Inst looking odds-on for St Paddy's Day hat-trick
Naturally enough it all got a bit cagey at yesterday's Danske Bank Schools' Cup Round Two draw when it was put to holders, and favourites, Royal Belfast Academical Institution that they look in good shape for a third straight success this time around on St Patrick's Day.
Though the powerhouse Belfast school won't actually enter the draw until round four - when fellow big guns Campbell College, who Inst beat in last season's final, along with the always fancied Methodist College and the strong Ballymena Academy enter the fray - they were in attendance at yesterday's draw to promote the prestigious competition which has been in existence since 1876 and is the second oldest in world rugby.
"This year it will be different for the boys as we're probably going in as favourites and that brings different pressures," said Inst assistant coach Richard Hedley.
"The last two years I'd say we were certainly underdogs and, last year, Campbell were very strong and (in the final) we got the bounce of the ball.
"But there are a number of good teams and you have to look at Ballymena and, of course, Campbell as being there.
"You can never rule out Methody and there are other quality teams who can beat you.
"Maybe the last couple of years we've had good luck and good draws so maybe this year all that won't be there and you really do need that to win," Hedley added.
Even so, head coach Dan Soper's squad will be strongly backed to go all the way again with as many as eight players from last season's cup success still on board.
They have retained an experienced core of players and, in particular, half-backs Rhys O'Donnell and skipper Michael Lowry as well as centre James Hume who scored all 13 of Inst's points in last March's final.
"We have experience in all the right places," Hedley said, while also mentioning their pack.
"We've a few strong forwards with Callum Reid back again at loose-head prop.
"Some players got winning medals last year, and some from two years ago as well, so they do have lots of experience, but we'll have to see what happens."
Campbell and Ballymena Academy look as if they could make strong challenges again with the former looking particularly formidable up front where they have retained four of their starting pack from that final defeat to Inst.
John Crowther, Tom O'Toole, James Nelson and Jamie Macartney will all be gunning to go one better this time and will be playing in front of a mostly new backline.
"I think the occasion (the final) got to the boys and it's now just about learning from that experience," said Campbell assistant coach Johnny Cupitt.
"We'll just keep ourselves under the radar and hopefully we'll come through," he stated.
Round one will be played on Saturday, December 3 when Strabane Academy host Carrickfergus Grammar while Larne Grammar are at Cambridge House.
The winners of those ties will then enter round two where, arguably, the pick of the games takes Schools' Cup debutants Dromore High School to local rivals Banbridge Academy.
"It will be a great occasion for the school being our first ever time in the Schools' Cup," said Dromore coach Josh Pentland.
"It's going to be a great local derby and all the boys are looking forward to it. We're not setting any targets, we're just going to take the game as it is."
The winners of round two will then enter the next phase where Ballyclare High School, Bangor Grammar, Belfast Royal Academy, Coleraine Grammar, Enniskillen Grammar, Grosvenor Grammar, Rainey Endowed and the Royal Schools Armagh and Dungannon await.
Round Four - the last 16 - in February introduces Inst, Campbell, Methody, Ballymena Academy, Down High, Omagh Academy, Sullivan Upper and Wallace High School.
Schools’ Cup round two draw: Belfast High School v Limavady Grammar, Banbridge Academy v Dromore High, Foyle College v Regent House, Friends School Lisburn v Antrim Grammar, Portadown College v Wellington College, Lurgan College v Strabane Academy / Carrickfergus Grammar, Cambridge House/ Larne Grammar v Dalriada School.
Ties to be played on Saturday January 7