At the outset of the school year, teachers across the country enlighten their students with their wisdom. They set out their stall and assure their class that by the close of the summer term they will have them where they want them – but there is always a caveat: “But I can only do so much for you… you will only get there if you want it for yourself. Your year will pass by with a click of your fingers, seize the opportunity!”
It must be a little mystifying for a lot of the boys of Cistercian College Roscrea who featured in that inspiring success last year. Their dream has been and gone and they join the black and white brigade in the stands. Of course their names will resonate through the school corridors now and then, but for the most part they are old news. Now all eyes are trained on those who have taken up the baton and aim to run with it. For Leo Cullen and his team, the hope is that some just keep on running.
It has been an exciting few weeks for schoolboy rugby. Following countless evenings of grunt and graft, the arrival of the cup season has burst a long tunnel wide open. The dirty, wet and miserable evenings in November will test the most resolute of athletes but thankfully, the Leinster Schools’ system shines like a beacon as they raise their heads from the mud.
The vast multitude of those who have the privilege of representing their school this season will harbor ambitions of silverware and hope that it catapults them into the sights of the provincial coaches. Some will prosper; others will regret a lost opportunity. Indeed the dream for many is already over before it has even started. Unfortunately this is the nature of the competitive game – somebody has to lose, but this is arguably the greatest lesson of all.
Given the rising standards of schoolboy rugby across the province, it was perhaps a little surprising that the first round of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup did not provide us with an upset. Aside from The King’s Hospital’s first-half display against Clongowes Wood, teams struggled to live with the intensity, power and experience of the usual culprits.
It is sometimes easy to forget how momentous an occasion each cup match can be. Most of the players taking to Donnybrook will have never experienced anything like it before: the new kit, the fans, the stands, the television cameras and the interviews – a whirlwind insight into the professional rugby world. When cast into the spotlight it is only natural that some players will freeze under the pressure. Others suddenly return to form and thrive. But no matter the outcome, each player should remember that their rugby career need not be defined by a first round loss in the Senior Cup.
The recent elevations of Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier to the senior Irish set-up are the purest examples of how far a coalition of hard work and skill can bring you in this province. The possibilities are there should you wish to exploit them. While Ringrose’s calibre was always going impact on the fortunes of his team (he helped guide Blackrock to success in 2013), van der Flier was much less flirtatious with the national headlines on his cup outings with Wesley College. In stark contrast to the laid back attitude of his Dutch heritage, van der Flier did not rest on his laurels. The young flanker acknowledged that his ambitions would have to be chased. Although his endeavors were admired, the general consensus was that he was too small to progress in the game. But this drove van der Flier further still and he set about confounding his critics in assembling the necessary building blocks to bring his skillset to the national stage.
It is very rare for a talented player to pass-by unnoticed. In the current senior squad several members did not enjoy lengthy exposure in the Senior Cup. The likes of Darragh Fanning (St. Mary’s), Mick McGrath (CUS), Dominic Ryan (Gonzaga), James Tracy (Newbridge College), Devin Toner and Marty Moore (both Castleknock) were beneficiaries of a Leinster network that has become a much-envied system throughout Europe. It shows no signs of abating either with eight Leinster players starting against Wales in last week’s U20 Six Nations opener against Wales.
So while there will be deserving winners of the Senior Cup on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016, the real pot of gold may lie in what has brought the competition to that stage. Make sure you don’t miss out!