TERENURE COLLEGE marked their 149th year with a Junior Cup win and a Senior Cup final appearance, and the 10-times champions are looking to mark their 150th anniversary with their first title since 2003.
Second on the roll of honour alongside Belvedere, the southwest Dublin school only won their first title in 1952 and have gone on to be a dominant force since, appearing in 21 finals – second only to Blackrock.
A number of last year's beaten finalists are returning but they’re on the same side of the draw as their rivals, with a tough looking route to the final starting with St Gerard’s in Round 1.
But should they go all the way and capture the title, they’ll be following down a tradition that started in the 1950s when John O’Connor lifted the trophy for the first time.
The 1950s also saw out-half Aengus McMorrow become the school’s first international representative, as it’s rugby dynasty began to grow.
It has gone on to provide the country with 11 internationals, with Girvan Dempsey the most capped having worn the green jersey 82 times and scored 19 tries in an illustrious career.
The recently appointed Director of Rugby at Harlequins, 35-times capped Conor O’Shea is another of Terenure’s past pupils who distinguished himself at full-back for Ireland, before becoming a respected administrator and pundit.
One Lion has emerged from the school, when Michael Hipwell was part of the 1971 tour to New Zealand and Australia and featured six times. The flanker did play against the Maori, but failed to gain a Test spot for the series.
That inaugural 1952 victory led to mass celebrations in the then ‘village’ of Terenure, according to Declan Downs in his excellent ‘History of the Leinster Schools Cup’, and was based on a pack modelled on the touring Springboks of that era.
It was remarkably the school’s first appearance in the final and the 9-3 win over Castleknock would prove a breakthrough that saw the school reach three more finals in successive years at the end of the decade.
Although they were beaten on the first two occasions by Blackrock, Gerry Tormey lifted the trophy in 1958 after a 3-0 win over Belvedere.
Success didn’t come in the 1960s as ’Nure lost three finals – again two to Blackrock and one to local rivals St Mary’s – but after two more final defeats they finally lifted the Cup again after a 21-year gap, thanks to David Webb’s side, who avenged their four final defeats to Blackrock with a 15-9 win.
As if to prove it wasn’t a fluke, they achieved back-to-back titles against their rivals the following year with a comeback in which this newspaper’s correspondent Kieran Rooney claimed “they pulled themselves off the floor to win”.
The 12-10 win was followed up by a 15-3 victory over CBS Monkstown four years later as Michael Costello lifted Terenure’s fifth title under the stewardship of current UCD Director of Rugby, John McLean.
James Blaney, who would go on to represent Leinster and Munster, was the captain of the first of three victorious sides in the 1990s, in 1992 beating Belvedere 19-6, while a year later Dempsey won a medal to kickstart their careers as part of the team that beat Clongowes 8-3.
That began a rivalry with the coming Kildare school that saw Terenure beat them once more in 1997 with current Bristol hooker David Blaney skippering the side to a 22-15 victory.
The tables were turned in 1998 and 2000 as Clongowes came out on top, the latter thanks to a missed kick by out-half David McAllister in the final throes of the match.
But the future Leinster player made up for his error a year later, nailing the crucial kick as Terenure beat Blackrock 21-19 in the final.
Alex Dunlop was the last player to lift the trophy for Terenure in 2003 and having bridged a six-year gap to reach last year’s final, they are now looking to end the longest Senior Cup drought they’ve had since the late ’80s and early ’90s when they went eight trophyless years.
And the school's Gamesmaster, Joe McDonnell, says the school would dearly love to bridge that gap and make the 150th anniversary all the more special.
“Naturally, the school and the kids are hoping to mark the event with a victory but you can only hope for that,” he said. “We had an all-day affair between ourselves and St Mary’s to celebrate in September where we played them from U-9 to U-18 which was fantastic, while the book which has been produced to mark the anniversary is excellent.”
And McDonnell believes the personalities involved at Terenure have been central to the school’s successful period and in building up their winning tradition.
“There’s a great tradition there which is very, very important. We’ve had some great coaches over the last 15 years, especially from John McLean, Des Thornton, Padraig Ford and Gerry Murphy, which is also very important.
We’ve also had a number of strong families coming through, for example the Blaneys, Hogans, Colemans, Clarkes. It’s very hard for schools to break through in the first place, but once it’s there it’s there and it’s easier to work on.”