Twelve teams will venture forth on Saturday morning in the 2011 Northern Bank-sponsored Ulster Schools’ Cup.
But although the line-up includes past winners in Grosvenor, Portora, Dungannon Royal and Rainey Endowed, it is highly improbable any of that quartet will emerge triumphant from Ravenhill on St Patrick’s Day.
That won’t cool their ardour, of course.Certainly the Omagh Academy v Rainey derby could be a post-Christmas cracker.
With boys like Harry Gibson, Gary Sherrard, Ashley McIlwaine, Dean Barr, Matthew Deazley and Adam Longwell on board, Omagh will not lack commitment.
Having managed to play in recent weeks when most others have been sidelined, Rainey may just have the edge. They boast a good blend — experienced boys like Jamie Burrows, Damien McMurray, Luke Steele and Martin Connolly alongside promising youngsters like Aaron Murphy, Matthew Stewart and Michael Dawson.
Portora, have struggled this season with injuries taking their toll. Captain Adam Farrell — injured during the warm-up prior to their game against Belfast HS — became the latest victim.
But his undoubted loss will be offset to some extent by the return of Rory Gibson for Saturday’s home date with Larne GS.
Turbo-charged full-back Jonny Magwood is another Portora will hope to include along with Phil Dickie, Alex McCurry, Adam Baxter and Nik Doherty. If those players are available that, and home advantage, should see them through.
But Larne aren’t no-hopers. Billy Brown, Ethan Kerr and Calum Paton form a very useful back row and they have a good leader in captain Ross Williamson.
Dungannon host Antrim GS with Supreet Jayaprakash, Jake McClay, Aiden Howe, Callum McCrenaghan and Nathan Allen providin the visitors with five good reasons for optimism, albeit that Howe has the unenviable job of trying to contain Peter Nelson, one of Ireland’s most talented schoolboys.
Not that it’s a one-man RDS show, for Andrew Clingan, Derek Martin, Jacob McCammon, Frankie Yeun and Gary Wong are very competent players, too.
Having warmed up for the cup with a pre-Christmas tour to Rome, Cambridge House are in good shape for the visit of Grosvenor GS.
Kristoffer Steele, Jordan Robinson and Matthew Harkness shone in Italy.
The latter’s work with Mark Paine in the back row is crucial to Cambridge House hopes, ditto the roles played by Andrew Hood and Timmy Small.
But if Grosvenor — whose mainstays are Marc Foster, Scott Irvine and Peter Davidson — play as they can, they will fully test the hosts. It may require a replay to separate this pair.
Wellington College, who booked their place by beating Lurgan College in Round One, return to Mid-Ulster to face inconsistent Portadown College.
Adam McMaster, Thomas Halliday, David and Michael Busby and Matthew Troughton are backs Wellington must watch, while in Josh McCullough and Matthew McCracken, Portadown have a back row pair who will contest every ball.
Gareth McCaughey’s leadership is all-important to Wellington and with Kyle Walker, Adam Webb, Kyle Agnew and David Marshall offering him their support, they will be no push-over.
Portadown should winbut can’t underestimate the visitors.
Carrickfergus GS, fresh from their Iberian Peninsula trip, host close rivals, Belfast HS.
Marc Gordon, Andrew Fulton, Jonathan Moore, Josh Brown and Matthew Elliott will hope to reproduce the form they displayed on tour, while BHS know they must serve up a similar performance.
With players like Jake Toan, Robbie Fryars, Aaron Blair, Matthew Boyd and Ryan McGonigle in the ranks they have a chance.
Draws for the Schools’ Cup third round and first round of the Northern Bank Ulster Schools’ Trophy will take place after Saturday morning’s matches.