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Schools' Cup: Memories are made as Ravenhill roars again

By Niall Crozier

From near and far they come on Schools’ Cup final day, drawn for a variety of reasons, dependent on age.



Yesterday — the 135th Schools’ Cup showdown — was no exception. All of the usual ingredients were present but the occasion was no less important or significant for that. Age does not weary it, nor the years condemn.

To all the noise and colour add the remarkable on-going allegiance to the combatant schools. Current students turn out in huge numbers. Always they joined by those of yesteryear.

No shortage of such old-timers yesterday afternoon, or of their stories. Plenty of those “In our day” and “Remember the time” reminiscences. Lots of former players whose recollection of their own abilities seem not to have faded even though certain other memories and faculties may have. Indeed, the passage of time appears to have turned some of them into truly wonderful rugby players.

Burgers and chips, crisps and coke, chocolate bars and hot chocolate appear to be the staple diet of many of the present generation of Campbell College Belfast and The Royal Belfast Academical Institution pupils.

Makes you wonder what all those Governmental bouquets for Jamie Oliver’s attempts to re-educate the masses were about. Doesn’t seem to have borne much fruit. Or veg. Not a hint of either yesterday at Ravenhill.

Plenty of fat and salt, though.

Throughout the afternoon one could hear the influence of the Beautiful Game, both sets of boisterous supporters having borrowed heavily from Association Football fans’ repertoire of songs and put-downs.

Whilst John Hughes certainly would have recognised the music as being that which he composed, I very much doubt if William Williams — Welsh, you know — would have spotted any similarity between the lyrics he penned and those performed by Ravenhill’s rival choirs yesterday afternoon.

Cwm Rhondda re-written. But not improved.

Last year, when Ballymena Academy came to the capital city and left it as newly-crowned Schools’ Cup winners, they had a song which, on bad nights, sometimes wakens me. Something about fluffy sheep being wonderful. For mind-numbing repetition it is without equal.

Mercifully there were no such songs yesterday. There was noise though — a lot of it. It reached a crescendo when the teams took to the pitch shortly before 3pm.

Horns and bugles — like Christmas morning in a house where the parents are daft enough to have bought their young offspring a brass section of their own. Campbell were first out, led by captain John Creighton. Somewhat theatrically he summoned his troops who met close to the half-way line for the now ubiquitous huddle.

Who started this craze? Why do teams do it? What are the advantages, if indeed there are any? Is it done for the benefit of the spectators or the players? Or neither? Does anyone know? Does anyone care?

Then out came Inst, led by Paddy Bell. Noticeably less flamboyant approach this time.

Even so, they got into a huddle, too — but in their case inside their own 22. Defensive body language? Maybe a glimpse as to the two sides’ different approaches; Campbell more attack-minded, RBAI inclined towards caution.

I noticed that when, early on, they went 6-0 down to a Matthew McGuigan penalty and drop goal the Campbell boys went into another huddle. Might it be a foetus-in-the womb thing? A throwback to a longing for protection?

I was spending too much time worrying about huddling. There was a match to watch and people dying to be observed.

Campbell — with a dull, thudding drum in their ranks — had the old grandstand side of the ground, with RBAI having claimed the territory opposite.

Not that there was any need for segregation, for while there was banter and teasing it never got nasty. It never does.

Thus when the Youth Wings of two sets of supporters invaded the pitch on the full-time whistle there was never any suggestion of anything untoward. Instead they stood side by side, bedecked in yellow and black or black and white, applauding each of their teams.

As the 70-minute mark approached, 20 yellow-bibbed stewards had appeared in front of the dug-outs. They were holding a thick blue rope, I think intent on cordoning off the presentation area.

Pointless exercise. Whoosh — hundreds were on the pitch in the space of 10 seconds. Simply to applaud the victors and vanquished alike.

Sport as it should be, yeah?

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