22 years ago two Mancunians by the name of Ian Brown and John Squire sat down to pen a song. The song that evolved from those late night brainstorming sessions was the penultimate track from the Stone Roses’ classic eponymous album. Brown and Squire were true visionaries, and listening back to the classic fade out ending, one almost feels that “This Is The One” was written specifically for the 2010 Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final.
46 days. 15 matches. Finally, we’re there. This is the one. The big one. And what a competition it’s been. We saw the early demise of the big guns. Rock, Belvo and Nure all bit the dust, and bit hard. In many ways the story of the competition was Tony Ward and Eric Miller’s gallant St. Gerard’s side. Wardie proved once again his credentials as the leading authority on this wonderful grade. And as he predicted before the commencement of hostilities all those weeks ago, it’s a Clongowes v Michael’s showdown. Those weeks have flown by. It only feels like yesterday that 16 teams started out with a dream, a dream to be the best. Two remain.
Scrummaging sessions in the snow during January’s big freeze were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of preparation. Ice baths, massages, no technique was considered off-limits by the boys in the search for the extra inches that bring the cream to the top. I’ve talked before of how the dream is implanted, not just over the months of preparation during senior cycle, but on the first day the boys set foot in school. But even before that, careful nurturing by junior school teachers, and most importantly by parents has lit the touchpaper in the minds of the young boys.
There’s something wonderful, something comforting, something constant, to know that on our national day, the finest young footballers our country has to offer take centre stage in all four provinces. But while not wanting to take away from the other competitions, it’s undoubtedly Leinster that carries the prestige, tradition and the gravitas. The RDS tomorrow won’t just be the centre of attention for fans of rugby football, but of other sports too. It pulls in the floating supporter in a way few other events can. It is truly “part of what we are”.
Nevertheless, it would have been nice to see a more concerted marketing campaign for tomorrow’s final. As the nation’s main sporting event on this day of days, Bord Failte should be doing their bit to entice the tourists watching the floats of the parade, to make the short trip to the big match.
It’s at this point that the choice of venue becomes an issue. While the staff at the Royal Dublin Society deserve every credit for their fine efforts, the Ballsbridge venue is too small. In my view an approach to the Gaelic Association of Athletics (GAA) should have been made with a view to obtaining the use of Croke Park. The venue of course is synonymous with schools rugby as the former site of Belvedere’s training pitch. And the new stadium on the site, while not wanting to be disrespectful to the GAA, is, in the minds of sporting fans worldwide, considered the home of Irish rugby football. At least until it disappears back into the wilderness next week. A Schools Cup final in Dublin 3 would also have done much to grow the game amongst the seething peasant underclass who reside in the area. Schools Senior Cup Final day. A day to grow in every way.
St. Michael’s go into tomorrow’s final as very slight favourites. Paddy Power took time out from his busy schedule to price the Blues at 5/6. The celebrity bookie also momentarily abandoned the Cheltenham chase and the Tiger trail to quote the Wood at evens.
Speaking of celebrities, Johnny Ronan and Rosanna Davison are expected to fly in for tomorrow’s big showdown via private jet. Rosanna has a vested interest in seeing the conquerors of her beloved St.Gerard’s prevail. Another high flyer expected to attend is Ryanair head honcho and Clongowes old boy Michael O’Leary who will be driving down from Mullingar in his taxi. The excitement in the stands will be more raucous than the rush for seats on a Ryanair flight. Let’s hope there are no passengers on the pitch.
There will be a carnival atmosphere along the Ballsbridge golden mile from around midday. George Hook will be hosting the Schools Cup Final brunch at the Israeli embassy – completely kosher of course. It’s not breakafast, it’s not quite lunch but you get a good meal.
Down the road at the Four Seasons, the traditional “Captain’s Mum’s Table” lunch takes place. This event has been known to be the scene of some colourful banter in the past, and expect the false fingernails to be varnished, sharp and ready for action. Ladies who lunch can be charming, but can also show their claws when the pressure gets to them, as it may well do tomorrow. Mrs Hynes and Mrs MacMahon both know that one of them will have the ultimate honour of presenting their special little guy with Irish sport’s most prestigious trophy, while one will suffer a fate worse than being jilted at the altar.
While that carnival atmosphere begins to build, both teams will be preparing in a rather more sober way, with the customary St. Patrick’s morning mass. March 17th is a holy day of obligation, and the last thing either camp would want to do is to offend the almighty, or indeed St. Patrick himself. One mouthful of altar wine should calm any pre-match nerves, but communion won’t be taken by any of the players as the 2,000 year old carbohydrates present in the body of Christ could weigh them down later in the afternoon.
The Holy Ghost fathers of St.Michael’s in particular place a strong emphasis on the spiritual side of things. Being a pupil at the Ballsbridge college is all about a bit of R and R. I’m not referring to rest and relaxation, neither of which are in any supply there, but rugby and religion. The two Rs blend seamlessly, and the quest for trophies almost takes the form of a crusade. This was never better illustrated than when the school’s maiden Junior Cup winning team in 1991 was captained by none other than young Christian Victory, a name that has gone down in Michael’s folklore as symbolising all that is best about the school, both on and off the pitch.
While Michael’s use their God-given talents to play the game in the spirit in which it was intended, sadly the same can not be said about their opponents. A cancer of cynicism seems to have infected the minds of the Clongowes players. Whether this has come from the top, well one has their suspicions. The sickening volte face after the semi final when the Clane academy went back on their initial vow to accept any suspension for wayward number eight Conor Gilsenan leaves a bad taste in the mouth, something akin to drunkenly scoring a girl who unbeknownst to you had thrown up the contents of her stomach just minutes earlier. By all accounts the three players Gilsenan models himself on are Alan Quinlan, Shane Jennings and Schalk Burger. That should have set alarm bells warning. The St. Michael’s players may be well advised to wear goggles tomorrow. If not they may well be limited to playing blind side for the rest of their lives. CWC should have kept their counsel on this one. Kept them unused that is.
It wasn’t just Gilsenan’s sending off for apparent eye gouging that rankled. The next day an ambulance had to be called for a Pres Bray player after the Clongowes Junior Cup team engaged their opponents in full frontal hand to hand combat. A line needs to be drawn here. The violence has to stop. Either Clongowes start playing fair or their boarding facilities should be taken into the possession of NAMA and re-allocated for social housing.
There’s no doubt that St.Michael’s are the people’s choice going into tomorrow’s final. It’s a real comic book “goodies v baddies” clash. Beauty, in the form of the champagne running rugby of Cathal Marsh, Alex Kelly, Mark Corballis and Cormac Diamond against the beasts – the powerful pack led by Gilsenan, Robert Hynes, and Nick McCarthy. Not that St. Michael’s are short up front – number eight Paul Dix sticks out as one to watch. The sight of Dix pushing into the back of the scrum always excites the Michael’s support.
As for a prediction? Well it really is a toss up. Three finals have been played before between these teams, with Clongowes winning the ’88 and ’91 finals, but conceding the ’07 edition. Perhaps that memory can spur on the Ballsbridge boys. Perhaps the memory of three junior cup final defeats in row will prove a hindrance to Michael’s? Or can those defeats prove to be a lesson learnt? I’m banking on the latter. Sid’s St. Patrick’s Day Showdown Selection is St Michael’s to win on a 21-12 scoreline.
A reminder that this day last year we saw future international legends Brendan Macken and Andrew Conway lead ‘Rock to glory. I now make giddily for my bed safe in the knowledge that tomorrow will see similar talents emerge. What a thought.
For now it’s a case of turn off my mind, relax and float downstream. Because tomorrow never knows.
PS: Cracking anecdote from Bob Casey in Monday’s Irish Times:
“Before that I was in Dublin and my mate Frank Keane took me to a St Michael’s College union lunch in the Four Seasons. There was a glint in the guy’s eye when I bought a raffle ticket and, sure enough, I was called up to be presented with two St Michael’s flags. I wasn’t long disposing of them.”
What a fooking legend.