The third round of the Danske Bank Schools’ Cup is when things really start to heat up, and the draw for tomorrow’s ties has only added the spice.
No less than three of the fixtures are local derbies, with Banbridge Academy heading down the A1 to Dromore High, Coleraine Grammar going across the north coast to Limavady Grammar and Regent House welcoming Bangor Grammar.
Not that the Schools’ Cup needs any more excitement added, the thrill of Saturday morning knowing you’ve got a shot at being in the hat when the ‘big eight’ get added to the draw for the next round enough as it is, but there will certainly be plenty of added edge when it comes to kick-off around the country.
For Limavady and Coleraine, they’ve made arrangements to try and drum up as much interest as possible. Not only will the two 1st XVs be facing each other, but the two schools have arranged friendlies between their younger teams as well, which will draw an even bigger crowd to the main attraction at 10.30am.
Coleraine coach Richard Boyd asked: “What more can you ask for as a schoolboy?
“There’s a couple of buses going up so there’ll be a big crowd, our junior teams are playing against each other beforehand so they’ll be sticking around to watch. If they aren’t up for it before all that then that will get them up for it.”
There’s even a bit of a friendly rivalry between the back-room staff at both teams, with Limavady’s head of rugby Brian Hughes and Coleraine assistant Ashley Blair good friends as they work together at Coleraine RFC.
Hughes pointed out: “They’ve been competing a bit higher than us for the last few years, they enter at the third round and we entered at the second.
“It is going to be fierce and it’ll definitely be a good game. The boys will definitely be up for it.”
The same applies up in Dromore, where High School head coach Rob Logan is an assistant at Banbridge RFC but will be plotting the demise of the Academy when they face off.
His dedication to rugby means straight after the game he will shoot down the road to Old Belvedere, where Banbridge restart their All-Ireland League campaign tomorrow afternoon, but attention is on seeing his students progress to the last-16 first.
“To compete against the top eight teams and the Dublin sides is great, but it’s a pleasure to face a team like Banbridge and go toe-to-toe with a team like them in a competition as prestigious as the Schools’ Cup,” claimed Logan.
“It’s an ideal start for us, and to have that added spice of a derby to it will make it even more fun.”
In fact, the rivalry between the two schools goes deeper than just the senior level, as Academy coach Brian Leslie explained — rather it seems fate can’t seem to keep them apart!
“For Dromore not being that long in the Schools’ Cup we’ve hit them three times in the last six years!” he laughed.
“It’s actually strange, we’ve drawn them in every Cup so far this year: the Medallion Shield, the Under-16 Cup and now the Schools’ Cup. It’s been really odd; even though there’s 30-odd teams in the draw, we keep getting them every time!
“The derby aspect gets mentioned because the boys are all mates, they hang around the same places and any time you play your mates you want to beat them, so it adds an extra edge.
“Our focus is more on the fact it’s a Schools’ Cup game and we want to win that, but the local derby angle adds a little bit more, so it’ll be a great occasion.”
Meanwhile, Enniskillen Royal Grammar coach Ashley Finlay is facing a unique excitement of his own for their trip to Dalriada: having almost a full team to select from!
“Nearly since November on a weekly basis there’s been one or two guys isolating, which hasn’t impacted on performance much, it just hasn’t been ideal preparation,” he admitted.
“Because of that we maybe haven’t had the results that our talent would suggest we should be getting, but we’re probably as close to our full team as we have been going into Saturday, which is pretty exciting.”