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Foyle College recall history boys

Londonderry school seeking cup glory century after last triumph

By Jonathan Bradley

Foyle College kick off their Danske Bank Schools' Cup campaign against Larne Grammar School tomorrow morning with this season marking 100 years since the end of their great rugby era.

In the early 1910s the Londonderry school was a match for any side in the province, challenging the dominance of the Belfast schools.

Having reached consecutive finals in 1913 and 1914, a second Schools' Cup title to add to their 1900 success proved elusive thanks only to defeats by Campbell College and Methody.

The 1915 squad did finally taste glory thanks to a 5-3 win over Royal School Armagh in the final.

The team's head coach in these glory days was Alexander Foster, a one-time captain of Queen's University who would win 17 caps for Ireland and tour South Africa with the British and Irish Lions in 1910.

Over half of the trophy-winning team would soon go on to fight in the First World War, while Foster's teaching career would take him to RBAI and then to the headmaster's role at Belfast Royal Academy, a position he held until 1942.

Since then, more Lions would go on to become associated with the school - Noel Murphy and Ken Goodall are both past pupils - while Seamus Mallon is a name from the recent past that will be familiar to Ulster and Northampton supporters.

However, with Dr Leah Totton also a member of the alumni, there have been more winners of the The Apprentice than the Schools' Cup in the intervening years, and current head coach David Barnett admits that it is almost impossible now for a school like Foyle to compete with the resources of the established elite.

"With the strength in depth that the Belfast sides have nowadays it's hard to see anyone being able to take them on," he said.

"We've got some great players in our first XV but they have so many boys to call on.

"The season has been going quite well for us and we've managed to stay injury free, which is always important."

"It'd be great if we could go on a bit of a run this year but the way the competitions are with the tiers, that you can fall into the subsidiary bowl or trophy, it means you can still have a chance of doing something."

Such was the case last season when Foyle College were victorious in the Schools' Bowl thanks to an 11-5 victory over Banbridge Academy.

Much of that triumphant backline has been retained although, with the exception of lock Lee Brady, the starting pack were all in the final year of their studies.

Barnett, however, has been especially pleased with how his squad have stepped up to replace the departed forwards.

"We were lucky enough to keep most of our backs but we basically lost our entire pack.

"The boys who have come in have done really well and, as well as that, we've got boys who have been in the medallion coming in and putting pressure on the starters, so that looks good for the future."

The coach reserved special praise for his captain and out-half Alex McDonnell.

The number 10 possesses a kicking game both out of hand and off the tee that can control a game and Barnett said: "He's been in the firsts for a few years now and he's sort of our most influential player if you like."

Having not played Larne this season, the team are facing something of an unknown but anticipation for the commencement of the storied old competition has certainly given an extra edge to this week's training.

Barnett added: "We haven't played them before so we don't know much about them at all to be honest with you.

"We'll just be focusing on our own game and making sure we get it right on the day.

"The boys are obviously looking forward to it a lot. When they started playing rugby in the school five, six, seven years ago, it's the Schools' Cup they'll have thought about.

"Certainly for the upper sixth, this is probably the highlight of their rugby in the school.

"There's a buzz about the squad and you can even see the intensity training."

The odds of them emulating the feats of their school's former pupils may be remote, but Foyle College are still keen to make an impression of their own.

Belfast Telegraph

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