Belvedere College v Cistercian College Roscrea Today: RDS, 4pm TV: Setanta Sports
Cistercian College Roscrea have never won the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup but if they are to lose a fifth final they have proven this year it’s unlikely to be as a result of being burdened by the oppressive weight of history.
They’ve already needed to confront some old ghosts on their way to today’s contest. They lost the 1941 final to Newbridge College but knocked out the same school after a ferociously physical replayed semi-final.
After their three-point win against Blackrock College, who beat them in 1910 and 1999, in the previous round it suggests that if things are tight in the closing moments against Belvedere College they have the reserves of will to call on to win a first ever title.
The bookies make the Tipperary side outsiders but Roscrea faced steeper odds when they were 14-5 behind against Blackrock at half-time and trailed by four in injury time before Dylan Murphy’s try.
It didn’t look too good either at the break in the first semi-final when despite battering Newbridge they went in 8-0 behind before clawing back the deficit.
Coach Pieter Swanepoel pointed to those two wins as reasons to bring real confidence with them when they carry a rural community’s hopes onto the RDS pitch at 4pm today.
And two other members of beaten sides in the past, one with a very close connection to the current team, sense the possibility of something special.
Gavin Duffy, who went on to play for Ireland and Connacht, was outside-centre in 1999 as his side lost 17-9 and has been with the squad recently sharing some advice.
“It was just telling them to enjoy themselves and really believe in themselves and go for it,” he said. “One thing looking back is we didn’t really believe we could win until the last 15 or 20 minutes but we’d given ourselves too much to do by that stage.
“The day of the final you could sense that it was a big occasion. You were getting the faxes and the emails and telephone calls that past pupils were sending to the school and they were all posted up on the walls in the college. It was brilliant to be part of it.”
Roscrea had never beaten 68-times winners Blackrock in the senior cup until this year but with the sons managing to break the shackles of history and tradition their fathers couldn’t there is belief they can go an uncharted step further.
Michael Keane, father of openside Matty, played in the 1982 semi-final against future record Ireland try-scorer Brendan Mullin alongside Timmy Meagher, whose son Simon will also play today. Matty scored the first try in the quarter-final and will be part of a powerful back row attempting to prevent Belvedere adding to their 10 titles.
Keane says it’s a different time with different expectations to three decades ago.
“We were taking on the big four Dublin teams more with hope than anything else and we travelled up the road before the bypasses with tea and sandwiches, that was our lunch,” he recalls.
“Roscrea at that stage had a peculiar attitude to sport. It was all about taking part, which obviously is very important, but when you get to the final stages of a competition you’d obviously like to win. The parents had offered to pay for a hotel the night before for us to come up, but we weren’t allowed. So we ran out on to Lansdowne Road having never been there before.
“We were nervous and let in a couple of early tries after not having conceded a try in the competition. The last 60 minutes we owned the game. It drives you wild, of course, reliving it.
Roscrea have just 180 students but principal Brendan Feehan says that despite the achievement of the senior cup side there is more to the college than just rugby and Roscrea will also contest the All Ireland Hurling ‘C’ final next week.
“Our ethos is very much that every student would be respected in their own right and be given the opportunity to progress,” Feehan explains. “We would communicate to them that life does go on and that rugby is just one important element of school life.
“While sport is important, so is public speaking, so is music and so is the academic side. The fact that we’re a small school you will have the same person playing the violin in the orchestra, playing hurling in the All Ireland and playing in the RDS.”
Keane admitted to some over-exuberance following the win over Blackrock but has no hesitation talking up the school game above its international equivalent.
“That was a very emotional day for everyone connected with the school and we invaded the pitch which we weren’t supposed to do. I think they’ve the cattle barriers up for us in the RDS!
“After watching the drudgery of international rugby the last few weekends it’s the purest form of rugby that there is. The great thing about schoolboy rugby is they can score from their 22.
“It’s the exhilaration of watching the game, it’s so exciting. I’m a farmer as well (as a solicitor) and I was cleaning out sheds on Saturday and I’m sorry I didn’t stay at that rather than watching what passed for rugby at international level.
“All the ability is coached out of these players. I know that’s the way it has to be but that’s not the way it is at schoolboy level, these guys haven’t got their hands on them yet. They play on instinct and that’s why it’s such a great game, two teams going out to give it their all.”
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