As featured in Leinster Rugby v Connacht Rugby (01/01/16)
“I suppose you could say mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” says Rob Forbes when pressed on the rise of rugby in St. Fintan’s High School in Sutton. “It’s funny how these things tend to pan out. Back in 2001 I introduced the game to my PE class and it just happened to strike a chord with them. Soon they were taking on the hierarchy looking to field a team. I was wondering what I had done – but now look at us!”
Rooted in the traditions of the Christian Brothers, Gaelic Games has been the predominant sport of choice for most pupils of St. Fintan’s since it first opened its doors in 1943. Aside from a brief flirtation in the 1970’s, the school did not embrace rugby until the turn of the century – to have advocated the cause before then would have amounted to treason!
“The powers that be gave it some thought and allowed it on the basis that it co-exist with the sports that were already integrated into school life,” says Forbes. “In any event we had no allocated budget and we had to compete for resources with a variety of established games. A lot of the credit must therefore go to people like Daire Higgins, Peter Pemlerick and a number of past-pupils who gave it their all in the early days.”
Eagerness aside, Forbe’s PE class happened to have plenty of ability too and they have the proud distinction of representing the school in a competitive fixture for the very first time in 2003. That year they progressed to the final of Section A of the Junior Cup, losing 3-0 to St. Patrick’s Classical School, Navan – a cracker by all accounts! By the time the same group arrived on the senior scene they availed of a restructuring of the competitions, ultimately triumphing in the Development Cup of 2006 and in so doing put St. Fintan’s clearly on the Leinster rugby map.
By nature of any school sport there have been peaks and troughs in the intervening years. But an infrastructure put in place by Forbes has seen rugby in St.Fintan’s steadily develop on both collective and personal levels.
Following a few quiet campaigns in the aftermath of their second Development Cup success in 2009, the school have pushed on with great gusto in recent years. Last year the Junior side retained both the Junior B league and the Fr. Godfrey Plate, while the Seniors claimed the Section A league for the first time before a historic victory over St. Columba’s in the Vinnie Murray Cup. Although they subsequently fell short against Pres. Bray, they would have delved further into that competition but for the bounce of a ball.
Amidst this success several players have also risen to prominence. Foremost amongst these has been Andrew Feeney who already has an international cap to his name and captained the Leinster U18 club side to Interprovincial success in 2014. Jack Aungier, an imposing tighthead, will follow suit this year, while hot on their heels are the likes of Danny Achimugu, James McCourt and Sean Cribbin – all of whom are likely to drive the St. Fintan’s challenge in the coming months.
“It was a huge honour for the school to be part of the Leinster Schools’ Cup draw for the third year in succession,” admits Forbes. “I really believe in what we have here, but if I had told you that 15 years ago you wouldn’t have taken me seriously. Now we’re invited to the House of Lords alongside the Blackrock’s of this world with Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Sexton drawing our name from the hat. I don’t think the boys quite realise it the magnitude of it – they just want to get in the ring and give it a good shot. And they will.”
“We’re lucky to have enjoyed some amazing support through the years. For instance, the parents of the current Senior side recognised their potential some years ago and they have done all they can to ensure that they realise it. Mary Fox, our Headmistress, who has been an incredibly powerful ally, has further embellished this. She has facilitated our taking of rugby to the next level and put the structures in place so that we can compete with some of the best schools in the province. It’s an exciting time for us all.”
Given their limited rugby history, St. Fintan’s can be assured of much neutral support when they take to the field in their scarlet and gold quartered cup jerseys in the New Year. Both Senior and Junior sides have been dealt interesting ties against Templeogue College (Vinnie Murray Cup) and Catholic University School (Fr. Godfrey Cup) respectively. But no matter what the outcomes may be, all will take heed that the mighty oak continues to grow.