Johne Murphy is back as our man on the inside for the 2018 Leinster Schools Senior Cup. Read the best of his previews and insights here during the course of the next 7 weeks.
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So, it’s Cup time again and a lot of hard work for a lot of very committed people comes to it’s natural conclusion over the next few months. First up, I’m delighted to be back involved again in the competition with St. Mary’s College. Any rugby player, from full international right down to long retired supporter, will remember their schools’ rugby days vividly. I suppose it is reflective of how important big things were to us in our formative years but there was always something special about the build up and a good Cup campaign. Now, Irish schools rugby and particularly the Leinster Schools Senior Cup is viewed as this relentless production line, producing ready made pro club players effortlessly but the reality is that schools rugby is and should still be about every player involved doing their best to get the most out of the experience for what it is – a chance to show their true ability and enjoy the unique relationship of the team environment. It won’t be until later life that they’ll realise how many essential lessons, in terms of goal setting, communication, dedication, skill development, decision making, resilience and perseverance, are tied up in what lies ahead over the coming 7 weeks.
As for the action in store, having coached against virtually all of the sides still involved in the latter stages of the 2018 Leinster Schools Senior Cup, I can safely say that we have plenty to look forward too, with some really strong, well coached squads plus some really talented youngsters spread across the competition. Below are my thoughts on the round 1 ties and I, like all of you, look forward to watching the competition unfold live on @eirSport and from the stands or pitchside in Donnybrook.
Belvedere College v Gonzaga College, Donnybrook, 3pm Sunday 28th January 2018
This should be a great curtain raiser for the competition. 2017 holders Belvedere have a very physical and abrasive style, whilst Gonzaga had a brilliant league campaign, narrowly losing to a try in the dying minutes of the Final (something my @PSAAcademies colleague Graham Ross, a Roscrea man, just told me also happened back in 1994-95. See what I mean about the power of the schools rugby in the memory of old men!). This opening game has all the makings of a titanic battle, with underdogs Gonzaga taken to just sneak it in a very tight affair.
VERDICT – Gonzaga College win
Terenure College v St Michael’s College, Donnybrook, 3pm Monday 29th January 2018
To be fair, this is another potentially fantastic tie to brighten up your Monday afternoon. Terenure are a brave, abrasive side that will target the breakdown area, with openside Jack Cooke leading the charge. Losing star man Ross McGinnis to a knee injury is a big blow but Sam Dardis should be able to pick this mantle up from 15. St Michael’s, meanwhile, are another very big side but are mobile too and will fill the field extremely well. Their attack kicking game is second to none in this competition and they will be very difficult to peg back if they get a lead. With top men Scott Penny, Andrew Smith and Jody Booth leading the charge, I’m going with ‘Michael’s’ to edge another thriller.
VERDICT – St Michael’s College win
Blackrock College v Castleknock College, Donnybrook, 3pm Tuesday 30th January 2018
Blackrock College, the 68 times winners, have had a very good campaign to date, with their form looking as good as anyone else in the competition. Their number 8 Ed Brennan is their totem and is a key piece in a game that is built around adaptability and heads up rugby. Realistically, it is going to be a tough ask for a Castleknock College side very well coached by Adrian Flavin & Jeremy Staunton but they can very dangerous if given time to get into a game. Having had them in Tignes for a pre-season camp with PSA Academies last August, we know at first hand how good a group they are and that heart will keep them going to the end. All considered, it is hard to look beyond a ‘Rock to win.
VERDICT – Blackrock College to win
This one features two sides that had very solid League campaigns and as such, will know each inside out. Pres Bray are a side that have plenty of power through the full team, with a very quick back three that can cause any team issues if they are kicked to loosely. With time and space, this unit can be a game changer. My old alma mater Newbridge are buoyed by a brilliant group of 4th years and have plenty of quality right throughout the squad. This one is going to literally be a toss of coin and should be a great game between two schools hungry for Cup success. Call it bias if you will but I’ll just have to edge for Newbridge in this one.
VERDICT – Newbridge College to win
St Fintan’s were the breakout story of last year’s Cup campaign, pushing Clongowes in a titanic high scoring battle and losing out very narrowly at the death. They were unlucky that day and probably came out on the wrong side of a few critical decisions. They will need to build on that experience this time around and put in a performance of the same standard against the League champions. With silverware in their locker, St Gerard’s have developed into a very good side, that uses the ball really smartly in attack, showing a great balance to their game. They are many peoples’ each way chance for the competition and could end up taking out some of the big guns along the way. For me, St Gerard’s are favored to get through in, what I think could be, the tie of the round.
VERDICT – St Gerard’s School to win
Taken away from Donnybrook, this tie might slip under the radar but it should be a good open game. Like Wesley, Kings Hos’ have come through the Vinnie Murray Cup route and they will need to draw on this hardened Cup mentality to get out of the blocks early against a very good Clongowes side. Clongowes pre-Christmas form was right up there with the very best of them and this team has the key attributes to go all the way to the RDS on St Patrick’s Weekend. The Clane school have a great balance throughout the team, with the trio of Anthony Ryan, John Maher and Ben O’Shea leading on the pitch. I think Clongowes will win this and for me, they are the worthy outright favorites for the competition overall.
VERDICT – Clongowes Wood College to win
St Mary’s College v St Andrew’s College, Donnybrook, 3pm Friday 2nd February 2018
Being involved with the St Mary’s coaching team, I’m not exaggerating to say that this is a very tough start for us, with St Andrew’s having had some great performances in the League. They play a top brand of rugby and have a kicking game that can build and create huge pressure. We’ve done our homework and with ball carriers throughout the team plus a dangerous back 3, we expect them to ask our side plenty of tough questions. For our own part, we have a good side that can really play and create problems for any team. As with every coach involved, we want our guys to just go out and express themselves within the gameplan we’ve given them, playing the game not the occasion! After that who knows but fingers crossed, we come out the right side of the result.
VERDICT – wait & see!
Wesley have come through the Vinnie Murray route, which should result in them being match and cup hardened, possibly meaning a vital edge from the start. They really need to make this count early in the tie and put Roscrea under pressure. Roscrea had a solid League campaign, getting to the Semi Finals and qualifying directly for the Cup main draw. It has been well publicised in the media that they have been fighting battles off the pitch over the last few weeks and this will surely be used as a galvanizing force for a school that invariably produces very hard working and committed teams. On balance, I think this ‘siege mentally’ will get them over the line and into the Quarter Finals.
VERDICT – Cistercian College Roscrea to win