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Antrim Grammar hoping to inspire younger pupils with a Cup outing to remember

 

By Michael Sadlier

Saturday morning will be a significant moment for Antrim Grammar School.

Not only is the first round of the Danske Bank Schools' Cup coming on site (kick-off 10.30am) when Antrim host Carrickfergus Grammar, but the excitement being generated by its arrival is being tapped into and will, hopefully, assist in further promoting the growth of the game throughout the school.

While even victory over Carrick is unlikely to see Antrim get much beyond the second round, they are intent on building on the foundations currently being laid down by head coach Jamie Orr, who teaches PE and Technology and is a former pupil of the school.

"We're hoping to make Saturday a real event at the school and get a crowd down to support the team," said Orr, who has been teaching at Antrim since 2017.

"The younger boys are buzzing about this game, as are the seniors, and watching the Schools' Cup will hopefully fire the younger ones to emulate that in the future."

"It's a boost getting a home draw so we're hoping to get as many down to watch as we can."

Participation is the key aim at Antrim with the idea to get more of the younger boys wanting to play rugby instead of football.

"We want to try and make it (rugby) the thing to do," added Orr who, aged 23, is coaching players who were pupils when he played for Antrim in the Schools' Cup.

Thus far, Orr and assistant coach Michael Duncan have seen some results with participation well up for first years.

"I worked with Ulster's Neil Alcorn and Chris Galway last summer as I'd just taken over the position, so they were dead keen to help," said Orr.

"They did some taster sessions with the Year Eights with the idea to try and get as many on board as possible.

"It's been great with the first years and we have been getting up to 25 boys out to train, which is the most from any team within the school.

"We're just trying to get that going and get them to loads of games."

Help has come from other quarters as well.

"Mike McKeever (head coach at Ballyclare High School) has also offered advice and gave us a game at the start of the season."

Orr has also received support from Randalstown Rugby Club, where he plays centre, and the young coach is eager to further strengthen the ties between the school -which has 747 pupils, 358 of whom are boys - and club.

"A lot of the youth system at the club would be from the school," he states.

"And recently we got the Under-18s from the club and our firsts to play in a training match.

"We're always trying to strengthen that link and their coaches, Gary Longwell and Alistair Strange, are always asking to help out."

Orr is also hoping to get former pupil and current Ballymena lock JJ McKee, who made his Ulster debut in November's friendly with Uruguay, back to give some encouragement.

The school currently has one senior team and one largely young Medallion side, with approximately 80 boys playing the game from first year through to the senior team.

The Firsts recently played a warm-up game against an Inst side and Orr was impressed by their improvement, while a final hit-out came in a training game with Belfast High School.

The senior team have only four boys in their final year at the school, with skipper and out-half Callum Hall and inside centre Callum McComb providing half of that presence as well as being pivotal players for the side.

Back-rowers Thomas Allen and Matthew Robb (below, tackling Tyler Haige during a team training session) are the remaining two Upper Sixth players, with the rest of the side having quite a heavy number of fifth years, which will not only will be beneficial to the team's development over the next two years but, Orr hopes, could ultimately also lead to the school putting out two senior sides again.

"This year we're trying to revamp it," Orr says of the school's approach to the game.

"We're also trying to play a new brand of game," he adds referring to the Firsts.

"They're happy enough to buy into anything and have been great to work with. The whole school rugby-wise is in a re-building phase," Orr adds.

The first steps have been taken.

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