Belvedere odds on to reclaim Leinster crown

Defending champions Roscrea will be the underdogs at the RDS this weekend

  Belvedere’s James McKeown on his way to scoring the first try against St Michael’s College in the semi-final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Belvedere’s James McKeown on his way to scoring the first try against St Michael’s College in the semi-final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Belvedere College v Cistercian College, Roscrea RDS, Sunday, 4pm

Surely this is Belvedere’s year. Considering everything we have witnessed up to this, a reversal of fortunes from last year’s final is the easiest prediction. Falling short of capturing an eleventh Leinster Schools Cup, and first since Tom Sexton’s 2008 team, would seem almost cruel.

But it’s entirely possible that Cistercians College, Roscrea, and the heavy bones of a pack that steamrolled their way to a first ever title in 2015, could beat them. The champions also boast in outhalf Alan Tynan an absolute gem of a footballer (and hurler) as the Tipperary minors can attest.

Twenty players who featured in last year’s decider - spread evenly across both schools - return to the RDS Showgrounds. It makes the bookmakers odds seem oddly lob-sided in Belvedere’s favour. They are 2/9 favourites to Roscrea’s 11/4.

“I saw the odds. If I’m honest, I think they are very disrespectful to Roscrea,” said Andy Wood, the Belvedere Gamesmaster. “I would be very wary of taking those odds seriously.”

Still, it seems like Belvedere’s time again. Watching them overcome possibly the best ever Blackrock side not to win a cup in that thrilling quarter-final replay before out-foxing a well-oiled St Michael’s College in the semi-final (and they swept past Terenure in round one) would in any other year have been enough spilling of blood and sweat to win what has been the most physically punishing version of a competition that harks all the way back to 1887.

The attritional nature of the schools game is guaranteed to be showcased tomorrow but, it being a final, we may not see the proof, like in previous rounds, of the wonderfully rising skill levels of the teenage game. That tends to be blunted by pressure and the desperate need to win.

Roscrea have lost the brilliant Dan Trayers but the arrival of transition year prop Michael Milne proves a sustainable production line exists in this new treasure trove for Irish rugby.

There is also the enormous boost to their morale by the full return of Leinster lock Aaron Browne, having sufficiently recovered from shoulder surgery, as Aaron Murphy makes way.

Belvedere revealed similar good news with openside Max Kearney, a ridiculously brave tackler, healing up after ankle damage sustained in the runaway defeat of St Michael’s.

Roscrea’s maul, expertly coached by Pieter Swanepoel, with captain Sean Meagher backed by the power surge supplied by Dylan Murphy, Fineen Wycherley, Browne and Brian Diffley is how they can retain the cup.

Belvedere’s, and the tournament’s, most imposing player has been number eight Tom de Jongh, who literally ran over Blackrock’s defence, with outside centre Conor Jennings a close second. Jennings does most things better than the rest but has struggled this season and last with place-kicking responsibilities.

At outhalf there is David Hawkshaw, another masterful footballer with GAA roots, but it’s the Belvo fullback Hugh O’Sullivan - really the Navan teenager is a scrumhalf but his raids from the back field cause more havoc - who might settle this arm wrestle.

Brian Egan can be the next captain etched into the history books of this occasionally maligned competition which has enhanced its reputation this year for producing amazing levels of competition.

It costs an adult €15, a junior €10, to see what we are on about.

Belvedere: Hugh O’Sullivan; James McKeown, Conor Jennings, Hugh Sexton, Peter Maher; David Hawkshaw, Paraic Cagney; Daniel McCaffrey, Cian Galvin, Conor Wynne-Walsh, Hugh Fenlon, Brian Egan (capt), Senan McNulty, Max Kearney, Tom de Jongh.

Roscrea: Conor Kelly; Daniel Keane, Philip O’Shea, Sam Hastings, Joe Murphy; Alan Tynan, Keith Kavanagh; Michael Milne, Eoghan Maher, Dylan Murphy, Fineen Wycherley, Aaron Browne, Brian Diffley (in off bench for Meagher last year’s final), Jack Canning, Simon Meagher (capt).

Referee: Dermot Blake.

Verdict: Belvedere College.

Paths to the final

First round:

Belvedere 29-14 Terenure Roscrea 22-6 Kilkenny

Quarter-finals:

Belvedere 35-29 Blackrock (in replay after 10-10 draw) Roscrea 27-17 Gonzaga

Semi-finals:

Belvedere 36-22 St Michael’s Roscrea 24-18 Clongowes Wood

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