Leinster Schools in Leinster Rugby

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Connacht match programme (19/12/14)

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With the Christmas exams out of the way, schoolboy focus across the province will now turn to the new 4G pitches at Donnybrook in January. While every team will be well represented in the stands by pupils, staff and parents alike, the Cup competitions also offers the interested neutral a glimpse into the future of Leinster Rugby. With the Irish schools game envied by all the rugby-playing nations of the world, we take a look at how it has impacted on the current Leinster squad.

  1. Rob Kearney (Clongowes Wood College)

Following two underwhelming campaigns, Rob Kearney created quite a stir in Clongowes’ run to the final in 2004. Throughout the competition, Tony Ward noted that Kearney was “simply a class apart” with missile-like touch-finders and supreme counter-attacking kills, attributes that marked him out as a future international.

  1. Fergus McFadden (Clongowes Wood College)

McFadden was a key component in the same Clongowes side that ultimately lost to Blackrock in 2004. A tough-tackling and hard-running centre, McFadden returned the following year only to see his side dumped out of the cup in controversial circumstances by St. Michael’s College in the 1st round.

  1. Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College)

Fast-tracked into the Blackrock senior set-up at just 15 years of age following a triumphant Junior Cup campaign, Fitzgerald helped his ‘Rock side to three consecutive finals, prevailing twice (2004, 2006). Within five months of leaving school, Fitzgerald made his debut for Ireland against the Pacific Islands.

  1. Gordon D’Arcy (Clongowes Wood College)

Arguably one of the greatest schools players ever, D’Arcy was a phenomenon in the Clongowes dream team of 1998. With scintillating power and pace, D’Arcy was an obvious star in the making. Indeed, so taken was he by his talent that Irish coach Warren Gatland called D’Arcy into the Irish tour to South Africa on the eve of his Leaving Cert. D’Arcy politely declined.

Fergus McFadden, Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and Gordon D'Arcy celebrate in the dressing room 15/3/2014

RBS 6 Nations Championship, Stade de France, Paris 15/3/2014 France vs Ireland Ireland’s Fergus McFadden, Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy celebrate in the dressing room Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

  1. Darragh Fanning (St. Mary’s College)

Fanning has frustrating memories of the Senior Cup in that for two years running his St. Mary’s side lost out to the eventual winners. An extraordinary comeback by Blackrock in 2004 set the tone before Belvedere undid all their good work in the semi-final of 2005.

  1. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College)

Madigan’s cup career is often overshadowed by a missed penalty kick in the dying moments of a sensational loss to Kilkenny College in 2007. Such is Madigan’s resolve however that the prodigiously talented out-half dusted himself down and debuted for Leinster within two years.

  1. Luke McGrath (St. Michael’s College)

One of the most talked about schoolboy scrum-halves since Ciaran Scally of Blackrock, McGrath captained St. Michael’s College in 2011. The purple and white of Clongowes proved to be McGrath’s arch nemesis during his Senior Cup campaigns. Within a year of leaving St. Michael’s, McGrath had represented his province in the RaboDirect Pro12.

  1. Jamie Heaslip (Newbridge College)

While there hasn’t been much of a return in terms of silverware, Newbridge College continuously churn out talented players. Alongside Munster’s Johne Murphy, Naas man Jamie Heaslip was the standout performer for Newbridge in the early 00’s.

  1. Shane Jennings (St. Mary’s College)

Shane Jennings dominated the 1999 schools season with a combination of drive and dexterity. An energetic back-rower with a try-scoring touch, Jennings stood out as an excellent candidate for the first generation of players being bred into the professional game.

  1. Jordi Murphy (Blackrock College)

A 2006 Junior Cup winner, Jordi Murphy went on to captain a fine ‘Rock side to triumph in the 2009 Senior Cup. With Brendan Macken in the centre and Munster’s Andrew Conway at full-back, the 2009 vintage have gone down as one of the best cup sides to emerge from Williamstown.

  1. Devin Toner (Castleknock College)

A giant during his teens, Toner could never simply shirk the attentions of the opposition. However, Toner would be the first to admit that his school career was unremarkable while his attentions were often swayed by hurling and football. Indeed the Meath native was already 17 by the time he decided to focus on his rugby.

  1. Ben Marshall (St. Andrew’s College)

Before the success of last year’s cup campaign which saw St. Andrew’s reach the semi-final, the Booterstown Avenue based school struggled to gain notoriety for their rugby. However, the successes of Munster’s Felix Jones and second-row Ben Marshall, appear to have rekindled the love-affair once again.

  1. Marty Moore (Castleknock College)

Moore’s meteoric rise was instigated in Castleknock in 2009 when he was picked up by Leinster and Ireland selectors whom he has represented through the various age grades alongside the likes of Dominic Ryan, Noel Reid and Dave McSharry of Connacht.

  1. Brian Byrne (Clongowes Wood College)

Alongside twin brother Ed, Brian Byrne was a monstrous performer in the front-row for Clongowes over several seasons. The Carlow native was a fifth year student in the mould of Cian Healy when he lined out at hooker on the all-conquering Clongowes side of 2011.

  1. Cian Healy (Belvedere College)

Even as a fifth year student, Healy was a tour de force in the victorious Belvedere campaign of 2005. Although the side also featured the recently retired Eoin O’Malley and Munster out-half Ian Keatley, the versatile Healy was the chief destroyer and quickly became one of the most feared opponents on the schools scene. In 2006 Healy’s talented Belvedere side came undone by Fitzgerald and Blackrock in the semi-final.

 

  1. James Tracy (Newbridge College)
  2. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College)
  3. Kevin McLaughlin (Gonzaga College)
  4. Jack Conan (St. Gerard’s School)
  5. Dominic Ryan (Gonzaga College)
  6. Noel Reid (St. Michael’s College)
  7. Brendan Macken (Blackrock College)
  8. Dave Kearney (Clongowes Wood College)

 

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Some New Friends

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Harlequins match programme (13/12/14)

Traditionally home to the powerhouses of schools’ rugby, the Leinster Schools Senior and Junior Cup’s will have a much broader appeal when the New Year kicks off in earnest. With the remaining two slots in both premier tiers to be determined by the Vinnie Murray (Senior) and Father Godfrey (Junior) Cup finalists, there is much at stake for some of the rising forces of Leinster rugby.

The final stages of schools’ competitive season in the province will see ten counties being represented, an unprecedented feat in the annals of the schools’ competition. The initial impact of Shane Horgan (Meath) and Gordon D’Arcy (Wexford) through to the current presence of Sean O’Brien (Carlow) and the Kearney brothers of Cooley (Louth) has done much to spread the game to the outlying areas of Leinster.

Meanwhile, Jamie Heaslip and Fergus McFadden will be pleased to find that the Kildare representation will stretch beyond their own precincts in Newbridge and Clane. In the Father Godfrey Cup, CBS Naas and Maynooth Post-Primary School will take their place alongside fellow Duff Cup semi-finalists Scoil Chonglais of Baltinglass and De la Salle Churchtown.

Having seen their stock rise over the years with the continued presence of the evergreen D’Arcy in the Irish midfield, allied to the recent additions of the Byrne brothers and Tadhg Furlong to the Leinster mix, the South-East of the land will be further boosted by the presence of Gorey Community School, Enniscorthy Community School and Sean O’Brien’s alma mater, Tullow Community School in the Vinnie Murray Cup draw. There they will be joined by the Dublin outpost of Sutton who will be represented by the up-and-coming St. Fintan’s High School who are also set to feature in the Father Godfrey Cup.

A decade on from first appearing in their first Leinster Schools Cup competition, St Fintan’s have enjoyed a remarkable rise through the ranks of Leinster rugby. From entry into Junior Cup 2003/04, the North Dublin school has grown to the point where the sport exists at every grade from first year to Senior Cup, with growing competitiveness and some great successes en route.

With the expansion of the Leinster Schools rugby programme, St. Fintan’s availed of the opportunity to join fellow emerging schools in the Development Cup competitions and after two Senior Cup wins at that level in 2006/07 and 2009/10 they were elevated to Section A status.

Subsequent reforms to pre-cup leagues which determinine cup entry were a further boon for the High School as meaningful, balanced fixtures became more readly available along side a cup entry reflective of the ability of the team year to year. Last year’s Junior Cup thereby saw the first Fintans team to gain automatic entry into Section B via winning the Section B2 league, a real landmark ahievement.

For those attched to the school over the longer time, it was a matter of huge pride that the school was for the first time entered in the Section B draw at both JCT and SCT level in the 2013/14 season alongside all the great schools in the history of Leinster Schools Rugby. St Fintan’s is now firmly entrenched ‘on the rugby map’.

While the resource requirements of rugby have been challenging, the wider school community continues to support the school’s rugby endeavours. Thankfully, the school also benefits from a strong relationship with neighbouring side, Suttonians RFC. Indeed, St. Fintan’s is situated in an ideal catchment area. Students hail from traditional rugby hotspots in Howth and Clontarf and are complimented by pupils from Baldoyle, Kilbarrack and Donaghmede – locales rich in sporting talent but where perhaps rugby might not in the past have been as readily accessible. St Fintan’s is playing a huge role in that change.

The fruits of this relationship has already seen a number of players make unprecedented personal progress. In 2013/14, St Fintan’s provided 12 players to the Leinster Metro side coached by Dan Van Zyl, a side which contested the Shane Horgan Trophy final and proved to be the most competitive Metro side to date. From that side, Jack Aungier and James McCourt turned out for Leinster Youths and were part of their successful inter provincial side. While a year previously, Andrew Feeney captained the same side before an international callup, while he now remains part of the Leinster U19 set-up. St. Fintan’s High School has therefore established itself as a significant contributor to Leinster Rugby in nurturing young talent and progressing players through the representative pathways.

While the school might never scale the heights of a Blackrock College, within it’s own capabilities it can still meet the needs of players and provide a fulfilling rugby experience for all.

Good luck to all teams as they prepare embark on the final leg of the Schools’ Cup journey.