The Development Cup: The Story so Far

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Edinburgh match programme (31/10/14)

 

While most assume that the road to schools’ cup glory begins in Donnybrook in late January, the Leinster Senior and Junior Cups kicked off in earnest earlier this month. A suitable platform for the less renowned rugby playing schools’ the Development Cup is the entry level for those newly affiliated to the Leinster Branch, offering aspiring schools an avenue into the upper echelons of Leinster Schools Rugby. Beyond the Senior Development Cup the McMullen and Vinny Murray cups await before a side can contemplate a bash at the Leinster Schools Senior Cup, the holy grail of schools’ rugby.

The mid-term break now provides us with an opportunity to both take a breather and take stock of the latest fortunes and misfortunes of Leinster’s burgeoning rugby community.

40 schools entered this year’s competition in the hope of running out at Donnybrook in January and emulating Wexford CBS’ fine campaign last term. Following victory over Sean O’Brien’s alma mater Tullow CS, Wexford knew that victory over DLS Churchtown would not only assure them of a semi-final berth but also a place in the Vinny Murray Cup and a “crack at the big boys.” While some heads might have been turned by such a distraction, the south-east side continued to wreak havoc and overcame their 2013 conquerors Naas CBS before ultimately claiming the trophy in their defeat of St. Fintan’s High School, Sutton in a well-deserved win. Yet, while a hard fought victory over St. Columbas in the Vinny Murray Cup will remain a highlight, St. Gerard’s (who would ultimately fall to Leinster powerhouse Clongowes in the Senior Cup) finally put paid to their enthralling adventure in the Vinny Murray Cup semi-final with a scoreline of 24-12.

Opening their season in October 2013, Wexford CBS could barely have imagined just how their season would unfold. Remarkably, having navigated an impressive path through the Development Cup, they also ploughed their way through the McMullen Cup before only being held up at the penultimate stage of the next tier, the Vinny Murray Cup, with many giant-killings along the way. Their endeavours took Leinster rugby by storm and heartened many of the aspirational school sides throughout the province.

Encouraged by that extraordinary story, the Senior Development Cup competitiors of 2014/2013 kicked off with great hopes and gusto on October 8th. Despite not owning a rugby ball until 2009, Ardee CS have established themselves as one of the frontrunners in the Cup, but despite a convincing trip to Trim where they overcame Boyne Community School, they were undone by Drogheda Grammar School who now face into a tricky quarter-final tie against the 2011 winners Dundalk Grammar on November 5th. Dundalk have shown good form to date particularly in their recent triumph over Gormanston College but will no doubt be wary of the unpredictability of local derbies.

With Colaiste Bhride’s endeavours coming to an end against Colaiste Chill Mhantain meanwhile, Lucan Community School have emerged as most clinical side to remain in the competition. Following comprehensive victories over Castleknock Comprehensive and Portmarnock CS, they eagerly await the victor between Tallaght CS and Ratoath College, last years finalists, on November 4th. Colaiste Chill Mhantain now await St. Kevin’s CC Dunlavin in the quarter-final.

Elsewhere in the draw, midlands side Tullamore College have shown that they know how to grind out a result following their tight victory over Moyne CS, yet in the next round they cut loose and put Oaklands Edenderry to the sword. They now host Patricians Newbridge on November 5th. The Newbridge side have taken a more understated route with respectable wins over Salesian College and Pipers Hill. In an interesting turn of events, Tullamore and Patricians Newbridge will also meet in the Junior quarter-final just two days beforehand.

The Junior Development Cup has been a feast of enthusiasm and potential. With a relatively short time to prepare, all sides have acquitted themselves with distinction, while many individuals look set to grace the scene for some time to come.

Just as their senior peers have shown themselves to be accomplished competitors, Dundalk Grammar are still on course to guarantee a semi-final berth and potentially meet their neighbours Colaiste Ris. However, both St. Ciarans CS and Ardee CS will be looking to capitalize on any advanced notions. Colaiste Chill Mhantain have also begun to establish themselves as a schools rugby force to be reckoned with. On November 3th they will come face to face with Scoil Chonglais two days prior to their senior side.

It is quite hard to believe what these boys can achieve in such a short space of time. Much credit goes to their coaches and mentors. More importantly however, try and catch a few games and give them all the support they deserve!!

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A Whole New World

As featured in The Irish Independent (24/10/14)

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As the leaves gather by the roadside, ghastly masks appear at the shop front and European Rugby returns to the fixture list, there isn’t a schoolchild in the country that hasn’t cast their eye on the midterm break that has crept up in their diaries.

Having been eager to make a good impression on their new mentors both inside and outside the classroom, first year students are particularly in need of a well-earned rest. Ambling through the corridors with bursting schoolbags and a few scratches from the previous day’s game with Newbridge College, you would have assumed that Eoghan Cumbers, Gareth Donovan and George Fitzpatrick would jump at the chance to put their feet up for a few days. Yet, as they reflected upon the first eight weeks of their tenure at Clongowes Wood College, it became clear that they will miss their rugby.

“I think I learned everybody’s name in my year when I was out on the rugby pitch,” explains Eoghan. “I hadn’t played much rugby before I came here so I was pretty nervous, I didn’t know what to expect. But I found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t the only one. It helped me to link up with guys I hadn’t met yet”

“Yeh, rugby helped us in a lot of ways at the start actually.” Gareth adds. “None of us really knew each other. We were in a new school. We had new teachers. The whole thing was a bit scary. But rugby kept us all occupied and helped to break up the week.”

Having never played the game before, Gareth admits that he was a little anxious as he moulded his gumshield for the first time. “Some of the guys who had played before couldn’t wait to get stuck in by throwing themselves into tackles,” he remembers. “Thankfully we have a great coach,” George interjects. “We built up our skills very slowly and there was also a focus on our fitness. It was frustrating for those of us who just wanted to play but we were also learning something everyday and now we see how important it was for the new guys.”

“It’s mad how much everyone has improved” Eoghan remarks. “There is this one guy in our class who started the first game on the D team and yesterday he had a great game with the B’s!” Starting out at hooker, Eoghan found himself in the back row for the same game. “I always thought that the bigger lads would take up most of the positions in the forwards, but while it is a help, being the biggest doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be the best player.” “They were handy for the fitness though!” quips George. “Everyone would always try to run away from them!”

The boys had to wait several weeks before donning their school jersey for the first time. “I couldn’t wait to be part of it. I was at the Senior Cup Final last year and the atmosphere was brilliant,” George recalls. “I was also at the final a few years back when Dave Kearney was playing. My brothers and I ran around after the game trying to get his autograph but we couldn’t find him. My younger brother did his own thing and stopped some guy to ask him if he had seen Dave. This guy pointed in the opposite direction and off my brother ran. We were too far away to do anything about it except laugh as Dave walked on into the changing room with a big grin on his face.”

When the first fixture finally arrived, the nerves returned. “There were a lot of parents there to watch and they took a load of photographs of us in our new kit. It distracted me for a bit but then I remembered that I was about to play my first rugby game,” Gareth admits. “We didn’t know what our strongest team was yet so everyone was being swapped around. I found it confusing switching positions on different teams but it had to be done.” Having been a full back in his debut game, George has since been on a journey through the backline and will line out at out-half this weekend. “I haven’t taken it personally and nobody should. It’s all about learning new positions and it’s for our own benefit, our coach knows best.”

“I live in Dubai so I didn’t know much about Clongowes before I arrived but it was still special putting on the jersey for the first time and playing a match with all my new friends. Everyone had done their best over the past few weeks and deserved to wear it.”

“That was the cool thing actually,” George adds. “Everyone gets to play their part.”

Richard McElwee is the new PRO for Leinster Schools’ Rugby. If you have any photos, reports or information that you would like to share with the Leinster Rugby Community please do not hesitate in contacting him at rmcelwee@clongowes.net

Clongowes Celebrate Special Milestone

As featured in Leinster v Wasps match programme (19/10/14)

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On May 18th 1814, in a country devoid of mechanized forms of transport, young Master James McLorinan from the Glens of Antrim made the long journey south to the plains of Kildare, just north of Clane. There he was met by Fr Peter Kenney SJ, Rector of a fledgling Jesuit community, who escorted him through the doors of a castle and into the pages of history as the first student to enroll in the newly founded Clongowes Wood College.

In the 200 years since McLorinan’s arrival, Clongowes has been producing an open, happy, stimulating, mutually respectful community in which young people are able to develop the full range of their talents and abilities in a balanced, integrated and generous way.

While various elements of Clongowes life have had the opportunity to celebrate a truly historic year, it is now left to the students to pay homage to the eminent Jesuits, influential teachers and distinguished past-pupils that have left their mark on a prominent Irish institution and beyond. Therefore, on October 24th and 25th Clongowes will welcome twenty of the finest schools teams from Ireland, England and Wales to partake in a unique Rugby Festival that will bring the stars of the past, present and future together for a memorable weekend.

As the Headmaster, Fr Leonard Moloney SJ, suggests: “From the schools’ perspective, rugby is one of the best educative tools available in the formation of young men of character who learn skills, discipline and an ability to relate to others, teammates and opponents, in a manner that enriches life for all. And it is such an inclusive process: there is a place for every one on a team – big or small, fast or slow, strong or less strong – as the schools, and the Branch, really do try to provide an experience for all levels of ability.

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While the rise to prominence of several Old Clongownians on the field allied to recent success in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup reinforces the image of Clongowes as an outstanding rugby-playing school, it was not always so. Although the first ‘out-match’ (against external opposition) was played in the spring of 1889 against Lansdowne, rugby remained fragile in Clongowes until the turn of the century. Indeed for much of the school’s early history the boys would engage in a game of ‘gravelball’ which often comprised of 60 or more players who could kick or fist the ball but not carry or throw it – a far cry from our game today.

Although rugby games began to feature more prominently on the school calendar in the early 20th Century, Clongowes did not enter the Leinster Schools Senior Cup until the 1922-1923 season, almost fifty years after the competition was inaugurated in 1886-1887. Within three years Clongowes won their first title following a narrow 10-9 victory over Belvedere on 22 March 1926. However, it would be another 52 years before Clongowes could finally return to such glories.

Remarkably, when Greg Dilger lifted the cup in 1978, it was the first time that Clongowes had graced a final since 1936. The triumph proved to be a watershed of sorts for the Kildare school and under the guidance of Fr. Michael Sheil SJ and Mr. Vincent Murray, a new dawn for the sport began to rise. In the 35 years since then, Clongowes have been consistently competitive, featuring in six semi-finals and contesting sixteen finals, returning to Clane victorious on 6 occasions (1988, 1991, 1998, 2000, 2010, 2011).

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Though continuously blessed with much vaunted talent in the form of Louis Magee (who would travel with the Lions to South Africa in 1896 and captain Ireland to the Triple Crown in 1899), to the incumbent internationals, Gordon D’Arcy, Fergus McFadden and the Kearney brothers, what is seen in the RDS or the Aviva is no more than part of a greater story. Even when nature has bestowed great talent, it still takes countless hours of hard work to achieve excellence, an excellence that is honed in the dormitories and classrooms as much as on any one of Clongowes’ 12 playing fields.

As the former Irish Times rugby correspondent Edmund van Esbeck wrote in the aftermath of the D’Arcy inspired 1998 campaign: “Intensity in sport can have many manifestations and at times baser instincts assert themselves. Never by word or deed have I seen a Clongowes team soil the image of the game or their own proud tradition by resorting to the unsporting or unethical. The purple and white jersey has been a garment of grandeur through most of this century on the fields of Donnybrook, Lansdowne Road and elsewhere. I feel assured that it will ever be thus…”

 With 77 matches set to take place over 48 hours (10am-4pm each day), it will be an action-packed weekend at Clongowes, with ample opportunity to cast your eyes over the stars of tomorrow. Admission is free and all are welcome. More information can be found on our new website: www.clongowes.eu.

School in Focus: Ardee CS

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Wasps match programme (19/10/14)

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When Andy Robb joined the staff at Ardee Community School in September 2008, he assumed the role of rugby missionary. A very clear sporting hierarchy had been established in the school; Gaelic Games, soccer and basketball firmly ruled the roost. So when Robb suggested that they assemble a side, you can understand the perplexed reactions within the staffroom. Despite being fully aware that the school lacked any rugby based infrastructure, Robb decided to press ahead and bought an oval ball.

The first day of the project came in the form of a call to arms. A mere five students from four different year groups unearthed themselves. A little alarmed, Robb tasked these individuals with rallying the troops. When the night of reckoning finally arrived however, it appeared that for season ahead Ardee CS would struggle to scrape a front row together! A keen rugby man, Robb admits that the lack of interest in the sport disheartened him. Not one to admit defeat, Robb resolved to ensure that rugby would soon have a say in the school’s sporting curriculum.

In his second year, Robb rolled up his sleeves and persisted with training sessions regardless of the numbers in attendance. Playing numbers aside, he also faced other difficulties. Firstly, there was no rugby pitch. Robb and his handful of players would make use of whatever patch of grass that was available while on occasion they availed of the gym, with crash-mats providing a softer landing in the tackle. Yet Robb’s sessions were always enjoyable. In time, 5 boys…6 boys… 8 boys… were togging out. A composite group of different ages and sizes, at least Ardee could now field a 10aside team!

With strategic timings for matches Robb soon found that the numbers continued to rise. “An eclectic bunch, I’m reminded of the 1992 movie The Might Ducks starring Emilio Estevez, where a group of misfit skaters are put together to form an ice hockey team. This is what presented itself to me; talented footballers, a couple of athletes and a few big lads who just wanted to bash people…” Positions were determined on the basis of their basic characteristics. The bigger individuals inevitably found themselves in the pack, while those who could catch and run filed out in the backline. Robb recalls their first outing: “The lad playing out-half said he could pass, but never said he would. He literally ran around trying to dodge tackles. He ran forwards, backwards, sideways. We had no structure, no defensive line, no attacking formation. I’m fairly sure our centre fist passed the ball.” The game wasn’t a contest and Ardee CS lost heavily but the players had been converted. At school the next day all those involved shared their experience of a fully-fledged rugby game with their peers. A comprehensive defeat had never seemed so victorious. Ireland’s subsequent Grand Slam success only added to the fervor.

Despite the promise, Robb quickly realised that he could only do so much, furthermore facilities still lacked. However, with Ardee RFC close at hand, the school was able to cope with the growing interest and development. Naturally the club stood to benefit from a new crop of players, yet their support was extraordinary. For the first competitive season in the Junior Development Cup, Ardee RFC provided pitches, facilities and jerseys, while several coaches also made it their business to lend some support, namely Ronan O’Brien, Jimmy Reilly, Mick Lennon, Paddy McDonald and Declan Bingham. Meanwhile, the Community Rugby Officer (CRO) Liam Mullane was also taken by the project and his commitment proved instrumental in establishing the framework upon which rugby in Ardee CS has thrived. Mullane’s his work in the national schools also meant that pupils had already acquired basic skills and knowledge – a factor that bodes well for the future of rugby in the area. Mullane has retained a role within Ardee CS where he now leads training sessions.

2013/2014 proved to be a historic year for the school. Having never progressed beyond the second round of the Development Cup, Ardee CS found themselves in the final which automatically secured a place in the upper tier, the McMullen Cup. The adventure continued until the quarter-final stage where the Ardee challenge was undone by St. Fintan’s in a game that could have easily gone either way. Despite the vast improvements, ultimately a talented Tullow CS outfit showed the Ardee boys that they still had plenty of work to do as they were simply outclassed in the Development Cup Final.

Rather than yearn for instant glory and success, Ardee CS remain pragmatic in their rugby programme. They are an developing side and will continue to be. Yet the fruits of their endeavours are already becoming clear. Evolving from 5 aside to competitive girls and boys teams within 5 years has been nothing less than meteoric. Indeed some players have gone on to represent the school with distinction, with Cathal Bradley (formerly Northeast Development Squad) and Neil Reilly (Leinster and Ireland U18 Clubs, Leinster U20s) proving instrumental in raising the profile of the school on a regional scale.

One can only assume that we will be hearing more from Ardee CS in years to come…