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Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Preliminary Round Preview 29th November 2014

Monday, 1 December 2014

Wednesday 26th November saw the 2014/5 Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup Campaign launched at the Kingspan Stadium when the President of the Ulster Branch, IRFU, Mr John Kinnear, and Danske Bank representative, Mr Richard Caldwell, drew the Round I games which are scheduled to take place on Saturday January 10th 2015.

However, the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup competition will begin in earnest when Antrim Grammar School host Strabane Academy in the Preliminary Round of the competition on Wednesday 3rd December, in a game scheduled to kick off at 2-30pm.

For the young Strabane Academy team, coached by Neil McDonnell and the evergreen Mervyn Moore, this game is seen as another vital step on the road to bringing rugby in the school back fully into the mainstream of the game. Three seasons ago the Strabane team was playing in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ 3rdxv Cup. They were delighted to do so but were determined to get back to the “Top Table”. Encouraged and supported by the Strabane Academy Principal, David Hampton, a man who served for many years as Master-in Charge of Rugby in the school, Neil and Mervyn have done a sterling job in building from the bottom up. They have received great assistance from Ulster Rugby and, in particular, from Brian McLaughlin. Everyone associated with the game in Strabane Academy, players, coaches, parents and staff, speak highly of the positive impact Brian has had on the promotion and development of the game in recent times and the technical work he has done with young players throughout the school..

The Strabane Academy team will be under no illusions of the task they will face on Wednesday. They are on a steep learning curve but will take to the game against Antrim Grammar School with great pride. Players such as the half back pairing of brothers, Jonny and Thomas O’Flaherty, alongside Samuel Sproule, have gained RDS experience, working with Brian McLaughlin and Michael Black. Dylan King has captained the Northern Ireland U16 Schools’ Soccer Victory Shield team and can bring “big match” experience and advice to his young colleagues. Team captain, Rory Kelly, has been a regular try scorer in the ten games the team has played this season and is a player who will be keen to add to his tally in the Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup. The Strabane Academy team realise they will enter this game as underdogs but will take a great sense of satisfaction from the fact they are playing in the competition and will enjoy the occasion. It is a one off cup match and they will be going all out to cause an upset.

The Antrim Grammar School team will enter the competition as favourites to win this game. They are a young team that coaches, Michael Ferguson, John Burns and Richard Cullen, feel has progressed well since the start of the season. They have a number of players returning from injury at just the right time. Team captain, Matthew Dunne, alongside his back row colleagues, Jacob McCollum and Daniel McGrandles, has been pivotal to all that has been good in the performances of the team this season. Adam Johnston has been their leading try scorer and the Strabane team will need to monitor him closely for the duration of the game. Brothers, James and Robert Mawhinney, supported by Neil McMaster form a very effective front row, while JJ McKee brings Ulster Schools’ U17 squad experience to the team. Sam Gordon, an Ulster U17 cricketer, brings leadership qualities to his young back division and he will be hoping for quality possession from his pack.

The scene is set for an intriguing game that is scheduled to kick off at 2-30pm at the Steeple Road venue.