In a class of their own

Four years ago, staff and students from Methodist College applauded the cup-winning exploits of Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson and Adam Macklin.

With Paul Marshall, another Methody old boy, on the Ulster bench, the school will have a keen interest on Twickenham this afternoon.

“We’ve had a bit of media coverage ever since the quarter-final,” said Methodist’s director of rugby, Nicky Wells. “It is nice to get a bit of recognition but it is all down to the boys’ hard work.”

Wells revealed Marshall dropped by the school earlier in the week to chat with students about the team’s preparations for the final.

He also admitted that Gilroy’s wonder try against Munster brought back memories of his school’s career: “Craig played as a wing forward at the start but moved into the backs. He used to score tries like that regularly as he has extremely quick feet and is very powerful.”

Heineken Cup fever has also gripped Carlow. And Tullow, home of Sean O’Brien seems to be at the centre of it.

Willy Kelly, rugby coach and teacher at Tullow Community School said: “Photos and six-foot posters of (past pupil) Seán have been put up all over the school. He is always accessible to the school and brought the Heineken Cup here, and into primary schools, when they won it last year.

“Seán is an inspiration for the boys looking to follow in his footsteps.”

Another old boy that has served as a role model has been Chris Henry. The back-row was captain of Wallace High School in his final year and went onto lead the Ulster and Ireland Schools’ sides. Head of PE at Wallace, Neil Hines, revealed Henry began his rugby career as a prop before he transferred to the back of the scrum.

Ian Whitten and Nevin Spence also represented the high school in cup competitions. Hines continued: “The school is buzzing about it and the lads have found some time, amongst the build-up, to get along and chat with the students here about the whole experience.”

Clongowes Wood College is well represented on the Leinster team, with former students Gordon D’Arcy, Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden lining out and Dave Kearney amongst the subs.

Noel McNamara, who coached Clongowes to the Leinster Senior Cup final this season, admitted the final has been a dominant conversation topic throughout the week while many of the art classes at the Clane school were dedicated to making banners in tribute of the former pupils.

Two other well-represented schools may not have quite the same numbers travelling in support but their pupils can expect a lightened homework load. Oakdale Agricultural College (Pedrie Wannenburg, Johann Muller) and Grey College (Ruan Pienaar, Richardt Strauss) will, no doubt, make requests for a South African leg on any planned trophy tours.

Ribbon adorned trophies have become a common sight in the hallways of Blackrock College in the past 12 months. “We had Leo Cullen, Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald in with the cup last October and two Dublin lads, Michael Darragh MacAuley and Cian O’Sullivan, brought in the Sam Maguire a week later,” said Blackrock gamesmaster, James Fitzsimon.

All involved at Blackrock have followed the exploits of Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll, another former pupil, for over a decade but anticipation for another final remains high. Fitzsimon laughed: “I’d imagine if Leinster get a good result and if (the students travelling over) got a note, the teachers may be flexible about homework.”

We will be standing up with the Ulster men on our live Heineken Cup blog from London at 4pm tomorrow. Well worth a look.


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