You can't knock the 'Rock or Michael's
These two colleges will be the teams to beat in this year's Leinster campaign
I think it fair to say that no other schools have contributed more underage players to the professional game in recent times than Spiritan giants Blackrock College and St Michael's. And there's another lorryload on the way.
For all that, the return in trophies to the Ailesbury Road school is pretty scant with just two outright wins, both in the new millennium. Add to that beaten finalists in 2006, 2010 and 2013 and for sure they are consistently knocking on the door. Yet when measured against Blackrock and Belvedere thus far this century the return is disproportionate. Clongowes too can boast a much more tangible record.
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Lest this is interpreted as a form of criticism, rest assured it is anything but. Nor am I suggesting the winning of cups is the be all and end all. I love the way Michael's go about their rugby-playing business but, relative to potential, the trophy cabinet remains sparse.
All this is a round-the-houses way of saying that unless they are drawn against each other before the last round, all signs point to a repeat of the 2013 final or, more pertinently, the Junior Cup Final of 2016 when most of those on duty now at senior played in that under-16 Final which was taken by 'Rock (8-3).
The following year the tables were reversed, with Michael's boasting perhaps their strongest squad ever at Junior Cup level but having to go to a replay before taking the title (17-7). With those two exceptionally strong Junior squads now settled into the Senior cycle at their respective schools, it is difficult to look beyond one or other lifting the cup for 2019.
So much will depend on the rolling draw, which is now very much part of the two main underage competitions in Leinster.
Again this year it is spicy, with Mary's against Terenure guaranteed to have the competition rocking right from the start. Incidentally, whatever about the Clongownian input through Nick McCarthy and Fergus McFadden at the draw, Mary's can blame one of their own in Jack McGrath for the D6 names coming out on the double against each other! That tie kicks it all off at Energia Park tomorrow.
On Monday, Pres will front up to the draw no one wants. That said, the best time to get the defending champions is early and it doesn't come any earlier than the opening round. We won't patronise by saying Pres have everything to gain and little to lose, but certainly they owe themselves a big one for getting it so badly wrong at the same stage 12 months ago.
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On Tuesday at Energia it's time for Michael's to show their hand. Aside from eventual winners Gonzaga, Kilkenny were the side that impressed me most in the pre-Christmas League. I still expect Michaels to come through but I suspect it will be much closer than many expect.
Wednesday sees six more of the sixteen schools swing into action. At Energia, Wesley and Clongowes set the ball rolling while at venues either side of the Liffey it's Gonzaga against Castleknock in Castle Avenue and Newbridge versus St Gerard's at Templeville Road.
We mention it year after year, but no school plays its cards closer its chest pre-Christmas than Clongowes. Despite a bit of a December thumping from 'Rock, CWC will again prove dogged in the extreme and should carry too much for what is a hugely determined Wesley side.
Gonzaga should again prove that little bit too strong for 'Knock in a replay of the pre-Christmas League final taken by the Ranelagh school. So too will Newbridge be the justified favourites against Gerard's, given the conviction with which they took the League quarter-final back in November. However, this could prove the most tightly contested tie of the lot.
On Thursday, again in Energia Park, the 2015 and 2016 finals (one each way) will be revisited when black and white meets black and white in the shape of Belvedere and Roscrea. Like Clongowes, Belvo haven't been overly impressive thus far this season, but four successive finals reflect that cup time is a different story. Belvo should prove that little bit too strong this time out.
So to the final match on Friday next, when the great unknown will meet the great unknown in the guise of Vinnie Murray Qualifier 1 versus Vinnie Murray Qualifier 2. Despite the temptation, I trust the Branch will resist having the shadow cup determined at the same time as this round 1 tie.
I would also make the point that taking at least two, possibly three, cup games out of the main stadium yet marking ALL Vinnie Murray games down for Donnybrook smacks of distorted logic and is most unfair on the boys and schools to have qualified in advance for the main event (even allowing for early to mid-January scheduling).
Obviously the draw will determine much but on the assumption 'Rock and Michael's manage to avoid meeting until the RDS, all pre-tournament evidence points to a third final-day showdown between the two strongest squads.
Knockout tournaments tend to make monkeys of us all by times, but 'Rock and Michael's are the two to beat for 2019. Beyond that your guess is as good as mine but we'll deal with that little conundrum when the time comes.
In the meantime, get set for lift-off.
Read more: Leinster Schools Senior Cup squads