Blackrock set to renew rivalry with Terenure
CUP PREVIEW:THE LEINSTER Schools’ Senior Cup is a competition that polarises opinion, where few tread the middle ground. Choosing the word perspective appears a clumsy irony when examining the diametrically opposing views because of its absence in the respective stances adopted in argument.
Whatever quibbles are voiced on either side of the divide there remains the inescapable fact that schools rugby is the primary nursery for professional players. This applies across the four provinces. It is not the fundamental remit of the schools to swell the ranks of professionalism in rugby. The onus has to be on providing the individual with a rounded education in the class-room and on the playing fields.
However, there is a certain duty of care to try to ensure that players enjoy their rugby, that winning is not the sole focus and that a love of the sport endures beyond the school gates. It is often the smaller schools, hamstrung by fewer numbers that are more creative in terms of style.
It would be nice to believe that this year’s tournament would be characterised by expansive running rather than adhering to collision-riddled conservatism, where the fear of losing provides a claustrophobic strait-jacket of the boot and maul.
Blackrock College are the team to beat, according to the bookmakers, while there is a school of thought that suggests Terenure College will provide the main threat. The two met earlier in pre-cup mode, with victory going to the latter but that’ll have little resonance if they clash in the final.
’Rock are an excellent footballing team, backboned by a host of representative players from Leinster and Connacht, and with several exceptional individual talents including hugely-promising fullback Andrew Conway, captain Jordi Murphy and hooker Tom Parsons. They play an entertaining brand of rugby with an emphasis on keeping the ball in hand.
They face a CBC Monkstown team who won’t be cowed by the challenge.
Under the direction of Nigel Osbourne they, too, like to play a wide game. In Aaron Sheehan they have a scrumhalf with potential, while captain Shane Gould, played for Leinster in the frontrow but will line out at number eight for his school. He’ll also throw the ball into the lineout, an area in which the team will need to improve if they are to push the favourites.
This particular group in Blackrock won the equivalent Junior Cup, beating Gonzaga 36-0 in the final, and remain the irresistible choice to win a 66th title. The Williamstown school should advance to meet fellow Holy Ghost school and the 2007 champions, St Michael’s College, in the second round and despite an intense rivalry Blackrock shouldn’t be unduly taxed in moving towards a semi-final.
St Michael’s have a couple of good junior sides coming through and this coupled with a high percentage of this season’s squad returning will make them more realistic contenders next season. On the other side of the top half of the draw, defending champions Belvedere College face a tricky opening tie against a fine St Gerard’s team, who recently qualified for the league final.
Tony Ward and Joe McDonnell will have them well primed and while the Bray school boast an impressive backline with excellent skills they may not be able to cope with the trench warfare of the forward exchanges.
Gonzaga were well beaten by Blackrock in that Junior final but it shouldn’t camouflage the fact that their team is sprinkled with good footballers. In recent weeks they have beaten both St Mary’s and Terenure College and assuming they slip past The King’s Hospital could cause an upset against Belvedere.
In the bottom half of the draw the outstanding first-round tie pits Kildare schools Clongowes Wood and Newbridge together. The former are physically strong and will be well drilled but Newbridge’s young side – in Sam Coughlan-Murray they possess one of the most gifted players in the competition – only went down 10-7 to Blackrock in a recent pre-cup outing. This could be another upset.
Terenure, with six Leinster players, are expected to negotiate their way past Castleknock and the winners of the all-Kildare confrontation to potentially set up a Dublin 6 shoot-out with arch-rivals and last season’s beaten finalists, St Mary’s.
The latter are surrounded by three qualifiers from the Vinnie Murray section of the cup and will be fancied to pop through to the semi-finals. A possible semi-final line-up would see Blackrock and Gonzaga reprise their Junior Cup final and Terenure and St Mary’s dispute the local bragging rights. The bookies seem to favour a Blackrock-Terenure final, recalling the rivalry of the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Having committed all this to print, chastisement no doubt beckons.
5/4 Blackrock, 7/2 Terenure, 9/2 Belvedere, 6/1 St Mary’s, 7/1 Clongowes, 10/1 St Michael’s, 50/1 Gonzaga, CBC Monkstown, 80/1 Castleknock, 125/1 King’s Hospital, St Andrew’s, St Gerard’s, Newbridge, 150/1 Kilkenny, 200/1 DLS Churchtown, Wesley, High School, 300/1 Templeogue, 500/1 CUS, 750/1 Skerries.
(Odds courtesy of Paddy Power)