Johne Murphy is back as our man on the inside for the 2020 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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We’re back at the business end of the Irish Schools rugby season and from first-hand experience, I know how much goes into getting to this point, with massive commitment and work from alot of people involved in each school including management, coaches, support staff, teachers, parents and of course players.
This year, I made the move from St. Mary’s College back to my old alma mater Newbridge College, to take up the SCT Head Coach role. It’s been great to take on a new challenge in a school that played a massive part in the grounding of my own rugby playing career and over a really busy few months, we’ve done a huge amount of work with a really committed panel. We’re looking forward to hitting Energia Park on the 31st January, when we face CBC Monkstown, although it’s going to feel like a long week for all concerned ,with the fixture being the last of first-round fixtures.
Having seen pretty much all of the squads in action at some stage over the last few months, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the action unfolds over the next few days. For what it’s worth, below are my thoughts regarding the round 1 ties and who I think may claim a Quarter Final berth in early February.
Gonzaga College v Blackrock College, Energia Park, 3pm Sunday 26th January 2020
Last year’s finalists Gonzaga College have had a good season to date, easily claiming the Leinster Schools Senior League Final in December from a competitive Roscrea side who edged my own Newbridge College team in the Semi Finals. With four starters from the 2019 Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final team (hooker Hugo Fitzgerald, tighthead Ronan Shaw, out-half Harry Colbert & left-wing Brian Barron) plus a further 11 from the extended squad last year, there’s big depth there. Rock, for their part, have eight players from their 2019 squad that lost out to eventual winner’s St Michael’s College at the Quarter Final stage last year. They have 6 players who represented the Leinster U18s side that claimed the inter-provincial title back in August, plus loosehead Hugo O’Malley from the Leinster U19s set up. It’s a tough draw for both teams and I really don’t expect there to be much in it come the final whistle, especially in the forecasted cold but clear conditions. Gonzaga arguably have the edge in terms of momentum, with their League win and a very tight recent game versus St. Michael’s in their favour. Effectively, this is a Semi Final being played in round 1 and I’m giving the nod, just, to the Ranelagh school.
VERDICT – Gonzaga College to scrap the win
Cistercian College Roscrea v Castleknock College, Energia Park, 3pm Monday 27th January 2020
These are two schools that know plenty about each other, having one win apiece from the two matches they’ve played this season. Roscrea got the win that mattered more, a 22-14 victory in the Leinster Schools League knockout stages, before going on to get beaten by Gonzaga in the Final. Under Head Coach Alan Tynan (a regular at our PSA Rugby Academy Roscrea, along with Tyrone Elliot, the CCR skills coach), the Roscrea team are led by captain Bill Burns and have an experienced squad including U18 representative players from the Leinster Schools/Youths and Connacht set ups. Castleknock College have 2019 AIL Coach of the Year Adrian Flavin leading a coaching team that includes ex-Munster, Wasps & Leicester Tigers outhalf Jeremy Staunton, working with a squad that counts fifteen returning players from 2019 and includes Leinster U17 John Ozoani, Leinster & Irish Schools centre Fionn Gibbons and Ireland U19 Ben Griffin. Based on the head to head so far this season, plus the additional pace and power Roscrea tend to bring to this competition, I’m just giving the nod to the Offaly-based school here.
VERDICT – Roscrea to go through in tight affair
Belvedere College v St Mary’s College, Donnybrook, 3pm Tuesday 28th January 2020
Belverdere have an amazing recent record in the competition, with four Finals appearances and two Cup wins in the last 5 years. They got pipped in a narrow Semi-Final defeat by St. Michael’s last year and have twenty two players back for this Cup campaign, including seven from that Semi Final team. They have serious depth this time around, with five Leinster U18 and two Ireland U18 representatives, plus four Leinster U17 players in the squad. St. Mary’s, who I was involved with last year, are a quality young side, with eighteen players from their 2018 Junior Cup winning team, and are having a good season to date. They are young but have serious potential, with eight of the squad involved with the Leinster U17s set up. It’s going to be a really big ask for a young St. Mary’s side to get past such an experienced Belvo one but I’m going to call a surprise and give the slight nod to the St. Mary’s youthful enthusiasm and hunger to cause an early Cup upset.
VERDICT – St. Mary’s to (just about) deliver a Cup shock
Terenure College v Clongowes Wood College, Energia Park, 3pm Wednesday 29th January 2020
Terenure College have eight of their 2019 squad back for this 2020 Cup campaign, with Head Coach Dan Parkinson being able to call on some serious quality in the backs, led by Leinster U19s wing Matthew McGetrick and Ireland U18s player Patsakorn Kidd. They’ll be hungry to prove themselves this year, after getting beaten by Gonzaga 19-11 at the Quarter Final stage last year and as ever, they’ll be a massively physical, well-drilled side, with that bit of class to do damage with the ball. Clongowes have a really strong coaching ticket in Head Coach Pat Kenny and Joey Carbery’s father Joe, with seven players back from the 2019 squad, led by captain and Leinster U19s hooker Calum Dowling. It’s been nine years since the Clane school last claimed the Cup, with only one other Final appearance in that period (in 2014 when beaten by Rock) so there’s going to be little doubt about the desire to get back to the RDS in March from all involved there. This is going to be another really tight opening encounter between two big physical heavyweights and the only real edge may be the Clongowes’ belief and more recent Cup pedigree.
VERDICT – Clongowes to come out top by a score
Kilkenny College v Wesley College, Energia Park, 3pm Thursday 30th January 2020
These teams clashed in the Leinster School Senior League early this season, with Kilkenny College coming out on top in a high scoring group encounter 45-24. The PSA Rugby Academy Kilkenny host school are once again led by Head Coach Peter Swanepoel and have a quality squad that includes Leinster U18 and Ireland schools out half Charlie Tector. Wesley, meanwhile, have thirteen players back from their 2019 squad, including captain Peter Costello and Leinster U17s players Adam Galbraith and back-row Oisin Spain. Considering the style in which Gonzaga won the League Final against Roscrea, there was no shame for Wesley in being outplayed 34-3 by them at the Semi-Final stage and a young side will no doubt have learned plenty from that defeat. This is going to be another tight one, with the slight edge given to Kilkenny, with the influence of their star out-half likely to be pivotal.
VERDICT – Killkenny to progress to the Quarter-Finals
St. Gerard’s School v The King’s Hospital, Templeville Road, 3pm Thursday 30th January 2020
The second tie of a Thursday triple header, sees a match up that traditionally King’s Hospital may have been the more fancied side in. St Gerard’s, who last made the Semi-Final stage in 2011, enter this year’s competition with a squad that includes fifteen from 2019, including Leinster U18 hooker Freddy Happonen and Leinster U17s players Ollie Newsome, Thomas O’Connor and Callan O’Reilly. They will have been really disappointed to have been beaten at the League Quarter Final stage by Wesley and their season could be determined by how they’ve bounced back from that. King’s Hospital secured their spot in the Vinnie Murray Cup Final and the main draw Leinster Senior Cup with a narrow win over CUS and they are going to bring some confidence and momentum into this tie off the back of that success. However, based on the respective squad experience, I’m going to have to go with St. Gerard’s for the win here.
VERDICT – St. Gerard’s to win over spirited opponents
Temple Carraig School v St. Michael’s College, Lakelands, 3pm Thursday 30th January 2020
It’s really tough on Temple Carraig that having beaten High School 21-14 to qualify for the Vinnie Murray Cup Final (versus King’s Hospital) and made it to the promised land of the main Leinster Senior Cup draw for the first time ever, they’ve landed the most unenviable tie possible in the shape of St. Michael’s College. The only real hope for the Greystones’ side is that they are moving the D4 powerhouse to an away ground that will give this tie a different feel. St Michael’s as reigning holders are going to be massive favourites, with thirteen back from their Cup Final matchday squad of 23 players. They also have 17 players involved with either the Leinster U18 or U19 squads, plus four with the Irish U18s squad. Whilst realistically there can only be one winner in this tie, it will be a fantastic occasion and experience for the Temple Carraig squad to play against the current Senior Cup holders, hopefully teeing them up for their own key Vinnie Murray Cup Final target. As for St. Michael’s, it’s hard not to see them as outright favourites for the Cup and arguably out on their own at this stage of the season.
VERDICT – St. Michael’s to comfortably get their campaign off to a winning start
CBC Monkstown v Newbridge College, Energia Park, 3pm Friday 31st January 2020
CBC are a really quality opponent for our first round tie and with ten back from their 2019 squad, they have plenty of experience, including captain Liam Forster and Leinster U18 Eoin Quinn. We had the edge when we met in the League group stages but there’s plenty of water under the bridge since then, with both sides likely to have improved. Our squad, led by captain and Ireland U19s centre Marcus Kiely, has real quality and a great contingent of representative players across Leinster U18s and U19s levels. Our season has been building nicely and we’re hoping for a good start to the Cup campaign, when all the hard work on and off the pitch will hopefully manifest in the squad playing to their potential. Lady luck is always a welcome addition on these occasions for fingers crossed for the big day.
VERDICT – not calling this one for obvious reasons!