As featured in Leinster Rugby v RC Toulon match programme (19/12/15)
Having taken an unfamiliar jaunt beyond Dublin and its neighbouring regions, the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup was back in the capital last week as the fate of rugby sides throughout the province rested in the hands of former schoolboy stars Jamie Heaslip, Noel Reid and Jonny Sexton.
Taking place in the impressive House of Lords in Bank of Ireland on College Green, the most prestigious schools’ competition in the country was afforded a glamorous launch, further enhanced by a live stream production to feed the event through YouTube.
One might argue that only the unveiling of a heavyweight clash was missing, but dissenting voices from outside the Pale would suggest that the traditional stronghold has finally been dismantled.
For many years fans of the schools’ game will recall hearing the news emerging from the heart of Dublin 4 that Cistercian College Roscrea had torn up their script and written a wild poem of their own last year. Following their last-gasp victory over Blackrock College in the quarter-final, CCR continued to pen another couple of stanzas before ultimately lifting the Senior Cup at the RDS on St. Patrick’s Day in March.
Much will be expected of the 2015 champions as they begin their first outing in their title defence against Kilkenny College in what will be a recap of last week’s league final, but somewhat inevitably eyes are once again turning to Williamstown.
The shock of their loss to Roscrea will no doubt have impacted upon those who return to the fray in the famous blue and white for this campaign. Amongst those who will do so are Conor Dean and Gavin Mullin who will have benefitted from some wise exchanges with their international fathers, Paul and Brendan. Blackrock have been afforded an opportunity to ease into the competition when they meet one of the finalists of the Vinnie Murray Cup. Not that they will rest on their laurels on this occasion.
Clongowes Wood faced a similar proposition in the first round last year. However, in romping home to a 70-0 victory over Castleknock College, it could be said that an element of complacency set in – something Belvedere College were only too happy to exploit later in the competition. Both Jesuit sides face tricky openings this time around with Clongowes facing the growing rugby project of The King’s Hospital while Belvedere meet Newbridge College. Their brethren at Gonzaga College will face one of the two Vinnie Murray Cup finalists.
Elsewhere in the draw St. Michael’s College have been pitted against the surprise package of 2014, St. Andrew’s College, while Terenure – who have not prevailed in the competition in 13 years – take on St. Mary’s College who so very nearly created a shock of their own last time out.
Much like the senior edition, the Vinnie Murray Cup has managed to avoid pairing two of the more reputable sides together. However, teams such as St. Conleth’s College and Maynooth Post Primary carry a rich vein of form into the competition following credible showings in the McMullen Cup. St. Fintan’s College, who have an enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years, have been handed arguably the trickiest test against Templeogue College.
The Leinster Schools’ Junior Cup often proves to be a difficult competition to weigh-up given that many of the players taking to the field in February will still be relatively new to the game. However, what cannot be denied is that Blackrock College have dominated the scene in recent seasons. If they succeed in making it four successive titles, they will be the first side to have done so since the Belvedere teams of 1916-1919. St. Mary’s will provide their first hurdle.
Beaten finalists in 2015, Terenure College will be looking to finally dust themselves down from the disappointment when they take on Roscrea. Elsewhere, Kilkenny College have assembled a quality outfit that will look to dispatch of a tightly-knit Clongowes side.
Finally, Newbridge College and CBC Monkstown await the respective finalists of the Fr. Godfrey Cup. The Dun Laoghaire school are all too familiar with their likely opponents having triumphed in the competition last year. Indeed they could be set to face Wesley College who will be out to avenge their loss in the 2015 final.