'Rock on a roll in the Junior Cup
That historic treble double may have eluded the school last year, but Blackrock's under-16s are in the hunt for an incredible four-in-a-row titles, says Tony Ward
Defeat to eventual winners Roscrea in the quarter-final at Senior denied the Blackrock 'S' and 'J' a unique piece of history in 2015 when looking to become the first cup teams from the Williamstown school to complete a hat-trick of doubles. Bear in mind that only five schools in Leinster have ever completed the (now) under-16 and under-19 double of Senior and Junior success in the one season.
Castleknock (1920), Terenure (1958), Belvedere (2005) and St Michael's (2012) have each done it once with 'Rock recording a remarkable 25 doubles since the first playing of the Junior competition back in 1909.
To their immense credit, the 'Rock JCT class of 2015 again came out on top with Liam Turner following Andrew Murphy (2014) and Jay Mion (2013) up the steps to the claim the under-16 trophy.
Now in search of a record-equalling four in a row, achieved by 'Rock once before between 1979 and 1982, the 2016 squad is by general consensus the strongest in quality and depth to represent the school over the last four particularly successful years.
This is a red-hot Blackrock squad and yet, as Crescent College proved over Christmas when recording a 22-15 success over their great Dublin rivals, like any team anywhere in any sporting code, they are beatable.
Unfortunately for sister college St Mary's, it is they who have drawn the short straw in facing this particularly powerful Blackrock juggernaut first up. Beyond that, St Michael's (six successive finals at this level between 2007 and 2012) look most likely again but with eight under-15s included, 2016 may prove a little bit too much 12 months too early.
Beaten finalists in 2015, Terenure College will again be there or thereabouts despite a particularly tough opening draw against League finalists Roscrea. Indeed, the winner of this tie could prove the biggest threat to 'Rock's designs on that record-equalling four in a row.
While Junior Cup rugby is a lot more difficult to predict, watch for a particularly strong Pres Bray squad coached by former Ireland ladies mentor (and the one most responsible for the female breakthrough) Philip 'Goose' Doyle. Belvedere, beaten finalists in 2013 and 2014, will again challenge but if ever a cup at this level looked like remaining at its current place of residence, then Williamstown is that place and 'Rock's class of 2016 that team.
If 'Rock have been the dominant force in Leinster (nothing knew about that) taking four of the last five Junior titles, then Crescent have been the most consistent down south in recent years. Winners in 2010 and 2011, they have also made it through to the last three finals despite losing out to Castletroy, Pres and Christians in that order.
Just two points separated St Munchin's and Crescent in the Limerick City Cup final (the Corbally school taking it 20-18, courtesy of a brace of tries from hooker Keith Hyland) and these two look the most likely to challenge CBC and PBC winners for the last two years.
Again, much will depend on the draw and all that entails, but on the limited evidence available it looks like PBC, CBC, Crescent and Munchin's in that order, with Rockwell the best of the rest.
In Connacht Derek Ryan's hard graft at Marist is paying dividends by way of another league success at under-16. In the pre-Christmas Premier Junior League Marist were the dominant side with only Garbally coming close. Sligo Grammar and Colaiste Iognaid (the Jes) were next in line but the gap between the top two and the rest was enormous.
In Pool 1 of the Round Robin Cup (same format as Senior) Marist should prove too strong for the Jes and the Bish and probably in that order. Meanwhile, in Pool 2 Garbally will be hotly fancied to get the better of Sligo, CBS Roscommon and possibly St Muredach's, most likely in that order. If league forms transfers to the cup, expect a Marist v Garbally final at under-16.
Aside from Marist in the double year of 2013 (when beating Sligo Grammar 22-8) it's been 'new kids on the block' in the guise of Calasanctius College, Oranmore (2009 & 2010), Rice College, Westport (2011 & 2012), St Gerald's, Castlebar (2014) and CBS Roscommon (2015). Changed but exciting times indeed.
The eight top-seeded teams in the Ulster School's Medallion Shield are Ballyclare High School, Belfast Royal Academy (BRA), Campbell College, Belfast, Coleraine Grammar School, Methodist College, Belfast, Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI), Sullivan Upper School and Wallace High School.
RBAI (Inst) are the current holders and, much like Blackrock in Leinster, favourites as they set out in defence of the trophy and the hat-trick of wins they hope to put in place. Certainly, all pre-Christmas form suggests the reigning champions again the team to beat.
They did, however, lose narrowly to Methody back in November, so nothing is guaranteed. And if there is to be a dark horse then BRA with former Ulster professional coach Brian McLaughlin now heading the coaching regime at Cliftonville Road and working from Junior/Medallion level up.
Wallace have contested four of the last six finals at this level (sharing the trophy with Campbell in 2010) and again, pending the draw, could be in the final shake-up. However, Inst are the team to beat in 2016.