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Armagh coach relishing latest chapter in their Campbell rivalry

 

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Business time: Cambridge House captain Rhys Ervine alongside Adam Reid from Methodist College

Business time: Cambridge House captain Rhys Ervine alongside Adam Reid from Methodist College

RBAI’s Rory Adair and BRA captain Rob Sturgess

RBAI’s Rory Adair and BRA captain Rob Sturgess

Business time: Cambridge House captain Rhys Ervine alongside Adam Reid from Methodist College

The knockout stages of the Danske Bank Schools' Cup are finally upon us, with the draw for the last-16 bringing the competition's more familiar terrain firmly into view again.

As usual, there is much anticipation in the air as the draw, made yesterday at Kingspan Stadium, has created some intriguing clashes.

Royal School Armagh's hosting of Campbell College is the most eye-catching tie while, not far behind, the all-Belfast affair when Belfast Royal Academy travel to Royal Belfast Academical Institution looks pretty tasty too.

Holders Methodist College open their account away to Cambridge House.

The games will take place on or before Saturday, February 8 as the 10 teams who have qualified from the group-based revamp that was played out prior to Christmas now get to go head-to-head with the six leading schools who were excused involvement in the pool stages.

Those six schools about to have their first involvement in the competition are holders Methodist College, RBAI, Wallace High School, Ballymena Academy, Armagh Royal and Campbell, with the latter two the only members of the top tier who must face-off against each other.

Armagh and Campbell also bring some recent history to their much-anticipated encounter.

The Royal School exited last year's Cup at the semi-final stages at the hands of Campbell and, in 2018, Armagh lost the final to the same opposition.

Regarding hosting last year's beaten finalists, Armagh coach Willie Faloon said: "Everyone talks about home advantage but you still have to go out and do it.

"It puts more pressure on (the home team) but we'll not take anything for granted against Campbell, particularly with the history we've had with them in the Cup over the last couple of years."

Indeed, the two rivals actually played each other last weekend in a friendly which Armagh managed to win, not that anyone will pay too much attention to that.

"We've been consistent over the last two or three years, and I think that again this year we have a strong bunch of guys and they're starting to play well," stated Faloon.

Campbell assistant coach Johnny Cupitt, meanwhile, said: "It's a big draw but we'll embrace it and look forward to it.

"I think they'd be one of the favourites this year and they're a very good outfit, but we have experience and we back ourselves as a Cup side."

Holders Methody, who have won the Cup more times than any other school since the competition was first played way back in 1876, are at Cambridge House, who made it through as one of four best runners-up from the pool stages.

Methody are clear favourites to progress, though theirs is a considerably changed team from the outstanding squad which lifted the trophy last March.

Methody assistant coach Stephen Lindsay said: "We put ourselves under pressure every year and we do our best to try and win it."

The all-Belfast tie which pits Inst against BRA at Osborne Park is also noteworthy and brings Brian McLaughlin, who is involved with the north Belfast school's squad, back to some very familiar territory where he used to be head coach.

BRA coach David Creighton said: "The boys will really be up for the game.

"We're underdogs but we'll be prepared."

Inst coach Jason Morgan said: "We know we'll have to be switched on and focused to get through."

Elsewhere, last year's beaten semi-finalists Wallace High School, who are fancied to do well this time around, are at Bangor Grammar.

Ballymena Academy, who are also thought to be strong, travel to Down High School.

Grosvenor Grammar welcome Enniskillen Royal Grammar School to Belfast, while Coleraine Grammar host Sullivan Upper, with both clashes involving teams who have come through the group stages of the competition.

The other tie brings together Ballyclare High School and Friends' School Lisburn, with the two also having qualified via the pools.

Belfast Telegraph