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Character the key to writing names in the record books: Soper

By Jonathan Bradley

RBAI head coach Daniel Soper hailed his history makers after the side secured their first treble of Danske Bank Schools' Cup titles in 69 years.

The competition's second most successful side hadn't strung together three consecutive titles since the 1940s before beating old rivals Methody 12-8 in yesterday's Kingspan Stadium final.

It was another nervy affair though, and Soper praised his side's character after fending off a determined Methody fightback to take the crown once again.

"We haven't talked a great deal about the history," he said. "We made a point of not doing it, just emphasising that this was this cup for this team.

"We can now maybe look with the guys that have been there for all three and talk about how significant it is.

"It's not easily done so it's fantastic and it speaks to that core of upper sixth guys that we have in this team.

"They won a Medallion Shield and then three Schools' Cups.

"You look at the superstars of Ulster Rugby, most of them couldn't do that with really good teams too, so it's a feather in the cap for those guys.

"It's quite unique and we can reflect now on how special it is."

For the coach himself, who also took an unfancied Ballyclare side to a final only to be beaten by yesterday's opponents, it is a remarkable feat.

Despite his arrival coinciding with the school's upturn in fortunes, he was keen to reserve all the praise for his squad however.

"I never expected when I started that we were going to go on a run like this," he said.

"I've got a great job to work with this group of players. I've got great coaches around me and great people supporting us.

"My job is just pointing everyone in the right direction and hoping we're on the same page."

Soper, who also coaches Banbridge in the All-Ireland League, admitted however that he had been forced to endure some nervy moments, especially after losing influential skipper Michael Lowry to injury in the second half after the No.10 made a try-saving tackle in the corner.

"The thing I would say is, Michael is the heartbeat of our side," said Soper.

"He's very composed, he sets the tone. James Hume gets us fired up and fizzing but Michael's composed.

"When he went off I was very nervous. In a game like that, he's the type of guy you really need.

"It shows that there are plenty of other leaders in our side.

"The character is hugely significant.

"It's something we work on as a group, it's not just by chance.

"We have things we do in training and in matches but we have a tough fixture list through the year that puts us under pressure. We try and learn from that and get better in those situations.

"There's no comparison to the pressure of a Schools' Cup final though and more often than not it's the team that holds their nerve who comes out on top."

And have the plans for four in a row already begun?

"I think we'll just enjoy this first," he laughed.

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