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Friends' v BRA Schools' Cup: Pushing back match would allow Owen to honour late dad, says mum

By Jonathan Bradley

With the controversy surrounding tomorrow's Danske Bank Schools' Cup quarter-final between Friends' School and Belfast Royal Academy rumbling on, the grieving mother of one player has pleaded with the Ulster Schools' Committee to reconsider their decision to insist the game must be played this weekend.

With 17 members of the Lisburn school's squad in Austria on a ski trip, an appeal lodged to have the clash postponed by 48 hours was rejected on Tuesday evening.

Friends' had been told of the potential of a clash before the trip was booked, but the issue came to a head when they saw off Grosvenor in the fourth round earlier this month.

After that victory, Friends' had asked BRA to play prior to this weekend, although this proved impossible due to player injuries, and it is understood the north Belfast school were committed to supporting whatever decision was reached by the appeal panel.

After the failure of the hearing, Friends' explored the possibility of flying the pupils home early, but this also proved infeasible.

And now Bernadette Beckett, mother of first XV starter Owen, has launched an emotional appeal to have the verdict reversed, believing her son's involvement in the competition has aided the grieving process after losing his father earlier this month.

Nevin Beckett was a familiar face at Friends' matches in recent years, but died suddenly of a heart attack on February 2. Friends' decided to play their round four clash two days later, despite the exceptional circumstances, with Owen and his mother among the crowd.

"My heart is broken already and we just hope they reconsider the decision," said Bernadette.

"The rescheduling of the game would ease my pain and mean so much to me and my three sons as well as honouring the memory of my husband Nevin.

"Owen and I went to watch the last round and even though it was very painful and emotional, it was uplifting.

"The lads were on fire that day and doing it for his dad.

"During the game I had calls from the coroner's office with details of the post mortem. I had to explain why it was so noisy as I cried and laughed with each try.

"My husband Nevin was such an avid supporter of Friends' Rugby. He attended almost every one of Owen's games from Year 8 to Year 14. He used to save up leave from work so he wouldn't miss them.

"This decision over Friends' and BRA has added to an already deep grief. My heartache over the loss of my beloved husband had been eased a little by the excitement of the game.

"It gave us a little comfort to know that Owen's dad was watching from up there at Friends' amazing run. He would have been so excited and proud to see them with a chance of moving forward."

The Ulster Schools' Committee, again stressing that Friends' were aware of the clash before the trip was booked, have expressed every sympathy for the players, lamenting that the unfortunate situation could have been avoided if handled better by the school.

"The Ulster Schools' Committee has complete sympathy with the players involved and is of the opinion that the situation could have been avoided by the school, who first highlighted a potential clash back in September 2015 but proceeded to book the ski trip," said a statement.

"The confirmed fixture dates were clearly communicated to all schools in February 2016 and by signing the participation agreement in November 2016, all schools committed to honouring the terms and conditions of the competition.

"The Ulster Schools' Committee is responsible for the organisation of 12 competitions involving 38 schools and over 100 teams each year.

"With schools experiencing varying levels of player availability throughout the campaign, it is important to remain consistent with the implementation of regulations to ensure that competitions are completed in a timely and fair manner.

"At this time, it is our understanding that Saturday's game will go ahead as scheduled."

Friends have not reached this stage of the competition for seven years, while their Medallion team has made the last four of their own cup competition.

Although it is understood that Friends' will face no sanction should they be unable to play this weekend, a parent with sons in both of the school's teams admitted that the events have dampened the growing buzz.

"It's just awful for all the boys who have been working so hard," said Christine Pringle, whose son George is in Austria.

"They were gobsmacked when they heard the decision. They had left for the trip expecting the result to go their way. I know the Medallion boys were worried as well about what it could mean for them.

"It's terrible for a parent to see their child upset but not be able to help."

Belfast Telegraph

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