Glenstal Abbey take on St Clement’s at UL today, holders CBC Cork are in action tomorrow against old rivals Crescent and Rockwell play St Munchin’s while Ard Scoil Rís entertain PBC Cork. The first round will be completed on Thursday when Bandon Grammar take on Castletroy.
Five first-round winners go through to the quarter-finals, one lucky first-round loser will be chosen to receive a bye to the last eight, and four other losers will battle it out for two places in the business end of the competition.
Coach Kevin Long has promised tournament favourites PBC Cork a warm welcome to Limerick for the round one clash, but knows it will take a huge effort to take the honours. “I suppose it’s always difficult to figure out, but based on results and experience I reckon Pres must be favourites, not just to win this game but also to win the title outright. It’s going to be really tough for us but we have a fairly solid team and have some representative players to help, amongst them Odhran Ring, Craig Casey and Luke Clohessy. One of our problems has generally been we don’t have huge strength in depth so hopefully we can avoid injuries. Last year we went neck and neck with CBC, the winners, for an hour in the quarter-final but lost out because we didn’t have strength off the bench.”
It makes a change for Bandon Grammar School to have so many representatives on Munster teams at U18 and U19 levels. School skipper Colin Deane was also captain of the provincial 18s and there was also representative experience for James French, Sean Hudson and Travis Coomey. Bandon had a rare win in schools cup rugby when they beat St Munchin’s 13-11 last year and that will worry opponents facing a visit to West Cork. Bandon Games Master George Bradfield is optimistic: “We have eight or nine guys back from last year and I would say it is probably the strongest side – even if we have a couple of injuries – we can put out for a few years.”
Richie Feeney expects a tough encounter in round one away to Bandon GS, the team that knocked out St Munchin’s last season. “Bandon are far from the whipping boys these days, they’re after fighting their way into the top tier and they’re a tough side for sure. They have a number of good players and we expect a strong battle. We have a good scrum, a strong second row and some decent backs like Paul Clancy and others; compared to what we had before maybe the pack would be a bit lightweight but, then again, maybe not. Sean English, our captain, is a Munster under-19 and he would be very strong. We just never know, but we’re a young side compared to last year in terms of experience.”
Christian Brothers College Cork are never far from the summit and, as holders, will expect to make a strong bid for glory yet again. They have a tough opener against Crescent Comprehensive but the back door system means both will be in the competition for the next round. Christians have a pretty formidable side overall and top individuals such as James Taylor, their goal- kicker Sean Duffy, Ciaran McHugh, Richard Thompson, Fergus Hennessy and Luke Masters will keep them ticking over.
Beaten finalists last season, Crescent hope to be at the coalface yet again, even if they more or less have to start from scratch with a young side. Coach Conan Doyle is hopeful that his youthful bunch can cope. “It’s hard to judge, but we have a couple of experienced heads – captain and number eight John Blake and tight head Tomas Connolly are back to help lead the forwards. Mostly the team is made up of fifth-year students, but they’re good lads and some have come through from the Junior Cup winning team last season. It’s obviously hard to judge but we know we’re in for a tough first round away to CBC Cork; we seem to be meeting them all the time in the opening game. We will play it as we see it and give it everything.”
With 16 players back from last year’s matchday squad of 23, Glenstal Abbey might be excused for thinking they have a decent chance in this year’s competition. They have already beaten St Munchin’s twice, plus Ardscoil Rís and Crescent en-route to a Limerick City Cup title. Four players - George Downing, Ben Healy, Luke Fitzgerald and Mark Fleming - have played representative matches with Munster Schools and the latter three are currently involved with the Ireland U18s. But coach Sean Skehan is aware of the pitfalls in cup rugby – Glenstal lost to Castletroy and Crescent last year – but hopes that his young charges will have learned from the experience. “We have had a good build-up and lost just two games, to St Michael’s from Dublin and Nottingham on a short English tour. We’re hopeful, just hopeful.”
Pres managed to put one over their city rivals in the Christmas derby, but typically there was nothing much between the sides, just a point in fact. There should be interesting times ahead if the schools are paired in the coming rounds, but for now Pres have to face up to Ard Scoil Rís in round one. They can call on a few players with vast experience, amongst them top class number eight Jack O’Sullivan. Peter Sylvester can operate at 10 or 12 and then there’s the fleet-footed Sean French. In the mix too is Billy Scannell, brother of Munster pair Rory and Niall. PBC will be making a big push this year.
Great history, but nobody in the College expects them to be in the mix this season. The ‘Rock take on St Munchin’s amid a certain pessimism. “This team, unfortunately, is not as strong as others of recent vintage although we did win the Bowen Shield this year. We have a very young side playing Senior Cup this year. Probably if we were to be bluntly honest about it, both Munchin’s and ourselves were happy with the draw because we, like Munchin’s would see it as a chance to win the first round,” said school spokesman John Ryan. Still, he wouldn’t rule out the school causing a shock down the line. Nobody that ever attended Rockwell would, would they?
In advance of today’s opening round clash with Glenstal Abbey, coach Shane Mulally believes a decent cup run is possible. A formidable pack includes Munster youth representatives Aran Hehir, Shane Brosnahan, John Bateman and Adam Ahern, while Enis Haixaigh brings an imposing presence to the number eight position. “We would like to think we can raise a serious challenge this year, we have some players back again and these guys were disappointed at losing heavily to PBC before giving one of the favourites, Castletroy, a right good game in the next round.”
Eric Nelligan reckons it will be hard for anyone to match the likes of Pres and Christians this year but points to Bandon Grammar School as being a dark horse! He would, perhaps, given that Bandon beat his side in the second round last year. “We have a good side but the pack is light and we will likely have to rely on getting ball out to fairly decent backs. We have a good half-back partnership, an out-half (Jason Kiely) who is pretty special and a very good scrum-half also in Evan Maher. It’s a very dedicated group and we’re hoping we can win round one against Rockwell. The tradition is there for them, but they just about got the better of us earlier this season with a late penalty kick to win the game.”