Holders Crescent have confident air
TG4 analyst and St Munchin’s coach John Broderick identifies Rockwell as Crescent’s major rivals
Rockwell and Crescent teams don’t give an inch before last year’s Munster Senior Cup final at Thomond Park, Limerick. Photograph: Inpho
See Munster schools senior cup fixtures on page two >
With records going back to 1909, the staging of the 105th Munster Schools Senior Cup promises some of the most exciting battles of recent seasons.
It is always a challenge to forecast the outright winners and this season that task is made more difficult than usual. Glenstal, for instance, recorded a win over holders Crescent College Comprehensive on their own patch but lost four of their nine outings, while another genuine prospect, Rockwell College, lost two out of their opening eight fixtures.
Rockwell’s failure to achieve a third title in a row surprised many last year, but there is no doubting their determination to make amends in this campaign. They have brought the cup back to Cashel on 25 occasions and with 10 of the 2013 squad still available, they are expected to overcome Castletroy in round one. Head coach Mark Butler is assisted by 57-times capped Ireland backrow Denis Leamy, along with Frank Fitzgerald and Alan O’Donnell.
Yet it is Crescent who are many peoples’ fancy to win back-to-back titles. Garryowen centre Conan Doyle, Crescent’s head coach, is assisted by former Munster squad member Eugene McGovern and Paul “Chuggi” Ryan. With eight Munster underage players to choose from there is an air of quiet confidence within the Dooradoyle camp.
The two Cork schools have not been enjoying the dominance of previous decades. Both PBC and CBC have each lifted the trophy a record 28 occasions but the cup has rested Leeside only six times this century.
Pres have only three players involved in the Munster schools set-up: prop Joe Ring, scrumhalf John Poland and centre Paul Kiernan, captain of the side and son of former Ireland star Michael Kiernan. There is a wealth of experience in the coaching staff with Paul Barr as head coach and Brian Walsh, former Cork Constitution boss, as his assistant. Munster hooker Niall Scannell is their scrum specialist.
Christian Brothers, who kick off their campaign with a visit to Crescent, have former student Conor Twomey as their head coach with Alex Penney, son of Munster coach Rob, is a member of the squad.
The newest contenders in the competition, Castletroy College, who only entered the top tier in 2004 yet won the title in 2008, also have a strong squad that includes Munster schools players Ronan Murphy and Rory Cunningham.
Under coach and TG4 pundit John Broderick, five-time winners St Munchin’s College can never be written off with Broderick hoping to finish his coaching career with a fourth title in 12 seasons.
“It would be nice, but I fancy either Crescent or Rockwell to be crowned champions this year,” said Broderick. “I was impressed with Ardscoil Rís earlier this season and they could do well, but the Cork threat will always be there.”
Two sizeable defeats to Blackrock and Terenure highlighted the widening gulf between the two provinces.
“The difference between these schools is the conditioning. The Dublin colleges bring a physio with them, and a conditioning and fitness coach, to the matches and they deal with injuries there and then. Schools like ourselves are facing massive challenges but we still have a great culture of volunteers. One of the problems for us is setting up and fitting out our own gyms, and that costs money.
“On the other hand, there are 10 to 12 schools in Leinster functioning at a level higher than the best schools in Munster rugby.”
The Corbally school has exceptional players in Irish Under 19 international Ben Kilkenny and fellow Munster players Ed O’Keefe, Emmett O’Callaghan and John Foley and the return of captain Luke O’Halloran – out for over a year with a back injury – has provided a welcome boost.
“We are very lucky to have a competition like this in Ireland. Some of the other major rugby countries don’t have anything like it to cater for the under 19-age group.
“The squad that finished at the end of last season would be in the UL gym two days a week, June, July and August. Six or seven of those guys would have serious ambitions for a professional career in rugby. They have outstanding talent and are already talking to some of the provinces about senior contracts.
“We also have a few who are playing senior and minor Gaelic football at present and we encourage that. Keith Wood and Anthony Foley would not have reached their high level in rugby without having experienced the physicality of the GAA.
“I don’t believe in paying coaches at schools level,” Broderick added. “As a staff, we at St Munchin’s are committed to our school and you either want to give your time to rugby or you don’t. Our rugby coaching expenses for the year are 26 bottles of wine. Nobody gets paid but you get an option of red or white.”
Munster Schools Senior Cup Fixtures
Tuesday, January 28th, Rockwell College v Castletroy College.
Wednesday, January 29th, Presentation Brothers College or Bandon Grammar School v St Munchin’s College.
Wednesday, January 29th, Crescent College Comprehensive v Christian Brothers College.
Thursday, January 30, Ardscoil Rís v Glenstal Abbey.