Tony Ward's Leinster school-by-school guide
Following a prolonged slumber lasting some 30-plus years, the definitive sleeping giant was awoken by way of the school's first ever double in 2005. Welcome on board Mr Foley - a new headmaster and a new era in Belvedere College rugby.
This millennium alone has seen four final appearances with a two/two split. Victories in '05 and '08 while losing out to St Mary's in '02 (revenge was sweet in '08) and last year to Cistercian College as the Roscrea school lifted the Holy Grail for the first time ever.
Narrow defeats in the 2013 and 2014 Junior Cup finals to Blackrock sees this year's squad primed to go the whole way. Certainly it is difficult to look beyond Belvo and 'Rock before a ball is kicked.
Phil Weahiko is again head coach to a squad including a dozen back from last year, 11 of whom participated in that final defeat to Roscrea, with no fewer than eight in the starting line-up. It includes three players in backrower Tom De Jongh as well as halves Conor Jennings and Hugh O'Sullivan, who made it on to the official Team of the Tournament.
Talented scrum-half O'Sullivan is still under-18 and has represented the province at that level this season while skipper Brian Egan, out-half Jennings and hooker Daniel McCaffrey have lined out with the Leinster under-19s. De Jongh also played for the Ireland Schools Under-18 side last season.
Eleven of the starting 15 in that Junior final in Donnybrook in 2013 are still on board now. Put it all together and it makes for a formidable challenge from north of the Liffey. Eleven years is a long time by modern Belvo standards. And if it is right what they say about having to lose one in order to win one, then for Egan and the class of 2016 their time is now. It's going to take an exceptional side to beat them. That said, Newbridge will provide a formidable challenge. Take that as read.
COACHES Phil Werahiko (Head), Stephen Gibbons, Massey Tuhakaraina, Rory Litchfield, Damien Butler, Michael Lawlor, Eoin Smyth and Ivan Soroka.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Roscrea (18-11) in Final.
SQUAD Aaron Murphy, Aidan Peate, Alex Kavanagh, Andre Grennell, Andrew Sheridan, Anthony McDonnell, Brian Egan* (Captain), Brian Gibbons, Cian Buckley, Cian Galvin*, Cian Walsh, Cillian Molloy, Cillian White, Conor Byrne, Conor Doran, Conor Jennings*, Conor Wynne-Walsh, Daniel McCaffrey*, Daragh Ring, David Delaney, David Hawkshaw, David Hill, David Lacey, Eoin Sweeney, Fergus Flood, Fiachra Smith, Gerard Hill, Greg Petherbridge, Grellan Murray, Hugh O'Sullivan*, Hugh Sexton*, Jake McNicholl, Jake Robinson, James Herity, James Kenny*, James Lynch, James McKeown*, James Power, Jesse Iredale*, Jordan Wilkes, Liam Price, Max Kearney*, Nathan Merrigan, Neil Minogue, Paraic Cagney, Peter Maher, Ruadhan Byron, Sam Barry, Sam Osborne, Richard Houston, Sean McKeon, Senan McNulty*, Stephen Meagher, Stephen Quigley, Ted Walsh, Tom De Jongh* and William Lyons.
If Belvedere are to be beaten in 2016, guess who will be favoured to do it? Victims to a late Roscrea pushover try (brilliantly executed) at the Bective end in last year's absorbing quarter-final, new Leinster Academy supremo Peter Smyth can call again on some 16 survivors of that bitterly disappointed Williamstown squad.
As ever it is a 'Rock line-up laden with representative stars. No fewer than 11 of the current squad have represented Leinster at under-18 or under-19 already this season. John Fairley and Caelan Doris have both played in the under-18 back row, as has No 8 Andrew Murphy (JCT cup-winning skipper in 2014) as well as scrum half Patrick Patterson, out-half Conor Dean (son of former St Mary's, Leinster, Ireland and Lions No 10 Paul) and centre Tommy O'Brien.
Charlie Ryan has packed down in the second row for the Leinster 19s with scrum-half Luke Gaffney, centre Gavin Mullin (below, son of former Blackrock, Leinster, Ireland and Lions centre Brendan) centre/wing Stephen Kilgallen and full-back James McGowan all lining out behind the scrum.
The versatile Kilgallen was Blackrock's lone representative on the Team of the Tournament in 2015. While for Dorris this will represent a third successive cup campaign, having made the Senior squad while in Transition Year in 2014. The draw has been kind with one of the two Vinnie Murray Cup finalists (still to be decided) first up.
Twenty of the 23 that lifted the Junior Cup when beating Belvo (17-10) in 2013 are fit and raring to go again now. That and three cup wins at 'J' (under-16) in a row sees the structure set for a serious assault on title number sixty nine at 'S' (under-19). Belvo edged the pre-Christmas friendly but that will count for little when they eventually come head to head in the cup. Others might not agree, but that clash will preferably come later rather than sooner.
COACHES Peter Smyth (Head), Gareth Pickering, Karl Curran, Brian Savage, Tony Smeeth, Daniel Moore, Seamus Toomey and Evan O'Brien.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Roscrea (17-14) in Quarter-final.
SQUAD Emmet Burns*, Tiernan O'Hagan, Giuseppe Coyne, Oisin Dougan, Carl Delaney, Richie Mouatt*, Charlie Connolly, Thomas Clarkson, Andrew Savage, Joe Byrne, Hugh Eggleston, Stephen McLaughlin, James McShane, Sean Moloney, Jay Mion, Rory Fitzpatrick, Charlie Ryan*, Niall Marshall*, Colm O'Flaherty, Jack Gardiner, Cillian Daly, Ross Doyle, Jack Stapleton, Matthew Campbell, Calean Doris*, Richard Dunne*, John Fairley*, Andrew Murphy*, Hugo Burke, Alan Francis, Niall Murray, Mikey Sexton, Mark Nugent, Hugo Walsh, Matthew Carroll, Michael McGagh, Patrick Patterson*, Luke Gaffney*, Louis O'Reilly, Mark Phelan, Jack Cosgrove, Conor Dean*, Paul Cullen, Peter O'Reilly*, Brian Grogan, Tommy O'Brien*, Gavin Mullin* , Alejandro Alonso, Tom Roche, Jack Ringrose, Ben Layden, Ross Deacon, James McGowan*, Liam Turner, Conor Kelly, Andrew Westman, Paddy Fox, Nick Gleeson, John Gallagher, David Heavey, Stephen Kilgallen*, Ferdia Power and James Moriarty.
Remember '76. That is the call to arms for all who wear the red, black and gold with such pride. The name Michael 'Skinner' Mullen is synonymous with inspiring Christians to greatness and, much like Fr Michael 'Mocky' Sheil at Clongowes, it was the former Belvedere Junior and Senior Cup captain who laid the foundation for the force that is the Monkstown school today.
Despite qualifying for the quarter final of the league (losing to St Andrew's) it was by their own admission a disappointing campaign in which a potentially very talented group underachieved. The draw has thrown up a very real on-the-day either/or clash with St Gerard's with the prize for the winner a precious place in the last eight.
Scrum-half Rob Jordan (above) is captain of a squad including ten back from last year's group beaten by eventual runners-up Belvedere in the quarter-final. That is the bottom-line objective this time around and then see where the rolling draw takes them from there.
Press former coach and teacher Mullen on what it was that turned that group of '76 into potential cup winners and immediately he will highlight "athletic involvement" (something I know Blackrock and Belvedere will echo to the full). Back then Jurgen Whyte was All Ireland Triple Jump champion with a whole host of track and field SCT athletes on board as well.
Forty years on since Declan Murphy lifted that trophy and it is prop Eoghan Clarke leading the dual way. The shot putt representative was, along with Jordan, the stand-out performer in last year's cup run and eventually made the Team of the Tournament for 2015. Already this year, alongside hugely influential back-rower William Fay and talented three-quarter Thomas O'Callaghan, he has represented the Leinster under-18s while the equally promising Jordan has made his mark with the province's under-19 side.
With these four fit and firing, a place in the last eight seems a very achievable aspiration.
COACHES Ronan O'Donovan (Head), David Lewis, Dr Gerry Berry and Dan Hazely.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Belvedere (42-14) in Quarter-final.
SQUAD Rob Jordan* (Captain), Dylan O'Regan, Alec Byrne*, Rob Doyle*, William Fay, Cameron Madden, Ben Reynolds, Jack Mac Ateer*, Eoghan Clarke*, Connor Montayne, Alex Holmes*, Kieran Brady, Kenzi Kouadri, Zach Sattar, Calum Kavanagh, Gavin King, Alex Guard, Mark Theunissen, Jeff Mahon, Jack Blennerhassett, Paddy Rogers*, Thomas O'Callaghan*, Tom Kelly*, Shane O'Hanrahan, Cameron Watson, Darragh Porter*, Luke Sweeney, Eoghan Vaughan, Darragh Forster, Taylor Whyte, Henry Spellman and Alex Guerin.
CISTERCIAN COLLEGE, ROSCREA
So how do you top the dream year? 2015 will forever be etched in the annals of Cistercian College folklore and history. We're tempted to say that from one little acorn do mighty oak trees grow, only this was no little acorn.
Right back to 1910 Mount St Joseph, Roscrea had been knocking on the door to Senior Cup success. In that year Paddy O'Connell led the Offaly-based school as close as doesn't matter to outright success. A scoreless draw in the final against Blackrock was followed by a narrow defeat (6-0) in the replay.
If only they had known then that it would take over a hundred more years to reach that Holy Grail of the Leinster Schools game. The next final followed in 1941 and with similar heartbreak for Brendan Flanagan and the rest as another scoreless draw in the final was followed by a six-point defeat (9-3), this time to Newbridge in the replay.
Fifty-eight years on and John Phelan was the captain as 'Rock again provided the stumbling block in 1999 at the final hurdle but the knocking was growing ever louder. Conor Finn's 2011 team was unfortunate in meeting probably the greatest Clongowes squad ever. In 2013, under Rory Moloney, they could and should have made the big breakthrough. That was the one that got away.
But with Tim Carroll, Mattie Keane, Dan Trayers and history-making skipper-in-waiting Tim Foley in that exceptionally strong squad, the seeds to ultimate success two years on were sown. So how to top 2015? Well, what about a pre-Christmas Junior and Senior League double for starters?
Even last year's all-conquering side fell short when losing to Newbridge (20-19) in the 2014/15 League Final. So lest anyone is writing off a one-season wonder, think again.
They won seven of their eight league games with a squad including 11 back from last year and representative players in lock Aaron Browne (Leinster under-19), out-half Alan Tynan, (Leinster and Ireland under-19), flanker Brian Diffley (Connacht and Ireland under-18 provisional panel), tight-head Dylan Murphy (Munster and Ireland under-19 provisional panel), lock Finnian Wycherley (Munster and Ireland provisional panel) and this year's captain and flanker Simon Meagher (Connacht and Ireland under-19 provisional panel).
The exceptionally gifted Tynan excels at football and hurling with the Tipperary minors, as does centre Ben Hyland. Jack Canning is a nephew of Galway All Star Joe, while developing out-half Adi Donovan is son of former Irish athlete Paul.
So piece all that together and tell me that there is not another mighty challenge ahead for the big city slickers, specifically 'Rock and Belvo. But for now all eyes and minds are focussed on Kilkenny and what is sure to be the third all-the-way-to-the-wire tussle of the season between these great boarding rivals. The least they deserve, particularly CCR as defending champions, is the main schools venue.
COACHES Pieter Swanepoel (Head), Rob Dempsey, John Burns, Rob Cassidy and Brendan McKeogh.
LAST YEAR Winners.
SQUAD Aaron Browne*, Aaron Coughlan, Aaron Murphy, Adi Donovan, Alan Tynan*, Andrew O'Connor, Ben Hyland, Ben Rock, Brian Diffley*, Cathal Walsh, Conor Groome, Conor Kelly, Conor Timmons, Cormac Izucchukwu, Dan Power, Daniel Keane*, Daniel Ward, Darragh Keating, Darragh Treacy, David Mackey, David Maher, David O'Toole, Dylan Murphy*, Eoghan Maher*, Evan Browne, Finbarr Crowley, Finnian Wycherley*, Jack Canning, Jack Culligan, James Brandon, Jay Culleton, Joe Murphy*, Keith Kavanagh*, Kevin Fitzgerald, Liam Crowley, Matthew Nugent, Michael Milne, Michael O'Reilly, Neil Moylett, Paul Keane, Philip O'Shea*, Robert Deacy, Robert Enright-Mooney, Rory Gaffney, Rowan O'Halloran, Ryan Lomas, Ryan McDonnell, Sam Hastings, Simon Meagher* (Captain), Tom Byrne, Thomas Martin and Tiernan McCloskey.
They may still be waiting on that elusive first outright success but no school underestimates the force that is Gonzaga. Year upon year the Ranelagh-based school produces teams at under-16 and under-19 consistently in the shake-up for Division 1A honours.
With three successive Senior League wins between 2005 and 2007 already in the locker, yet again this year they qualified for the play-offs thereby insuring a place in the Leinster Senior Cup competition proper.
In finishing third in their Pool they lost out narrowly to St Gerard's in a quarter-final that could have gone either way.
Along the way to the knockouts they met and overcame both eventual finalists Cistercian College Roscrea and Kilkenny College. Head coach and former Skerries flanker John Murphy picks from a squad including some 18 back from last year's extended cup panel that lost out to fellow Jesuit school Belvedere in the opening round.
Leinster Under-19 full-back Barry Goulding (below) captains a fast-maturing group that includes fellow representative players in tight-head Evan Coyle and hooker Conor Gleeson. Both front-rowers were part of the successful Leinster Schools team at under-18 level.
The draw has been kind in so far as it will be the second of the Vinnie Murray finalists first up. That match is scheduled for Lakelands (Terenure RFC) on Thursday January 28. Needless to say there is no room for complacency, but certainly on the balance of League evidence a place in the last eight at least beckons for Goulding and Co.
COACHES John Murphy (Head), David Murphy, Mark McGroarty, Niall McNelis, Niall Bevan and Oliver O'Brien.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Belvedere (32-5) in 1st Round.
SQUAD Eoin Barr, Harry Brennan*, Adam Browne*, Eoin Buggy, Daniel Carson, Alex Caslin*, Simon Clear, Thomas Costello*, Evin Coyle*, Shane Dempsey, Chris Dillon, Dermot English, Conor Farrell, Sean Galvin, Conor Gleeson*, Barry Goulding*, Oran James*, Fiachra Keane*, Mark Keegan, Robert Kelly*, James Kenny*, Robbie Kidney, David Lynch, Henry Lynch, Conor McMahon*, Jack MacNamara*, Ruairi McCabe, Alex McEvoy*, Frank McHugh*, Matt Meagher, Jack Mulcahy, Declan Murphy, Brian O'Donnell, Rory O'Donnell, Harry O'Grady*, Ian O'Grady, Michael O'Kennedy*, Mikey O'Sullivan, Enda Ryder*, Hugh Twomey and Killian Quigley.
CLONGOWES WOOD COLLEGE
To compare Clongowes with France is probably an unfair analogy, yet here goes anyway. With the French you never know what team will turn up and in what mood. With the boys from Clane you seldom if ever know where they stand pre-Christmas, but turn up come cup time they will. And much like Les Bleus, when the purple and whites are good they are very, very good.
I make no apologies for repeatedly describing Clongownian rugby players as the consummate scrappers. They may lose but when they do they leave nothing behind. It comes with the jersey. Back in 1995 in his excellent 'History of Leinster Schools Cup Rugby since 1886' Declan Downs described Clongowes' rugby at that point in its development thus: "Together with De La Salle College they have become the modern day giant killers of schools rugby in Leinster."
Well, 20-plus years on you can safely remove the word "killer" from that statement. When the extraordinary Fr Sheil teamed up with supremely talented Limerick out-half and captain Greg Dilger to lift the cup for the first time in 52 years in '78 and with the great Vinnie Murray set to make his mark, the seeds of jumping from lightweights to heavyweights were well and truly sown.
Since then they have contested 16 finals, winning six - the last in 2011 when, under the captaincy of Conor Gilsenan, probably the strongest Clongowes squad ever coached by Noel McNamara collected the cup. The team of '98 under Des Dillon and with Gordon D'Arcy as the main man was good, but that back-to-back winning squad in 2010 (Robert Hynes) and 2011 was, player for player, even stronger again.
So no pressure then on Jack Moore, Brett Igoe (assistant coach in 2011) and the class of 2015. Moore skippers a squad that includes seven back from last year's group beaten by the odd point in 53 by great rivals Belvo in the semi-final. They are low on representative players - which in itself is no bad thing. Michael Silvester at full-back and Cathal Duff at loose-head have lined out for the successful Leinster under-18s. It will be something of a local derby when they lock horns with a developing King's Hospital squad in Donnybrook on January 28. Matt Jarvis needs little reminding from me of the extent of the task.
COACHES Brett Igoe (Head), Pat Kenny, Matthew Wright, Brian Murray and David Lyons.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Belvedere (27-26) in Semi-final.
SQUAD Dan Sheehan, Arthur Odlum, Cathal Duff, Andrew Kelly, Fiachra Lynch, Harry O'Neill, Ronan Hannon, Patrick Celebi, Sean Phelan, David Jeffares, Daniel Beggs, Jonathan Nally, Conrad Daly, Jake Martin, Christian Casey, Ben Messayeh, Barry Doyle, Shane Hogan, Dan Fitzpatrick, David Murtagh, Liam Callanan, Joseph Gilmartin, Tadgh Dooley, Sean McMahon, Sean McCrohan*, Jack Moore* (Captain), Patrick Nulty*, Florence McCarthy, Ed Carroll*, Joseph Martin, Gareth Graham, Gavin Dowling, Joe Murphy*, Thomas Monaghan*, Reinis Lemess, Patrick Delap, Brian Maher, Miles O'Connor, Jack Gilheney, Michael Stapleton, Liam El Sibai, Michael Silvester*, Ben O'Shea and Connell Kennelly.
Once upon a time a competitive Section B (mid-ranking) school but now Kilkenny are very much heavyweights in every competition in which they participate. It may be inn the heart of hurling country but with a list of former pupils now plying their trade in the professional game, Kilkenny College is a top-class nursery and major force in the Leinster Schools game.
Robin Copeland, Shane Delahunt, Craig Ronaldson and Peter Lydon are just some of the more recent graduates to come through the Castlecomer ranks. The school is immensely proud of the achievement of their past pupils when breaking into the pro game, and rightly so.
This year's Senior cohort is as competitive as ever. Despite a slow start and indifferent league campaign in which they lost to St Andrew's (24-21), Roscrea (22-17) and Gonzaga (28-26), they scraped into the play-offs ahead of Castleknock on bonus points accumulated but once in their season took off.
First to feel the backlash in the quarter-final was previously unbeaten Section A winners Newbridge College (5-3). Then came the semi-final, where revenge was sweet when producing their performance of the season in overcoming St Andrew's (31-19). In the final and for the second time they lost out by a single score (22-17) to cup holders Roscrea.
Gordon Rowe is head coach and flanker Glen Dudley captain to a squad that includes 11 back from last year's extended cup panel beaten by a particularly strong Newbridge College team in the opening round. Alongside Dudley in the back row is Reuben Pim, son of former Wesley and Leinster flanker Chris. Reuben has already represented Ireland in Pentathlon.
In between at No 8 is the powerful and dynamic running Anu Awonsi, who is also national shot putt champion. Fellow back-rower Jack Delahunt is a brother of Connacht player, the aforementioned Shane. Scrum-half Scott Levie has represented Ireland in sailing while multi talented footballing out-half Joshua Miller has represented Ireland at under-15 in soccer as well as the Leinster under-18s in rugby. Watch him.
While the Terenure/St Mary's tie is picked as the plum to launch this year's competition for obvious reasons, the third competitive meeting of Kilkenny and Roscrea has a unique appeal all of its own. To that end, and given it involves the cup holders, Donnybrook not Portarlington should be the appropriate venue.
COACHES Gordon Rowe (Head), Jeff Carter, Jeremy Clarke and Wesley Carter.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Newbridge (57-10) in 1st Round.
SQUAD Glenn Holmes*, Philip Deane, Dylan Bradley, John Ridgeway*, Adam Oakes, Joshua Miller*, Scott Levie*, Gavin Talbot*, Jordan Leybourne*, Geoffrey Chapman*, Lloyd Stephens, Gavin Parr, Glenn Dudley* (Captain), Reuben Pim, Anu Awonusi*, Stephen Gray, William Rothwell, Finn Connolly*, Jack Delahunt*, Andrew Crossley, Natanael Costa-Wallace, Ben O'Sullivan, Craig Strong, Evan Stephenson, Lukman Onilenla, Matthew Keane, Andrew Florio, Shane Fahy, Aubrey Bradley and David Young.
No doubt sick to death hearing of the daring deeds of '70 and '41, the new generation of Newbridge College students want to create an historical chapter all of their own. Last year they produced what was arguably their most formidable squad ever - certainly the greatest strength in depth and dare we suggest also the most entertaining. Alas, they fell foul to champions elect Roscrea in a never-to-be-forgotten semi-final replay in which just a single point (20-19) separated the sides.
Coincidentally, they lifted the League title for the second year running on the back of the identical scoreline (20-19) against the same opposition. The point being that between the champions in waiting and the beaten semi-finalists there was little if anything. That said, few - least of all Newbridge - would deny 2015 the year of Roscrea.
And far from licking their wounds under Niall Smullen and David Brew, they have put in place another formidable squad with 11 of last year's extended panel still on board and hungry to make good the disappointment of that penultimate-round defeat. Already in the League they have announced their intent despite surrendering the title somewhat surprisingly to Kilkenny in the quarter-final (5-3).
Prior to that they had scorched through their pool with a five-from-five winning return, accounting for Pres Bray, Wesley, KH, CBC and Gerard's along the way. And with Roscrea topping the other section, it looked like a repeat of the 2004/15 final was guaranteed. Someone forgot to hand Kilkenny the script.
Out-half Tim Murphy, so central to last year's success, skippers a side with both props, Jordan Duggan and David Breen, both wings Ruairi Cleary and Colm Stapleton, both halves Murphy and Colm Doyle, lock Mike Joyce as well as influential back rowers Tom O'Neill and Patrick Ryan (although not necessarily in the identical positions) back-boning the 2016 assault.
That is some foundation before a ball is kicked. Ryan, Tim Murphy and fellow returning warrior Daithi Murphy have all represented Leinster this season at under-18, while Ben Howlett and Kevin Kyne are involved with the provincial under-17 side. Doyle, O'Neill and Stapleton were selected for the Irish under-19 Rugby League team and represented Ireland against Scotland in the alternative oval ball code back in October. Both Joyce and Gavin Burke were central to the Kildare Minor team that made it to the All-Ireland semi-final this summer.
The draw has been anything but kind and they enter the clash with Belvo as undoubted underdogs. After last year, would they want it any other way?
COACHES Niall Smullen (Head), David Brew, Ben Swindlehurst and Jonathan Newsome.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Roscrea (20-19) after Semi-final replay (8-8).
SQUAD Tom Berney, Daniel Bradley, David Breen*, Adam Browne, Gavin Burke, Ben Caulfield, Ruairi Cleary*, Nicholas Cody, Elliot Davis, Jonathan Deane, Michael Dillon, Caomhan Doolan, Enda Dowling, Colm Doyle*, Peter Doyle, Jordan Duggan*, Tom Finn, James Fitzpatrick, Ciaran Fletchmore, Luke Heffernan, Theodore Hovenden Kelly, Ben Howlett, Robbie Hyland, Dylan Johnson, Sam Jones, Mike Joyce*, Ciaran Joyce, David Kennedy, Kevin Kyne, Ross Maher, Cian Mahon, Cillian McCarthy, Shane McGroary, Andrew McLoughlin, Luke Morris, Cian Murphy, Daniel Murphy, Daithi Murphy*, Tim Murphy* (Captain), Cillian O'Brien, Patrick O'Brien, Tom O'Neill*, Sean O'Neill, Josh Peacock, Alex Pocock, Cian Prendergast, Michael Ryan, Patrick Ryan*, Colm Stapleton*, Niall Stapleton, Andrew Sweeney, Paschal Thompson, Dylan Walker*, Rob Wynne and Louis Younge.
ST ANDREW'S COLLEGE
While it would be impossible to replicate the success of St Andrew's, then located in St Stephen's Green, in the formative years of the Schools Cups - seven finals and four wins between 1906 and 1922 - performances in recent times suggests a resurgence in the place of rugby in the now Booterstown-based school.
Central to that re-establishment has been incoming President of Blackrock College RFC, David Boyd. As Director of Rugby since 2012, Boyd has, with typical verve, worked to make this once rugby powerhouse extremely competitive again. As other schools have found to their detriment, it is extremely difficult to run two main team sports parallel.
Despite the obvious problems such an overlap entails, the school continues to build on the competitiveness of recent years. Already in 2015 the Senior team has finished second in their League pool, recording four wins from the five games losing only to eventual winners and current cup holders Roscrea on the way to a place in the quarter-final, where they produced their most impressive performance of the season to date when beating CBC Monkstown (39-8). Unfortunately that form couldn't be maintained when going under to revitalised Kilkenny (31-19) at the penultimate stage. Former pupils and outstanding players Ian and Peter Dumbleton are again the two main coaches. They are assisted by current Seapoint RFC Head coach and former out-half Brian Keegan as well as former Leinster Schools and now UCD No 8 Greg Jones (son of EPCR Communications Manager Mark).
Jordan Larmour is the star turn and skipper to a squad including 12 back from last year's panel beaten by Newbridge in the quarter-final. Whether at wing or in the centre, Larmour is the focal point of the team. Having represented Leinster and Ireland Schools at under-18 as well as Leinster already this year at under-19, his extended prowess has seen this highly promising young sportsman represent Leinster and Ireland at hockey too.
The same dual dilemma applies to scrum-half and younger brother Adam who has also lined out for Leinster and Ireland in hockey. Front-row forward Nick Judge has also represented Leinster at hockey while Stephen Keane, Aran O'Neill and Andrew Vincent have all represented Leinster and Ireland in cricket, with James Meier bringing the provincial cricket representation to four.
Other key performers and players with obvious potential for greater things are powerful centre Peter Sullivan and workaholic back-rower Ben Nolke. The draw hasn't been overly kind, with something of a local derby against St Michael's in Donnybrook on Tuesday January 26. Michael's should advance but on the basis of a disappointing performance in the League semi at the same venue, they owe themselves and each other a big one.
COACHES Ian Dumbleton, Peter Dumbleton, Brian Keegan, Greg Jones, David Jones and David Boyd.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Newbridge (13-5) in Quarter-final.
SQUAD Sean Balance*, Hugh Black, Jamie Boag, Michael Bruun-Nielsen, Dougie Burns, Cormac Campbell, Ben Crowley, Daragh Geraghty-Singleton, Zola Henry*, Aidan Hetherington, Elliot Higgins, Will Holland*, Daniel James, Nick Judge, Stephen Keane, Adam Larmour, Jordan Larmour* (Captain), James Meier, Harry McCarthy*, Joe McDonagh*, David Molloy, Dagan Morris, Patrick Murray, David Nam, Ben Nolke*, Jack O'Brien, Harry O'Byrne*, Mark O'Carroll, Aran O'Neill, Rian O'Flaherty*, Mark O'Reilly, Ben Ryan*, Rory Simington, Andrew Sullivan, Peter Sullivan*, Andrew Vincent and David Wilson*.
ST GERARD'S SCHOOL
No other day school has a smaller reservoir in which to cast its net than the Bray-based school. Small in number but huge in spirit is the unofficial rugby playing motto.
Last year, for the first time since cup qualification via the League or via the Vinnie Murray Cup (finalists) came into place, Gerard's failed to make the cut.
The objective year upon year is to make the top 16 schools for the main cup competitions at Senior and Junior. To that end, this year has already topped last year with both under-16s and under-19s making it through by way of finishing first and second in their league pools respectively.
For the SCT a lone defeat to Newbridge (8-3) represented the only blemish in a run that included league wins over CBC, King's Hospital, Wesley and Pres Bray. Cup holders and newly crowned League champions Roscrea proved a hurdle too high (27-5) in a rain-drenched semi-final.
Jason Emery is again head coach, with ex-pupil and former Blackrock three-quarter Shane Hunt his main assistant. Outstanding back-row Billy O'Reilly (son of former Gerardian Denis and nephew of former scrum-half David) is captain to a squad including seven back from the group beaten by Castleknock in the Vinnie Murray Cup semi-final replay.
Versatile Daniel Power has represented Leinster under-18s this season at hooker but along with equally talented back-rower Harry Happonen both key players have been ruled out of the upcoming cup campaign through injury.
Brothers Cormac and Tom Foley fill the half-back positions while Matthew O'Brien and Ben Kealy are sons of former Greystones stalwarts Jerome O'Brien and Howard Kealy. Hooker Shane Gallagher is a son of former Gerard's SCT captain Eoin and a nephew of former Greystones winger Hubie, while talented midfield back Marc Baker is a brother of former scrum-half David.
The draw has thrown up a fascinating first-round clash with CBC in Donnybrook on the 25th. Gerard's won the League tie convincingly back in late September but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since. Suffice to say it is an on-the-day, either/or tie in which the precious prize of a place in the last eight awaits. Your guess is as good as mine.
COACHES Jason Emery, Shane Hunt, Nathan Beuck, Junior Charlie and Rory O'Connor.
LAST YEAR Did not qualify.
SQUAD Ryan Buckley, Ciaran Walsh, Patrick Stanley, Callum McLoughlin, Liam Fenelon, Sean Keogh, Daniel Power*, Shane Gallagher*, Louis O'Connor, Chris Finnegan, Chris Simmonds, Liam Keaney, Jamie O'Sullivan, Brendan Ho, Stephen Bourke, Sam Ryan, Mark Smith, Sam Kenny, Ethan Baxter, Harry Happonen*, Billy O'Reilly* (Captain), Cormac Foley, Tom Foley*, Matthew O'Brien, James Peters, Conor O'Farrell, Marc Baker*, Daniel Hodgins, Matthew Dalton*, Andrew Kingston, Conor Burke, Dominic Brodeur and Ben Kealy*.
ST MARY'S COLLEGE, RATHMINES
In 2008 Richie Bent's team was pipped by the narrowest of margins (11-10) as Belvo made it two wins in four years after 33 years in the wilderness. Since then Mary's have fallen off the radar. It's not so much the 14-year gap since the last outright success (2002 with a precocious young out-half replacement by the name of Sexton dropping the goal to seal the deal in a 10-6 victory over Belvedere) but the level of the Rathmines challenge has dropped significantly in that time.
Fast forward to 2015 and another draw from hell, this time against red-hot favourites St Michael's. It was though there could be but one outcome and the issue wasn't the result; the concern was the likely damage on the scoreboard. However, what we witnessed that January afternoon was the competitive rebirth of a very proud rugby school. This was the Mary's of old as centre Mark Fogarty laid the early marker with a crunching tackle.
The rest followed with skipper Niall Curran (below), fellow flanker Faolan Crowe and scrum-half Derry O'Connor the most prominent. Michael's scraped it in the end but that the better team on the day went out was beyond dispute. The pre-tournament favourites never really recovered after that and Clongowes put the Ailesbury Road school to the sword in the quarter-final, but for St Mary's and everybody associated with the school a real sense of pride was restored, even in defeat.
Now 12 months on and buoyed by a hugely encouraging pre-Christmas run, hopes are high that this squad could challenge the big guns, specifically Blackrock and Belvedere. Fourteen of the match-day squad against Michael's return, with Niall Curran in the unique position of captaining the school in fifth as well as sixth year.
No 8 Ronan Foley has represented the Leinster under-18s while O'Connor and tight-head Michael McCormack have been involved with the province's under-19s. Craig Kennedy is a cousin of Ireland Sevens player Terry and a nephew of former Ireland international Terry Snr, while Tom Murray is also an underage cricket interprovincial.
The draw has produced the big D6 schools derby with Terenure and Mary's locking horns on Sunday 24th. Needless to say, winning that is the sole aspiration at this point in the season for Jamie Cornett and a coaching team that includes former Leicester and Munster professional Johne Murphy. Anything beyond that will look after itself but if searching for a potential dark horse, the Mary's class of 2016 could be it.
COACHES Jamie Cornett (Head), Alan Kingsley, Johne Murphy, John Wynne, Ciaran Walsh, Jeff Blackburn and Brian Moore.
LAST YEAR Beaten by St Michael's (19-14) in 1st Round.
SQUAD Richie Bergin, David Boyle*, Cian Buckley*, Myles Carey, Liam Corcoran*, John Cosgrove, Faolan Crowe*, Niall Curran* (Captain), Daniel Delaney, Alex Dix, Oisin Donnelly, Sean Donohoe*, Ruadhan Fanning*, Peter Fitzgerald, Conor Fitzpatrick, Ronan Foley*, George Hassett, Craig Kennedy, Brian MacCann, Brian MacMahon, Bryan Mannion*, Michael McCormack*, Andrew McDermott*, Daragh McDonagh*, Niall McEniff, Harry McSweeney, Tom Murray, Derry O'Connor*, Alexi Schuster*, Thomas Tierney and Ronan Watters.
ST MICHAEL'S COLLEGE
This time last year they were laden down with pressure and it showed. The burden of pre-tournament favourites proved a weight too heavy to handle. James Ryan, Max Deegan and the class of 2015 may not thank me for saying it, but such is the beauty and oft'times unpredictability of schools cup rugby.
Fourteen of those who took part against St Mary's and Clongowes are back on board again now and they will be much better for that pressurised experience. Yes, they will be favoured to meet and beat St Andrew's in the opening round but this time around the bulk of the pre-competition pressure is elsewhere.
Michael's is now a powerhouse of the game and over the last decade alone the once nursery to Blackrock has made it through to five finals, winning two; the last in 2012 when Dan Leavy lifted the much-coveted cup. Leavy is but one of a battalion of former Michael's boys making their way in the professional game either through the academy or in the senior squad at Leinster. Add to that six successive Junior Cup final appearances in the same period, but specifically between 2007 and 2012.
It is a fantastic achievement and speaks volumes for the healthy, if highly competitive, rugby-playing structure in place at the Ailesbury Road school. Andy Skehan has taken over as head coach from Brian O'Meara and he oversees another talented mix well capable of threatening the more highly fancied schools this time around.
Ronan Kelleher is part of the Ireland under-18 training panel. Son of Principal Tim, he is also a brother of Leinster player Cian. Other representative players include centre James Hickey, exciting out-half Harry Byrne, utility back Chris Carey and openside Jack Dunne, all part of the successful Leinster under-18 interpro squad this season.
Lock Oisin Dowling and wing three-quarter Jack Kelly are part of the under-19 training panel - they also both played for Ireland under-18 at the Rugby Europe Festival. Sam Griffin is son of Finbar Griffin Cup-winning captain to the Blackrock College 'S' in 1986. Alex Deegan and David Ryan (son of former Lansdowne and Leinster flanker and current Roscrea PPU President Mark) are younger brothers of Leinster Academy players Max and James.
Put it all together and it makes for a potentially lethal cup cocktail. Add a greatly reduced level of expectation and the Michael's squad of 2016 is in a pretty good place.
COACHES Andy Skehan (Head), Andy Kenny, Shane O'Brien, Charlie Cregan, James Tracy, Andy Burke, James Ruxton, Dr John Ryan, Fionn Daly, Shane Grannell and Emmet McMahon.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Clongowes (19-13) in Quarter-final.
SQUAD Ronan Kelleher, Sam Griffin*, Darragh Thompson, Milo O'Donohoe, Robert Duffy*, Alex Deegan*, Richie Melvin, Daniel DeLoughrey, Conor Quinn, Max Kennedy*, Stephen Judge, Lorcan Rooney, Jack Dunne*, Ryan Baird, Bobby Leahy, Andrew Courtney*, Jody Booth, Barry Fitzpatrick*, Oisin Dowling*, Scott Penny, Ross Victory, Michael Roche, Marc Simmons, Arthur Greene, Cian O'Gorman, Dan O'Donovan, Luke Duffy, Chris Hennessy, Conor Treacy, Jack Conn, Aidan Healy, Larry O'Mahony, Craig Lynch, Thomas Killeen*, Peter O'Beirne, Liam Mulvihill, Harry Byrne*, Charlie Allen, David Moran, James Hickey*, Chris Carey*, David Ryan, Michael Corcoran, Sean Kavanagh, Michael Heaney*, Andrew Doran, Jeff O'Loughlin, Ian Walsh, Jack Kelly*, Ian O'Kelly, Conor Curley, Ruairi Frankling, Rob Russell, Harry McIntyre, Conor Smurfitt, Tony Doyle, Jay Barron, Cormac Hurley, Des McCarthy, David O'Doherty, Robbie Dix, Jamie Murphy, Oisin McKenna and Elliott Haran.
When Noel Reid, Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton made the draw in the House of Lords (Bank of Ireland) back in December, the biggest intake of breath in the palatial surroundings came when St Mary's emerged from the hat (well, cup, to be more accurate) followed immediately by Terenure.
Irrespective of what preceded or followed, this was the guaranteed curtain-raiser. So it has come to pass with the great D6 rivals getting it all underway at Donnybrook on Sunday the 24th. No matter which of these great schools rivals is deemed the stronger in any given year, when blue meets purple, white and black, the derby aspect levels the playing field.
On balance Mary's are probably the ante-post favourites based on pre-Christmas form and on winning the friendly (what a misnomer) between the schools. Rest assured no one in Rathmines will be suckered into that line of thinking.
John Coffey has taken over as head coach from Dermot Blaney and includes in his backroom staff former schools stalwarts in Stephen O'Neill and Harrison Brewer. Leinster under-18 back five forward Jack Dignam is captain of a squad that includes nine back from last year's extended panel beaten by Blackrock in the opening round.
While only four started that game, in centre Ted O'Donoghue, scrum-half Mark Fabian, tight-head Sean Collins and No 8 Dignam they have experienced operators in key sectors of the likely team. Both Dignam and O'Donoghue have represented Leinster at under-18. Jeff Clarkin and Sam Dardis are brothers of recent stars Adam and Billy.
The younger Dardis is almost an identikit of UCD and Ireland under-20 free-running full-back Billy. A real talent in the making.
Beaten finalists in 2009, it is now 13 years (one less than Mary's) since the much coveted trophy last made its way up the Templeogue Road. While that will still be the overall aspiration, the reality smacks of a cup final all of its own at Donnybrook on Sunday next.
COACHES John Coffey (Head), Peter O'Malley, Michael Shanahan, Stephen O'Neill, Harrison Brewer, Andrew Moss, Danny Woods, Dr B Twomey, Dr C O'Kelly and Ian Morley.
LAST YEAR Beaten by Blackrock (39-11) in 1st Round.
SQUAD John Murphy, Christian Collins, Zak Vaughan*, Adam La Grue, Stevie Barry, Mark Fabian*, Sam Dardis, Jack Byrne, Jake Moore, Paddy O'Dowd, Callum Ashmore, Mark Kirwan*, Ciaran Cahill*, Mark Eaton, Philip Jordan, Harry O'Dowd, David McQueirns, Barry O'Toole, Jack Boyden*, Harry O'Neill, Joe Kerins, Adam Melia, Jeff Clarkin*, Finn Bolger, Conor O'Sullivan*, Jamie Murphy, Jacob Henry-Hayes, Sean Patchell, Matthew Bolger, John Quirke, Scott Broderick, Jack Cadell, Bill O'Hara, Leo Fabre, Cormac O'Kelly, Declan O'Keefe, Ben Murphy, Jack O'Hare, Rory Byrne, Rory McGrath, Sean Collins, Oisin Byrne, Josh Long, Adam Tuite, Jack Dignam* (Captain) and Ted O'Donoghue*.
THE KING'S HOSPITAL
Three times they've been to the final and three times they've come up just short. In 1907 Cecil Seddall's side lost out to Blackrock, while in 1951 Tom Stanley was captain to a team that went under to Belvedere. The third and last final appearance came in 1982 when Ashley Cole's squad came up against a Blackrock unit led by one Brendan Mullin at his very, very best.
The Ireland and Lions star in the making was unstoppable that day as he raced in for a hat-trick of tries to break KH hearts. Now 30-plus years on, Matt Jarvis appreciates better than anyone the enormity of the challenge this time around.
For hitherto mid-ranking Section B schools, the seasonal objective is to make it through to that early December draw along with the Big Six. The preferred route is via the League and while last year for the Palmerstown school it came on the back of success in the Vinnie Murray Cup (beating Castleknock 20-15 in the final), this time a squad bigger and stronger than last, but crucially bolstered by players from last year's strong Junior panel, qualification has been on the back of a good league campaign.
Through finishing fourth in Section A, it meant automatic cup qualification but also the short straw in travelling to Roscrea to take on the Cup holders and top team from Section B in the League quarter-final. A gutsy, wholehearted performance and narrow defeat (26-18) proved the outcome against the League champions elect.
The draw sees something of a local derby with Clongowes the opposition in the opening round on January 28th. Needless to say it will be again all hands to the pump as Tom Doyle captains a squad including some 13 back from last year's Senior panel beaten by St Andrew's.
It is a squad in transition but equally one well capable of rattling this particular Clongowes cage. The Clane School will be red-hot favourites but then what's new about that? We know King's Hospital will deliver but expect Clongowes to prevail.
COACHES Matt Jarvis (Head), Henry Bryce and Darragh Burke.
LAST YEAR Beaten by St Andrew's (40-10) in 1st Round.
SQUAD Sean Goodburn*, Conor Murphy*, OJ Onolememen*, Finning Shilling*, Tom Doyle* (Captain), Sam Charman*, Jordan White*, David Boles*, Scott Le Roux*, Patrick O'Boy, Daniel Corr, Dylan Corcoran, Connal Howley, Harison Mahood, Paul McCullagh*, Jack Courtney, Felix Campbell, Nathanael Sibanda, Daniel Eiffe, Cathal Mullen, David Sheill*, Liam Morgan*, Sam Wrafter and Daniel Courtney*.