Battle for Provincial Honours

If expectation runs to form, Methodist College Belfast and Sullivan Upper will meet on St Patrick’s day

One day last November marked an ugly blemish on Sullivan Upper’s otherwise exemplary set of results this season.

The occasion saw old rival Methodist College Belfast win by 29-14 and if expectation runs to form, these two will return to battle for provincial honours at Ravenhill on St Patrick’s day.

Throughout the Holywood school no less than 15 players have been blooded at underage level for Ulster. Youth development under the watchful eye of former Irish international Willie Anderson and addition of first XV manager Stephen Finlay has inspired a belief in those who won the medallion shield last year that they can enjoy victory once more. Only three members of that side have moved beyond second-level education. Being able to call upon such a wealth of experience and winning mentality will be considered a fearsome combination unmatched by most.

Reasonably then, Finlay views the competition as a “once in a blue moon” opportunity for his charges. He concedes understandable anxiety about Methody’s physicality but producing a fast open style has proven successful against Nick Wells’ team. So successful was the second half November performance that it left the Ulster schools cup holders fortunate to register a converted try.

Preparations of both squads will have included tours of Portugal before entering the draw in February – a worthwhile reminder perhaps that these two gladiatorial groups can’t be separated by their robust training routines.

With Wells at the helm, his defending champions are not to be written off. He insists on a professional approach and will deliver a typically stirring “there is no tomorrow” mantra to all in Methody colours when the cup campaign begins.

Keen to point out that recent success has been achieved in spite of tough draws.

“We are used to going away from home and playing the top seeds year in year out. We did it last year starting with Campbell [College] and did it with RS Armagh when they were seeded top.”

Latter stages of the competition aside, first round highlights saw Omagh Academy progress after edging out Tyrone derby opponents RS Dungannon 20-14.

Grosvenor Grammar had Zac Smith to thank for a comfortable win over Cambridge House, after he scored a hat-trick of tries. Their efforts have been awarded with a home tie against an inconsistent Bangor Grammar.

Should Jason Morgan’s side wish to avoid an upset, inside centre Ross McCloskey will want to improve on his impressive goal scoring record. The Ulster development squad player has looked a promising prospect on his way to tallying over 150 points this season.

While Campbell College have had by their very high standards a poor year, it will be no surprise if alongside usual suspects RBAI and RS Armagh they mount a challenge that disregards season long disappointment. After all, previous performances do not matter when cup glory is at stake.

This article was published in The Irish Times on Wednesday 22nd January 2014

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