suggest, in with an even chance of taking the main title come finals day at the Sportsgrounds in early March.
It could be that tight, while both Coláiste Iognáid and Marist will consider themselves well capable of working their way into that mix. Certainly, on round-robin league form, there was a two-way split between the top three - Garbally, the Grammar and CBS in that order - ahead of Coláiste Iognáid and Marist, leaving Summerhill holding up the rear.
For 2020, the same six schools as 2019 will compete for the premier prize. Again, there are two pools of three, with the top two in each qualifying for the semi-final. In Pool One, Summerhill, CBS and Garbally will compete for the top two slots, with Garbally and CBS possibly favoured to come through (and I emphasise 'possibly') in that order.
In Pool Two, Sligo Grammar, Coláiste Iognáid (The Jes) and Marist could be set for a right old scrap, with league champions Sligo the favourites to qualify based on all the pre-Christmas evidence. Put all that together and, despite only six schools competing in the top tier, it points to the most open competition we have witnessed in recent times.